Dangerous Ambition: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson: New Women in Search of Love and Power

Dangerous Ambition: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson: New Women in Search of Love and Power

by Susan Hertog

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Overview

Born in the 1890s on opposite sides of the Atlantic, friends for more than forty years, Dorothy Thompson and Rebecca West lived strikingly parallel lives that placed them at the center of the social and historical upheavals of the twentieth century. In Dangerous Ambition, Susan Hertog chronicles the separate but intertwined journeys of these two remarkable women writers, who achieved unprecedented fame and influence at tremendous personal cost.
 
American Dorothy Thompson was the first female head of a European news bureau, a columnist and commentator with a tremendous following whom Time magazine once ranked alongside Eleanor Roosevelt as the most influential woman in America. Rebecca West, an Englishwoman at home wherever genius was spoken, blazed a trail for herself as a journalist, literary critic, novelist, and historian. In a prefeminist era when speaking truth to power could get anyone—of either gender—ostracized, blacklisted, or worse, these two smart, self-made women were among the first to warn the world about the dangers posed by fascism, communism, and appeasement.
 
But there was a price to be paid, Hertog shows, for any woman aspiring to such greatness. As much as they sought voice and power in the public forum of opinion and ideas, and the independence of mind and money that came with them, Thompson and West craved the comforts of marriage and home. Torn between convention and the opportunities of the new postwar global world, they were drawn to men who were as ambitious and hungry for love as themselves: Thompson to the brilliant, volatile, and alcoholic Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis; West to her longtime lover H. G. Wells, the lusty literary eminence whose sexual and emotional demands doomed any chance they may have had at love. Tragically, both arrangements produced troubled sons, whose anger and jealousy at their mothers’ iconic fame eroded their sense of personal success.
 
Brimming with fresh insights obtained from previously sealed archives, this penetrating dual biography is a story of twinned lives caught up in the crosscurrents of world events and affairs of the heart—and of the unique trans-Atlantic friendship forged by two of the most creative and complex women of their time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345459862
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/08/2011
Pages: 512
Product dimensions: 6.42(w) x 9.72(h) x 1.44(d)

About the Author

Susan Hertog was born in New York City and graduated from Hunter College. After earning her M.F.A. from Columbia University, she became a freelance journalist and photographer. She is the author of one previous book, Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life. She lives in Manhattan with her family.

Read an Excerpt

chapter 1

Becoming Rebecca

When winds and showers raged around, Faithful unto my side you stayed. Why, now in time of sunny dawn, Why should your faith so sudden fade.

—­Cicely Fairfield, age eight

London, 1901

In late October 1901, Charles Fairfield abandoned his wife, Isabella, and their three daughters in the dark of night. Cicely was eight years old; her eldest sister, Letitia, called Lettie, was sixteen; and Winifred, or Winnie, was thirteen. Isabella, forty-­eight years old and with nothing but memories of a thwarted music career, was left penniless. Charles had gambled away their money, absconded with hidden cash, and left them not only to dig themselves out of debt, but also to bear the shame of penury and social ostracism. Neither his wife nor his family would see Charles alive again.

Those were the facts. The myths came later, and as time passed they kept on changing, depending on Cicely’s turn of mind and emotional needs. She was too young to feel anything but sadness and confusion, but her instinct was that she had lost a kindred soul—­a piece of herself. Through the years, she would see her father as a person who meant everything and nothing—­a principled thinker and a skilled polemicist, an ideal man and a role model, and someone whose perfidy infected the sinews of her life with feverous distortions and unbearable pain. While she would search for him in her relationships with men, in her own way, she set out to become him.

As a woman in her seventies, still trying to make sense of an event that had occurred more than six decades earlier, Rebecca, née Cicely Fairfield, a skilled storyteller with a penchant for molding the contours of her past to her own ends, recounted the story of her father’s leaving with the romantic nostalgia of a nineteenth-­century child in her book The Fountain Overflows.

