The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic
Buy The Book
Based upon over 100 interviews and a wealth of new sources (private diaries, unpublished letters, archives of the CIA, MI5, the French Sureté, the German and Soviet communist parties), Koestler is a nuanced account of its subject’s turbulent public and private life: his drug use, manic depression, the frenetic womanizing that led to an accusation of rape, and the shocking suicide pact with his third wife in 1983. It also makes the case for Koestler’s stature as a major autobiographer and essayist as well as novelist. The result is a complex and indelible portrait of a brilliant, unpredictable, and talented writer, memorably described by one MI5 interrogator as “one third blackguard, one third lunatic, and one third genius.”
On Tuesday March 1, 1983, Arthur Koestler and his wife Cynthia entered their sitting room at 8 Montpelier Square, London, sat down facing one another, he in his favorite leather armchair, she on the couch, and poured themselves their usual drink before dinner. Arthur’s was his favorite brandy, Cynthia’s was scotch. The only difference between this and a thousand similar evenings was the presence on a small table between them of a bottle of wine, a large bottle of tuinal sleeping tablets, a jar of honey, and some extra wine glasses. Arthur and Cynthia swallowed about half the tablets each, washed them down with wine and honey, then sipped their brandy and scotch. Within half an hour or so they were unconscious, within an hour fully dead, and they remained there, fully clothed, for a day and a half, until their Brazilian maid came to clean the house on Thursday morning.
The suicide was meticulously planned and carried out without a hitch. Several months beforehand Koestler had prepared a letter making it clear he intended to commit suicide of his own volition. He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and lymphocytic leukemia, and the doctors had discovered an ominous new lump in his groin. He seems to have made up his mind on a Sunday. Koestler hated Sundays. He was fond of quoting Dostoevsky: “Even if you are in the deepest dungeon, you always know when it is a Sunday.”
It was entirely in character for Koestler to kill himself, asserting the kind of control in planning his death that had eluded him in managing his chaotic and crowded life, and it was equally characteristic of him to turn it into a public and political act. He was a vocal advocate of euthanasia, describing it as “the natural corrective to a biological handicap,” and his whole life had been spent in the service of one cause or another. It also brought to a sensational end a life that had had more than its share of drama, offering the popular press a field day. “Author and Wife Found Dead;” “Koestlers in Suicide Pact;” “Anti-Red Crusader and Wife in Suicide Pact;” “Wife’s Tragic Devotion,” were just a few of the headlines in the newspapers the following day, and his death made news around the world. As a veteran journalist as well as a novelist, Koestler would have savored those headlines and drawn satisfaction from the thought that his ability to provoke would extend beyond the grave, even if Cynthia’s death raised troubling questions that would linger to muddy his message.
Provocation and controversy were meat and drink to Koestler, elements of a tumultuous life that rarely enjoyed peace or quiet. His pugnacious personality was a lightning rod for strong feelings and extreme opinions, and he reveled in the notoriety they brought him. Like many short men (barely five foot six in his stockinged feet), he was incorrigibly competitive and relentlessly combative, quick to take offense and slow to forgive. Hungarian in his temper, German in his industry, Jewish in his intellectual ambition, he was never comfortable in his own skin, doomed to oscillate between arrogance and humility, like one of those mercurial Russians in the novels of Dostoevsky, whom Koestler so admired and wished to emulate.
There was another side to Koestler, however, that few beyond his immediate circle got to see, an undisguised vulnerability and painful honesty, a selfconscious shyness and morbid sensitivity, that combined with his boyish exuberance and devil-may-care daring made him a magnet for a certain type of woman. Mamaine Paget, his second wife, found the combination of his fiery, un-English temperament and extraordinary attentiveness irresistible. To the English novelist, Elizabeth Jane Howard, who lived with him for a while, he was a noble goblin, addicted to childish jokes, with a “continuous, crackling, almost irritable energy,” that made you feel that if you touched him “you would get an electric shock.” Several of the women he was passionately involved with stayed friends for life, and Cynthia, his third wife, demonstrated her devotion in the most dramatic way possible, when choosing to die with him. But his chronic promiscuity was a double-edged sword, leading many women to detest him on sight, or to regret ever getting involved with him, and on one drunken occasion, as we now know, his importunity crossed the line of acceptable behavior.
