The London Review of Books
Ryszard Kapuscinski: A Lifeby Artur Domoslawski
Reporting from such varied locations as postcolonial Africa, revolutionary Iran, the military dictatorships of Latin America and Soviet Russia, the Polish journalist and writer Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski was one of the most influential eyewitness journalists of the twentieth century. During the Cold War, he was a dauntless investigator as well as a towering literary talent, and books such as The Emperor and Travels with Herodotus founded the new genre of ‘literary reportage’. It was an achievement that brought him global renown, not to mention the uninvited attentions of the CIA.
In this definitive biography, Artur Domos?awski shines a new light on the personal relationships of this intensely charismatic, deeply private man, examining the intractable issue at the heart of Kapu?ci?ski’s life and work: the relationship and tension between journalism and literature.
In researching this book, Domos?awski, himself an award-winning foreign correspondent, enjoyed unprecedented access to Kapu?ci?ski’s private papers. The result traces his mentor’s footsteps through Africa and Latin America, delves into files and archives that Kapu?ci?ski himself examined, and records conversations with the people that he talked to in the course of his own investigations. Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski is a meticulous, riveting portrait of a complex man of intense curiosity living at the heart of dangerous times.
The London Review of Books
“Domoslawski’s book is a poignant feat of biography, not only because he trekked all over the world on Kapuściński’s trail, but because it reopens dilemmas of integrity and conscience that are still painful for any journalist who tried to report the big world in the late 20th century ... [a] compelling, exhaustive and often upsetting book.”—Neal Ascherson, London Review of Books
“A truly great achievement.”—Agata Pyzik, Guardian
“Artur Domoslawski ... fires off questions like distress flares. He is dedicated in pursuit of evidence, crossing continents to get it, but a reluctant judge.”—Marek Kohn, Independent
“A compelling and controversial biography... Mr Domoslawski was a friend of the great man; but resolved to treat his life as a subject for serious inquiry, setting out with an open mind and detailed knowledge, and adding more insights and evidence along the way. The result is an exemplary explanation of what made Kapuscinski tick.”—Economist
“A great book about a great man.”—Zygmunt Bauman
“[A] reluctant and fascinating exposé.”—Nicholas Shakespeare, Telegraph
“The first real biography [of Kapuściński] ... reminds us that we reveal ourselves too in our evasions and confabulations and, indeed, that the distortions of reality are an important part of the image of reality.”—Peter Englund, Financial Times
“Exhaustive and focused ... substantial and interesting ... a real contribution to our understanding of Kapuściński.”—Columbia Journalism Review
“[A] fascinating, gently probing study.”—Irish Times
“Domoslawski ... leading Polish journalist and longtime disciple of Kapuściński, ultimately strives not to destroy his mentor’s reputation but to present a candid biography in hopes of understanding both Kapuściński’s enigmatic personality and, on a more abstract level, whether journalism is big or brave enough to include more ‘literary’ approaches.”—Booklist
“This comprehensive biography of the Polish foreign reporter extraordinaire is the most eagerly awaited book of the year.”—The Bookseller
“Domoslawski’s biography seems fascinated by moral gray areas—Kapuściński neglected his family, had affairs, spied for Poland’s government, and maintained his Party membership until 1981—but always takes a lenient view ... As Kapuściński once said, ‘I don’t want to stop at observation, I want to take part.’”—The New Yorker
“... A spectacular piece of literary investigation that takes us on an exploration of the meaning of journalism and tells us more about political life and choices in Poland during the communist years—and, in particular, how a leftist could maintain himself as a leftist during that time—than perhaps any book that has appeared to date.”—DISSENT
“A welcome portrait of the writer. The book exposes its subject’s many imperfections, but Mr. Domoslawski wisely does not to get carried away with them.”—Wall Street Journal
“A biography that reads like a novel.”—History Wire
“Domoslawski’s book is a mournful exposé, and ... his revelations are gently rendered.”—Nieman Reports
“[T]he story he tells us is less about this Polish reporter with a zeal for getting into dangerous places than the action he is witnessing. The story is about the people and their times, their daily life, motivations and dreams.”—Cerise Press
“An impeccable biography, one critical but also compassionate. Best of all, he situates his biographical narrative in the larger history that his subject helped to build and then tear down. Amidst ironies aplenty, the biographer remains steadfast in his determination to understand his subject—whatever the consequences.”—New Criterion
“The first definitive biography ... Sympathetic while investigative and critical.”—Bookforum
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Meet the Author
Artur Domos?awski writes on international politics for the weekly review Polityka and for the Polish edition of Le Monde diplomatique, and for two decades reported for the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza. In 2010 he received Poland’s prestigious Journalist of the Year Award. A Knight Fellow at Stanford University in 2005–2006, he is the author of five books and is currently working on a book about contemporary Latin America.
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I first heard Mr. Kapuscinski interviewed some years ago on NPR-- concerning his then new release "The Soccer Wars". I purchased a copy and was not disappointed. I have been a fan ever since. Naturally, when "A Life" came out, I looked forward to learning more about this incredible writer. I have not been disappointed. Mr. Kapuscinski was a complex man, living under complex circumstances. He surmounted many difficulties to become what I consider to have been one of the most remarkable, and insightful, political writers of our time. "A Life" succeeds in detailing how Mr. Kapuscinski coped with his complex circumstances. "A Life" does, on occasion, seem a bit hard on Mr. Kapuscinski for various small 'liberties' he may have taken in some of his reportage; but, on balance, seems to present a fair overview of this writer's life. Read it and judge for yourself.