She tells of awakening with her sisters in their second-­story bedroom on a bright and cloudless Saturday morning on the cusp of fall to the sound of windblown trees. As the girls teased and chattered, preparing for a day that was certain to bring adventure after a humdrum week of homework and school, their mother barged into their room wild-­eyed and trembling, letter in hand. In a tragic tone using biblical prose, Rebecca relates her mother’s heartbreaking shock as she read aloud her father’s words declaring his sudden and hasty departure. She describes a family shattered by confusion and grief—­her mother on the brink of a breakdown and her older sisters trying to console her and soothe their baby sister’s fears.

But the reality of the Fairfield family could not have been more different. The marriage of Isabella and Charles had not been amicable for years. In fact, the conception of Cicely had been a failed attempt at reconciliation. They no longer slept in the same bed or shared the same room. Isabella, anticipating her husband’s eventual departure, had not informed him of the value of a piece of family art, in the hopes that its sale might cover their debt. But, in fact, Charles’s leaving forced her to sell their furniture and the one remnant of her youthful aspiration—­her beloved piano.

Within weeks, Isabella moved the family back to her native Edinburgh and her mother’s home.

The marriage of Isabella Campbell Mackenzie and Charles Fairfield in 1883 had begun well enough. Aboard a ship sailing from Britain to exotic, sun-­drenched Melbourne in Australia, they caught each other’s eye as Isabella played the piano one evening after dinner in the salon. Dark-­eyed, delicate, and wistful with auburn hair and porcelain skin, Isabella had long slender fingers that scaled the keyboard with the skill and nuance that attested to a deep spiritual appreciation of music. Thirty years old, on a family goodwill mission to help her ailing brother, Isabella was pleased to be striking out on her own, after too many years of disappointing lovers and the looming prospect of spinsterhood. The dark-­haired and handsome Charles Fairfield, a forty-­one-­year-­old Irishman, harnessed to the charitable task of taking an orphaned boy to his relatives abroad, feigned a love of music to charm the gifted pianist. He seemed a man without past, or at least with one sketchy enough to evoke an air of mystery.

Three months later they were engaged, and, despite the groom’s atheist inclination, they married in December 1883 in an Anglican church whose rose-­stoned spire punctuated the broad Australian sky. Later, Rebecca would describe it as a marriage of “loneliness to loneliness.”

Charles, a gifted cartoonist, had secured his first job in Australia drawing for a Melbourne newspaper called The Argus. But his freelance articles proved superior to his caricatures, and he was offered a post as a social, political, and economic commentator with a regular column. Isabella and Charles settled into a small home in St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, near the soft blue sea they had come to love. For two years they lived an idyllic life, wrote Rebecca, touched by the magic of their storybook house and the brilliant Australian sun that streaked the sky indigo and red as evening drew near. Earning a reputation as a fine cook and housekeeper, Isabella spent her evenings with her husband’s colleagues and public officials whose views spanned the political spectrum, from socialists to Tory Conservatives to anarchists like Charles. While she didn’t relish the constant intrusion and relentless debate, Isabella knew it was her duty to keep her silence.

Born in Edinburgh in 1853, when married women could neither vote nor own property, Isabella assumed a mask of submission. Careful never to publicly contradict her husband, she was bound to his will by law. But she could no longer hold her tongue as Charles’s career as a journalist went sour. Now a practiced orator as well as a columnist, he espoused radical views that alienated his readers and compelled his editor to let him go. With Charles out of work and Isabella no longer silent, the magic of their early years was gone. Grown sick with worry, and pregnant with their third child, Isabella implored Charles to take her home.

Perhaps it was amid the wrenching chaos of their move back to Britain that Isabella learned the true story of Charles’s past, which she later told in whispers to her eldest daughter, Letitia. Until then, Charles had perpetuated a labyrinthine legend worthy of the storyteller he had become. According to him, he had joined the Royal Artillery as an ensign and traveled the world from Canada to Austria, dutifully serving his country until deciding to emigrate to America to fight in the Civil War. Once the war ended, or so he said, he had married a woman in Virginia and fathered a son, then left them to travel west to the woodlands of Colorado. There he had earned his living in a sawmill, biding his time until circumstances provided release in the form of an orphaned boy in need of an escort to Australia. This was history pure fiction, a convoluted attempt of a convicted thief to cover his tracks.