What made Koestler so exhilarating and often so difficult to be around was a manic depression that cause him to alternate between demonic glee, accompanied by an inflated sense of his own importance, and gloomy humility, powered by chronic self-doubt. He could be reckless and impatient at one moment, totally incapable of controlling his volatile temper, yet generous and tender the next. It’s no wonder he tended to think and write in terms of binaries and antitheses: yogi and commissar, arrival and departure, insight and outlook, lotus and robot. Alcohol (bolstered by benzedrine and other pep pills) was his drug of choice, rescuing him again and again from the ravages of a recurring inferiority complex, while deepening his dilemmas and getting him into more trouble.
Despite his urge to be a classic Casanova, Koestler just as often preferred the company of men, especially those like Dylan Thomas, Henry Green, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre, who shared his disregard for bourgeois politesse. More conventional friends secretly envied or despised his drinking and womanizing according to temperament, and welcomed or resented his forensic skills. In England John Strachey found Koestler “unpardonably brilliant,” Michael Foot called him the “most pulverizing arguer I have ever met, bar none,” and Orwell regarded him as a staunch ideological friend and loyal ally. In America he was admired by Mary McCarthy, James Burnham, and Philip Rahv, among others, for his political penetration and dialectical brilliance. Camus in France described him as “a man of substance” who could be relied upon through thick and thin, and Raymond Aron, no lightweight himself, called Koestler the “greatest of the engaged intellectuals” of the twentieth century.
What these admirers intuitively understood was that for Koestler, ideas were never just intellectual playthings, but part of his life’s blood, more palpable to him than most of the humans around him. His intellectual nerve ends were so finely tuned that he experienced the onset of fresh ideas like orgasms, and mourned their passing as the end of treasured love affairs. He lived for ideas and was ready to die for them, as he showed when incarcerated first in a Spanish jail and then a French concentration camp, and he insisted on following the logic of his inspirations wherever they led him—which late in life was to some extremely odd places, including a belief in the possibilities of extra-sensory perception and the powers of parapsychology.
Koestler was born in Hungary and fled with his family to Vienna in adolescence. He moved to Palestine and then to Western Europe, lived for a while in France, the Soviet Union and the United States, before settling uneasily in England, “perpetually in search of a country,” in Malraux’s words. He was a chameleon, a vagabond and a pilgrim, constantly changing and reinventing himself, inhaling, as it were, the essence of each place he stayed in, while remaining perpetually alien to his surroundings. Never fully Hungarian, not quite Austrian or German, a Jew uninterested in Judaism, incapable of being French, definitely not an Englishman, and unwilling to accommodate himself even to the melting pot of multicultural America, he wandered the earth like a modern Quixote in search of a spiritual homeland. And yet, knowing so many countries so intimately, he was never parochial or narrowminded. He understood the complex interplay in our world beween pyschology, culture and religion, and between competing national interests and political systems as few writers before him or since, and despite his Cassandra-like pessimism, he never abandoned his quest for a better life for mankind.
That quest was inspired by an Enlightenment dream of happiness and a just social order and the twentieth century will o’ the wisp of an earthly utopia. During his long life Koestler investigated a multitude of political movements, religions, and scientific disciplines, from Zionism to Catholicism and even Buddhism, from anti-fascism to communism and anti-communism, from astronomy and evolution to neurobiology and parapsychology. His odyssey spawned over thirty books, among them six novels, four autobiographies, four scientific treatises, four volumes of essays, three nonfiction investigations, and innumerable newspaper articles. He is most celebrated for his novel about Stalin’s show trials, Darkness at Noon, which became an instant classic after World War II and was on all high school reading lists during the Cold War. It has endured because, in addition to throwing a piercing light on the practices of Soviet communism, the novel offers profound insights into the psychological roots of the totalitarian mind (which manifests itself today, perhaps, in terrorism) and the plight of those who succumb to it. It is a novel of ideas and psychological tension in the manner of Dostoevsky and Conrad, and remains Koestler’s literary masterpiece.
