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Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels

Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels

by Adam Hochschild

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Adam Hochschild was born in New York City in 1942. His first book, Half The Way Home: A Memoir Of Father And Son, was published in 1986. It was followed by The Mirror At Midnight: A South African Journey, and The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin. The Unquiet Ghost won the Madeline Dane Ross Award of the Overseas Press Club of


Adam Hochschild was born in New York City in 1942. His first book, Half The Way Home: A Memoir Of Father And Son, was published in 1986. It was followed by The Mirror At Midnight: A South African Journey, and The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin. The Unquiet Ghost won the Madeline Dane Ross Award of the Overseas Press Club of America, given to "the best foreign correspondent in any medium showing concern for the human condition. Hochschild's work has also won prizes from the World Affairs Council, the Eugene V. Debs Foundation and the Society of American Travel Writers. An anthology of his shorter pieces, Finding The Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels, won the 1998 PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay.

Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost: A Story Of Greed, Terror And Heroism. In Colonial Africa was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It, Half The Way Home, and The Unquiet Ghost were all named Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review. His books have been translated into six languages.

Besides his books, Hochschild has also written for The New Yorker, Harper's, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, The Nation, and many other newspapers and magazines. He is a former commentator on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

Hochschild teaches writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, and has been a guest teacher at other campuses in the U.S. and abroad. In 1997-98, he was a Fulbright Lecturer in India. He lives in San Francisco with his wife Arlie, the sociologist and author. They have two sons.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In an impressive broadloom of subjects, Hochschild (Half the Way Home) offers 21 of his magazine-length reports on the world. Writer for Ramparts, co-founder of Mother Jones, he follows a passion for people likewise aflame for the detoured way of life for an intense political or a social justice. His wonderful lead profile of Jan Yoors, a Gypsy in New York, typifies Hochschild's affinity for the intriguing oblique. He writes trenchantly on Ernest Hemingway, Malcolm Lowry and Walter R. Brooks who wrote about Freddy the Pig for children. Of his uncle Boris Vasilievich Sergievski, captain in the Imperial Russian Air Force and later test pilot for Pam Am, he writes, "He was a Tom Jones parachuted by accident into a Henry James novel." In "From Hitler to Human Rights," his depiction of Goebbels-like Floyd Cochran of the racist Aryan Nation becomes a stunning portrayal of the power of the human spirit for a sea change in values. He's no less incisive when the subject is a place. Clearly fascinated by the world beyond himself, Hochschild extracts the essences of Russia, El Salvador, South Africa, Senegal, Colombia and Mississippi 30 years after Freedom Summer. The single deep immersion into his own background ("World on a Hilltop"), about his four girl-less, money-heavy prep-school years at Pomfret in Connecticut, leads him to realize "how bizarre and unjust is the entire world of prep schools." Abruptly he confesses his addiction to reading battle books, defending himself with "no study has shown that we lovers of war books are more likely to go out and start wars." Despite the mandatory chapter on John F. Kennedy and "Camelotry," readers will find this wide-ranging, well-crafted collection an enthralling excursion around the world and into the heart. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
A collection of magazine articles and time-bound reportage by the estimable Hochschild (The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin, 1994, etc.), cofounder of Mother Jones magazine.

Hochschild is a thoughtful, discerning reporter and a solid writer, but some of this material may seem a little stale, like picking up a decade-old newsmagazine and reading about life in the Soviet Union. Still, he's quite good in pieces such as "Aristocratic Revolutionary," a 1985 profile of Patrick Duncan, a white South African who was editor of an anti-apartheid paper in the early 1960s. One of his best pieces is a 1978 profile of Jan Yoors, a Belgian youth who ran away with the gypsies in 1934; Hochschild found the renowned author of The Gypsies and Crossing residing near Washington Square, a double amputee who made his living designing and weaving tapestries. Another visit finds the author in the French Alps with novelist and art critic John Berger, whom he liked "because he was the first writer I've run across who could explain why so much fine art is boring." Hochschild traveled extensively for these pieces: Mississippi, the Soviet Union, Senegal, El Salvador, South Africa, the Amazon. One 1995 article finds him in Colombia to witness the Indians' "startling migration in reverse": They were leaving the towns and missions and "rebuilding their traditional dwellings deep in the forest." A few literary essays are included, most notably a penetrating search for the young, sensitive Hemingway who existed before the myth, the "Papa" persona, the compulsive braggart, took over. And charmingly, this redoubtable peacenik of the '60s and '70s confesses to a lifelong addiction to war novels and books about combat.

These pieces speak clearly to the times in which they were written, but not to the ages.

Product Details

Syracuse University Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Unlike other mammals, writers are not born into the world knowing how to make their own particular noise. Almost from the beginning, wolves howl, hogs grunt, bears growl. They need no MFA programs in growling, or summer workshops in discovering the grunt within. Even if separated from their families at birth and raised by some other species, they still know the right sound. But writers are different: all too easily they mistake someone else's sound for their own. For many years, that's what happened with me.

What People are Saying About This

Carl H. Klaus
From the mid-sixties to the mid-nineties, from Mississippi to Moscow, Adam Hochschild has been on the front lines (and behind the scenes), bringing back vividly detailed stories that he tells with the skill of a raconteur, the sincerity of a personal essayist, and the conscience of a latter-day Orwell. I heartily recommend Hochschild as a guide to finding the trapdoor in a world of ticky places. -- (Carl H. Klaus, founder, Program in Non-Fiction, University of Iowa)
Studs Terkel
This remarkable memoir in one voice, Adam Hochschild's, reflects a chorus of voices--of outsiders who sprang from the privileged inside: in the twilights of apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union, in the tempest of Amazonian America, and in the turmoil of literary precincts. It is a rich and rewarding adventure in the reading.
Barbara Ehrenreich
For anyone wishing to revisit the late twentieth century, Adam Hochschild is the ideal traveling companion. Wherever he takes you--to a combat zone in El Salvador, an anti-apartheid rally in South Africa, the claustrophobic apartments of Moscow--you will find the place lit up with gentle humor and a luminous moral intelligence. In a time of much glibness and sensationalism, Hochschild is the rare journalist who qualifies as a gentleman, a scholar, and a mensch.
Orville Schell
Whether you are a general reader looking to be transported to other times and places or a student trying to unlock the mysteries of how good non-fiction is written, Finding the Trapdoor offers something rare. Hochschild is one of those unusual serious writers who can write about whatever interests him with intelligence, honesty and style. -- (Orville Schell, Dean, Graduate School of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley)

Meet the Author

Brief Biography

San Francisco, California
Date of Birth:
October 5, 1942
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
A.B., Harvard College, 1963

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