The real story, uncovered recently by a British scholar, revealed that Charles had indeed served in the Royal Rifle Brigade. But the details depict a man deeply flawed and deceptive. Between the ages of seventeen and twenty-­four, he was posted in Malta and Ontario, and was known to gamble and act in burlesque theater. Lonely and aimless, he went back to his mother’s home in London, where he joined the Royal United Service Institute, a think tank that provided companionship and intellectual colloquia, and functioned as a military library and repository of coins and medals.

In the summer of 1868, having just returned from a disappointing jaunt to America, Charles must have become desperate. The discrepancy between his instinctive sense of intellectual superiority and his lack of social stature and career success prompted him to pursue a plan that would both taint and taunt him for the rest of his life. Dressed for an evening in the West End of London, Charles entered the RUSI and obtained the librarian’s key. Beginning in late July and ending seven weeks later on September 22, Charles stole four hundred coins and medals, as well as original copies of Samuel Coleridge’s letters, from its cabinets and drawers, each time stashing them in a hatbox that he blithely carried out through the front door. Seemingly without thought to the repercussions or moral implications of his acts, he proceeded to sell the purloined goods to pawnbrokers and goldsmiths throughout the city, leaving a paper trail of receipts and checks.

Once the administrators discovered that the items were missing, the police easily traced the crime back to him. One evening, when Charles returned to the institution, sporting on his watch chain the finest of the stolen gold coins, he was arrested. In court, his solicitor’s plea that Charles had a “disordered mind” was rejected. Medical officers of the court believed that Charles understood the moral implications of his theft, and he was sentenced to five years of hard labor in a penal institution.

In prison, Charles’s health quickly deteriorated. He had been diagnosed and treated for syphilis while he was in the army, and in the course of physical and psychological testing, prison physicians also discerned a strain of hereditary insanity. Sometime between 1871 and 1872, increasingly weak and malnourished, he was transferred to the Woking Invalid Prison, which functioned both as a hospital and a penitentiary. Charles served his prison term for four years, and then returned to his mother’s home in London on a year’s probation.

Charles was now a gaunt thirty-­six-­year-­old, but as handsome as ever. The five years between the end of his prison term and his voyage to Melbourne remain undocumented. It is possible, since Isabella confirmed that he arrived at the dock in Melbourne with a young boy for whom he was responsible, that during these years Charles had returned to America and married, or went directly west to Colorado, where the opportunity to go to Australia was fatefully thrust upon him. It is also possible that the young boy he escorted to relatives was his own son. At this point in time, his whereabouts during these years remain a mystery. But both his marriage to Isabella and their return to En­gland in 1892 are undisputed.

By the time Cicely was born on December 21, 1892, the Fairfields lived in a shabby Victorian house in Richmond upon Thames, at the outer edges of southwest London. Once neoclassical palaces situated on the hill, the homes were now carved-­up tenements inhabited by the nouveaux riches, mostly upwardly mobile industrialists with a taste for the aristocratic charm of a genteel past. Yet, without efficient trams and trains, Richmond upon Thames had failed to attract more than a handful of residents willing to commute the ten miles into London proper.

But to those such as the Fairfields, who could not afford to live close to town, the two-­story homes that dipped below the hill were more than adequate. Their squalor was assuaged by access to three thousand acres of unspoiled public parkland. The family took pleasure in ascending the terrace overlooking the valley above the Thames, which flowed westward toward Windsor.