Unfortunately, like many authors who write a masterpiece early in their careers, Koestler was repeatedly tagged as “Arthur (Darkness at Noon) Koestler,” an appellation he came to dread for its implication that he was a one-book wonder; and though the sheer bulk of his œuvre gives the lie to this view, his books are so varied in subject matter and so uneven in quality that it has proved extraordinarily difficult to arrive at a considered judgment. Moreover his reputation has fallen precipitously since his death, especially since the end of communism, leading many to dismiss him as insignificant and outdated. But such a judgement is superficial and premature, perhaps because critics have been looking for significance in the wrong places, for while it’s true that Koestler achieved prominence as a novelist, it’s equally true that none of the four novels that followed it come anywhere near his masterpiece in quality or interest. Nor, unhappily, do most of the scientific works to which Koestler devoted the latter half of his life, baffling literary critics with their technicalities and offending scientists with their polemicas and absence of experimental rigor.
The work that guarantees Koestler’s continuing importance, in my view, is not his fiction but his nonfiction, the five autobiographical works and the best of his literary and political essays that, apart from Darkness at Noon, constitute his principal contribution to twentieth century literature. Koestler was an essayist of great power and penetration. Alongside Orwell in England in the nineteen forties and early fifties, he poured forth a stream of inspired commentary (e.g. in The Yogi and the Commissar and The Trail of the Dinosaur) on some of the most acute social and political issues of the day, and was initially more prescient than Orwell about the totalitarian forces shaping the modern world. As for the autobiographies, Koestler’s first work in this genre, and in some respects his best, was Dialogue with Death, a piercing memoir about his imprisonment and near-execution in Civil War Spain. This was followed three years later by Scum of the Earth, both a documentary memoir of his incarceration in a French concentration camp and escape from the invading Germans on the eve of World War II, and a requiem for the anti-fascist left between the two world wars. “Memoirs of a Tightrope Walker,” the lead essay in The God that Failed, analyzed his seduction by communism and subsequent disillusionment with unrivaled dialectical verve and penetration.
His most ambitious works in this genre, however, were two volumes of straight autobiography, Arrow in the Blue and The Invisible Writing, in which Koestler fashioned a new paradigm for the genre, treating his life and experiences as a prism through which to examine the extraordinary struggle of mid-twentieth century intellectuals to comprehend (and survive) two world wars, the Great Depression, and the rise of two seemingly irresistible totalitarian movements, fascism and communism. His response to those movements and their value systems took the form of a lifelong interrogation of the problem of individual freedom and the ethics of choice, and the conflict between collective necessity and individual morality, often summarized as the battle between ends and means.
These themes carried over into all Koestler’s novels, essays and scientific works, and if we examine them in the context of the memoirs, we see how they all, including even Darkness at Noon, operated on one level as thinly disguised autobiography. Koestler was a romantic rationalist, and his quest for a viable system of moral and spiritual values was based on the hope that secular legacy of the Enlightenment could replace religion and offer a reliable guide to human behavior (though there was also a frustrated religious dimension to his striving that he could never quite acknowledge). In the best of his books, his struggle to make sense of the world was illuminated by a quixotic hope that happiness on earth, some variant of the utopian dream, was somehow within reach if only one could find the right key to the door.
Late in life, in a burst of self-deprecation, Koestler once referred to himself as the “Casanova of causes,” hinting that while his causes were passionately embraced and worthy of devotion, the act of serving them was psychologically as important as the causes themselves. A close reading of his letters, diaries and books confirms that view, for Koestler’s quest for enlightenment was not some arid, abstract sort of search, but a deep instinctual urge, powered by personal unhappiness and psychological frustration, which started early in his life and continued to the very end of his days. This is not to devalue its results, which are there for all to see in his best books, but it was in fact the cause of causes lurking behind every other cause Koestler espoused and everything he wrote, emblematic of the twentieth century’s own flailings in its search for a workable form of utopia. Koestler was bound to fail in his quest, of course, but the quest itself was the point.×
Koestler eNotes coming soon
A collection of extra research material I’ve gathered in my work on the book in PDF format.