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Dangerous Ambition 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
agnesmack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I won Dangerous Ambition through the Goodreads First Read program, and overall I'm glad I did. This was a fascinating and extensively researched biography of two very intriguing women.I didn't know much about either Rebecca West or Dorothy Thompson, but I do believe that this book gave me a comprehensive overview of their good and bad qualities. It's true that neither woman came off as a completely likeable person, but I didn't find this to detract from the appeal of the book. In fact, I enjoyed it all the more because the author clearly held nothing back.Both women lead dynamic lives, especially considering the time periods in which they lived. Dorothy was an accomplished journalist. In fact, she was the first reporter to be granted an interview with Adolf Hitler, and was likewise the first reporter expelled from Germany, after she questioned his manhood, breeding and mental stability.Rebecca was extremely prolific, and wrote dozens upon dozens of critiques. She was of the opinion that her female contemporaries were writing the best work, and that the 'establishment' deemed their work as 'minor fiction'.Of course much of this book centers around the love lives of these women, which I wasn't particularly looking forward to - until I discovered that Dorothy was married to Sinclair Lewis, and that Rebecca had a long-term affair and child with H.G. Wells. The look into the lives of these accomplished authors was quite interesting in its own right, especially as the book followed their successes and falls from grace.I expected there to be more overlap between Rebecca and Dorothy's lives, and I expected that they would be very good friends. As it turned out, while there did seem to be an awful lot of coincidences in their lives, they weren't really close friends. I thought the dual biography setup was interesting, unique and ultimately successful, though it didn't turn out the way I expected it to.Of course, the book wasn't perfect, and my main issue was the way it jumped around in time. One chapter would cover one woman's life in 1930, and the next would jump to the other woman's life in 1915. There didn't seem to be a method behind the jumping, and it got especially jarring when while reading a chapter about one women, there would be a mention of something that happened to the other - only we hadn't gotten to that chapter yet.Overall, this book was jam-packed with information, and was extremely detail rich and really immersed me in the world of these women. At the same time, it was quite accessible and I would highly recommend it to anyone who's interested in feminist literature, literary history, or simply a thought provoking biography.
mmignano11 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dangerous Ambition by Susan Hertog- To be brutally honest about this book, I found it depressing and thus difficult to plow through it. The two women, Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson, were unlucky in love and their careers were successful enough to make them recognized for their work, but it was their personal lives that suffered. Perhaps it has something to do with their struggle to be heard during a time when women were best seen and not heard, which is a practice difficult for a modern women to grasp. The men they chose as companions were either abusive verbally, physically or both. They often abused alcohol and had difficulty accepting that the women were successful in their own right. While it is true that both women found happiness at different times in their life, it seemed that the choices they made to pursue their careers had a negative effect on both their lives and the lives of their families or mates. While this is not the fault of the biographer certainly, it seems that the subject matter left her little choice but to portray their lives truthfully, unless Hertog tended to lean towards emphasis on the negative. So, in short, I found this difficult heavy reading and while it seemed to be thoroughly researched, and well-written the material itself tended to bring me down whenever I got a few more pages into it. If the reader is interested in the information this book contains, then they will find a well-researched book ,ut I think a lighter biography could be found, if the goal is to read about the lives of successful women.
tarenn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
DANGEROUS AMBITION by Susan Hertog is an interesting dual biography of Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson. It spans from 1892 to 1964.Starting with the birth of Rebecca West(Cicely Fairfield) in 1892,Dorothy Thompson born in 1893 through their deaths,. Dorothy Thompson dies in 1961 at the age of 69 and Rebecca West dies in 1983 at age of 90.It is the story of their lives,struggles,disappointment, family, their courage, faith,love,power, political journalisn, their failed relationships,social convention,ambition,sucess,challenges, feminism,regret and a true legacy.A fascinating story of two women their struggle for ambition and power at all cost. This author as done a brillant job on writing the story of two women in search of love and power. "Dangerous Ambition"is a story that shows how much the quest for power,ambition and love can cost the lovers,husbands,sons,and the women themselves. A great read for any who enjoys biography,women of the twentieth century,and history. Received from review from Goldberg McDuffie Communications,Inc.and the publisher. Details can be found at Ballantine Books, a trandmarks of Random House,Inc. and My Book Addiction Reviews.
JoLynnsbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book asks the question - Can one have everything? Everything being a satisfying career, fame, and a loving well-adjusted family? Well, the short answer for Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson, two towering figures of the literary/political scene of the first half of the twentieth century was no. This parallel biography of West and Thompson will be fascinating to readers interested in the lives of these two particular women. Both women had long-term associations with other literary titans, in West's case as the mistress of HG Wells, and in Thompson's case, as the wife of Sinclair Lewis. Both women had sons from these relationships. Both women had lost one parent at a very young age.West and Thompson struggled to fit into 'traditional' roles for women for most of their lives, while refusing to give up their quest for successful and important careers. They were definitely pioneers in women's ongoing pursuit of balancing both career and home life. Only Thompson ultimately found a partner in her third husband who was supportive of both her career and her troubled son, but by then Thompson's career was in definite decline. Also telling was the fact that both West's and Thompson's sons blamed their problems much more on their mothers than on their famous and even more distant fathers. The book is full of personalities and historical details especially from the period from WWI to WWII. If you have an interest in the literary/political scene from this time period, or women's issues, Dangerous Ambition is a worthwhile read.
Rosareads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an Early Reviewers book. The author did an amazing job of juxtaposing two biographies into one comprehensive book. Dorothy Thompson and Rebecca West lived at an essential historical period: prior to, during, and following WW II. Both were journalists and authors. Both were brilliant, driven, and ahead of their era.The author develops a clear sense of the character/personality of each woman as well as their oeuvre. The women were moving in "uncharted waters." They "forged" opportunities unprecedented in their time. They married famous, brilliant, inadequate men. Biographically, each woman is revealed to have an expectation that some man would make them feel whole, worthy, significant. Their marriages failed them. Neither woman knew how to be married. Both were parents. Neither woman understood motherhood. Neither was drawn to the feeling of nurturing.The book offers important glimpses of the era politically and historically. I found myself totally immersed when the book arrived at the period developing WW II.These women had failings: their failings were similar. As each felt less important in their professional worlds, they became more prejudiced. Dorothy Thompson moved from a position supporting Israel to an anti-semitic one. Rebecca West became increasingly paranoid. I am impressed by how completely Susan Hertog developed and revealed the characters of these amazing women as well as the period of their lives. I strongly recommend the book.
LizzieD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dangerous Ambition is aptly named. It should have been a wonderful biography. The idea is certainly sound: to explore the lives of Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson who were friends and had parallel experiences as they became well-known writers. Those similarities are remarkable. They suffered the abandonment of a parent as young children - Rebecca¿s father deserted the family whom he had abused and Dorothy¿s mother died. They both had lengthy relationships with famous writers - Dorothy married Sinclair Lewis and Rebecca had a son with H.G. Wells. Both practically abandoned their sons in turn - Rebecca sent Anthony to boarding school when he was 3, and Dorothy left Michael in the care of nurses and nannies as she traveled for months on end. Both believed that they had been the best of mothers and were crushed when their sons resented and rejected them. Both had lovers and one other long-term relationship. Both won prizes for their writing and both were misunderstood or understood and rejected. Hertog did thorough research for which a reader is grateful and occasionally sparks interest with an amusing insight. For example, Dorothy originally supported Wendell Willkie in his bid for the Presidency, but became disillusioned by his isolationism. Hertog comments, ¿It was as if she wanted Willkie to be someone else - Roosevelt, perhaps?¿ This is the good of the book.Unfortunately, the organization and execution leave much to be desired. I wonder yet again whether publishers still have editors and copy readers on their payroll. Hertog chose to write a chapter about Rebecca and then a chapter about Dorothy during the same time. In itself this approach is disjointed. The abruptness, for instance, of mentioning Dorothy¿s new husband for the first time in a chapter about Rebecca when the reader didn¿t even know that her divorce from Lewis was final was disconcerting. Even more distracting was Hertog¿s tendency to novelize, which did lessen after the first chapter (¿Still in her dressing gown, Dorothy leaned against the balustrade, devouring the heat of the midday sun.¿) but never entirely disappeared. My biggest objection, though, is with the writing itself.I realize that what I read was an uncorrected proof. I can only hope that somebody was able to remove the numerous typos and more startling gaffes. I¿m afraid that most of the bad writing will stand. Hertog¿s tendency is toward psychological analysis, either fuzzy or simplistic, hidden by verbosity. For example, Hertog concludes that Rebecca used her charm to get access to the people involved in a trial in Greenville, South Carolina which she wrote about for The New Yorker. Hertog says, ¿The most striking insight one may deduce is that exactly what made Rebecca¿s personal relationships so disingenuous and multifaceted, would become the tools with which she ascertained the complex truths of this particular social and legal quagmire.¿ Got it?At another level Hertog mishandles words as when she writes of Dorothy¿s stepmother that ¿Dorothy felt persecuted, emotionally abused, and degraded by the woman¿s constant ridicule and, to her amazement, her father meekly deigned to his wife, rarely lifting his voice to protect her.¿ Or, about one of H.G. Wells¿s women, ¿Callous and uncaring, she lounged around smoking and drinking his brandy, while the poor soul anguished in limbo.¿ The deal-breaker for me is the completely wrong. It¿s hard to think that a proofreader would find what an editor or the author missed. Speaking of Lewis and his 19 year-old mistress, Hertog writes, ¿With Marcella, it was he who held the reins of power. She was his Pygmalion - a delicate, sylph-like ¿woman-child¿ he could shape according to his ideal vision.¿The deficiencies of this biography are even more striking to me because I was reading a Robert A. Caro biography of LBJ at the same time. Twice the length of this book, I read it in half the time and because of its
Liz1564 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an Early Review copy. Thank you.The full title of this book is DANGEROUS AMBITION Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson New Women In Search Of Love And PowerHertog has written a dual biography of the two iconic journalists who became close friends. She chooses to do this because there are so many parallels in the lives of the women, not just in their careers, but in their personal lives. Both women had abandonment issues. Rebecca's father deserted his family when she was six and, as a result, felt a distrust of men and a necessity to be independent all her life, even while she craved the attention of men. Since he was a syphilitic petty criminal, liar, and philanderer who may have sexually abused her as a toddler, one wonders what would have been the influence on Rebecca if he had actually stayed within her sphere while she was growing up. Dorothy's mother died when she was eight years old and she became her father's" child-wife", taking care of him and her younger siblings. When the Methodist minster remarried two years later, Dorothy felt betrayed and set aside. At twelve she left the family home to live with her father's sisters who educated her and introduced her to culture and boosted her self-esteem. Rebecca and Dorothy both had long relationships with literary giants. Rebecca bore H. G. Wells a son and Dorothy's second husband was Noble Prize winner Sinclair Lewis, the father of her son. Both women had terrible relationships with their sons. Rebecca put Anthony in boarding school when he was three and Dorothy's son Michael went from nurse to nanny to dozens of boarding schools. Yet they both believed they gave unconditional love to the boys, even if they were absent for months at a time during their sons' childhoods.As journalists both women reported on the rise of fascism and the seeming unwillingness of the western democracies to stop it. They gave first-hand reports of the Blitz, the devastation caused by the war, and Rebecca covered part of the Nuremberg trials. Their challenging newspaper columns, magazine articles, and radio broadcasts brought the evils of the 1930's, the danger of appeasement, and the horror of war and its aftermath into millions of homes. Yet by 1948, their journalism careers were on the wan. I am glad Hertog wrote this dual biography. She brings back into prominence Dorothy Thompson whose name is no longer a common household one and examines Rebecca' West's journalism career, instead of just her in-print novels. But, personally, I had a hard time with this biography. The chapters alternate between Rebecca and Dorothy and, since so much of the material is similar, I found myself trying to remember which woman was in Vienna during a certain event or who was on tour when one of the sons became ill. It was disconcerting to read a Rebecca chapter that ends with her writing to Dorothy and her third husband Maxim in1946, only to be back in 1940 in the following Dorothy chapter when she is still married to Sinclair Lewis.Hertog did use "love" in the subtitle, so I knew there would be revelations. I found it, especially in Rebecca's care, too much information. There was absolutely nothing wrong with this, but I personally did not need to know that she had slept with one of the Nuremberg judges and mocked his wife, a woman she never met, in letters to her friends. I became tired of both women pledging undying devotion in letter after letter to their husbands, yet spending as much time apart as possible. I just didn't need one more anecdote about Dorothy's devotion to an alcoholic, abusive Sinclair Lewis, even while she went on tours to avoid being with him. Hertog reveals that Henry Andrews, Rebecca's husband of 38 years, was a serial adulterer from the first year of their marriage and yet, Rebecca insists they are best friends and she loves him.. After his death, she finds naked pictures of his many mistresses, some even friends and employees of hers. I didn't need
annoutwest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As much as I enjoy biographies I found this one disjointed. I'm re-reading pages to bring it back into perspective and find myself double checking referenced dates because the book lacks smooth connections. The fascinating aspects of these ladies is lost in this book.
ddelmoni on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was mid-way through Peter Collier's [The Roosevelts: An American Saga] when Dangerous Ambition was listed on the LT Early Reviewers list. I was really looking forward to more good non-fiction but it took months of repeated attempts to get through dangerous Ambition. I slogged through and found it well researched but depressing. Though I've always found Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson fascinating women, but after reading this book not so much. Though I appreciate Hertog's attempt at a dual biography and it's inheritant difficulties, the out come left me numb and longing for trite fiction.
susanbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rebecca West & Dorothy Thompson were amazing women who led incredible lives, so Hertog is lucky in her choice of subject; it would be difficult to write an uninteresting book about these women. In my purely subjective opinion, though, Hertog has failed in writing this biography. She intrudes too much, injects novelistic imaginings when a straightforward account of her subjects¿ lives would be so much more interesting. A previous reviewer cites this as a strength in the book; those who like their biographies to read like fiction will be pleased here. I, however, am less interested in what Hertog thinks happened than in what really did. I wish more of the text were given over to the womens¿ letters. I neither care nor agree that ¿One might imagine that Dorothy would have preferred to pass through the magnificent archways of Budapest¿s Inner City Church on her way to the altar¿ (69). One might just as easily imagine she didn¿t.I should admit: I was put-off of this book almost immediately when I read in the publisher¿s information that Hertog is a fellow of the far-rightwing American Enterprise Institute. West and Thompson were excoriated by AEI sorts in their day. I wonder what they¿d make of their biographer¿s politics.
Renz0808 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dangerous Ambition by Susan Hertog is a joint biography about the English journalist, novelist and critic Rebecca West and the American journalist, and first female head of a news bureau Dorothy Thompson. This biography explores the similarities and differences between these two fascinating and complex women of the mid-twentieth century who managed to maintain a very close personal friendship for over forty years. I was intrigued by the idea of this book when I came across it because I thought it would be interesting to see how the author handles a joint biography. I have to say that I was very impressed with Susan Hertog¿s writing and her ability to allow me into the minds of these two influential women. While reading this book there was never a time when I felt bored by facts or details because Susan Hertog does a specular job of making you feel as if you are reading a work of fiction. The research is through and well planned out and the segments and transitions are handled very smoothly. Before reading this book, I had read some novels and critiques by Rebecca West but I had not read yet read anything by Dorothy Thompson. When I was finished reading this joint biography I was inspired to pick up any novel, article or critique I could get my hands on that was written by these two women. I really feel as if I have some small bit of idea what it must have been like to live during the exciting time that these women lived in and I also felt as if I got to share some of their trials and hardships with them.
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