American & Other Reviews
Review from Australia compares Koestler and Solzhenitsyn biographies
Published a generation apart, both biographies are monumental studies in what it means to be a rare witness and an extraordinary writer.
Louis Menand, “Road Warrior, Arthur Koestler and his century,” The New Yorker, December 21 & 28, 2009
Koestler wrote in German (the original language of “Darkness at Noon”) and English. He spoke Hungarian, Russian, Spanish, and French, too. (Hebrew gave him trouble; characteristically, he blamed the language.) He was, in his own phrase, the “Casanova of causes,” from Zionism to the campaign against capital punishment, and he donated generously to many of them. He maintained lifelong relationships (including the occasional feud) with the writers, scientists, and political activists he met in the various places he visited. And he was a social and sexual torpedo. Academics generally avoided him, but he socialized and debated—alcohol, generously administered, was a necessary lubricant and invariably made him obstreperous and sometimes violent—with nearly everyone else in midcentury intellectual circles, from George Orwell and Jean-Paul Sartre to Whittaker Chambers and Timothy Leary. He was married three times, and he had literally hundreds of affairs. He was the sort of person who records his liaisons in a notebook.Read More
Louis Menand, “Road Warrior, Arthur Koestler and his century,” The New Yorker, December 21 & 28, 2009
Koestler wrote in German (the original language of “Darkness at Noon”) and English. He spoke Hungarian, Russian, Spanish, and French, too. (Hebrew gave him trouble; characteristically, he blamed the language.) He was, in his own phrase, the “Casanova of causes,” from Zionism to the campaign against capital punishment, and he donated generously to many of them. He maintained lifelong relationships (including the occasional feud) with the writers, scientists, and political activists he met in the various places he visited. And he was a social and sexual torpedo. Academics generally avoided him, but he socialized and debated—alcohol, generously administered, was a necessary lubricant and invariably made him obstreperous and sometimes violent—with nearly everyone else in midcentury intellectual circles, from George Orwell and Jean-Paul Sartre to Whittaker Chambers and Timothy Leary. He was married three times, and he had literally hundreds of affairs. He was the sort of person who records his liaisons in a notebook.
Scammell would therefore be entirely justified if he felt (a) proud and (b) exhausted after completing his biographical task, which has taken him, he says, to fourteen countries on three continents over a span of twenty years. (Scammell’s previous book, a prize-winning biography of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, was published in 1984.) Just getting the file cards in order would have challenged Hercules, if Hercules had been literate. Other reviewers may second-guess Scammell’s take on, say, Zionist fraternities in interwar Vienna, but not this one. “Koestler” seems a prodigy of research, in many languages, and a scrupulous piece of fair-minded advocacy.
Leaving aside the psychology of the women in Koestler’s life, what about the psychology of Koestler? Scammell thinks that Koestler suffered from manic depression, and he cites the symptoms listed by Kay Redfield Jamison in her book “Touched with Fire”: “an inflated self-esteem, as well as a certainty of conviction about the correctness and importance of their ideas . . . chaotic patterns of personal and professional relationships . . . spending excessive amounts of money, impulsive involvements in questionable endeavors, reckless driving, extreme impatience, intense and impulsive romantic or sexual relations, and volatility.” Those characterizations do fit Koestler, right down to the reckless driving, but evidence of depression, although there are plenty of self-reports, is thinner. He agonized, but every writer agonizes. If we are clinically inclined, a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder might better meet the case (I quote from the D.S.M.): “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy.”
Why did Koestler renounce political activism (and, with a few exceptions, live up to that declaration) after 1955? As Scammell explains, Koestler had encountered difficulties when he came to the United States because he did not recognize the difference between left-wing anti-Communists like the editors of Partisan Review, to which he contributed; liberal anti-Communists like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., with whom he consorted; and right-wingers like Joseph McCarthy, with whom he also met. In the beginning, he probably didn’t think American anti-Communist sectarianism was very significant. He had the view, not unreasonable, that an anti-Communist is an anti-Communist, whatever the color of his other views, and that anti-Communists ought to band together.
At some point, he must have realized that in a Cold War world the petty differences among European anti-Communists, a world he knew from the inside out, no longer mattered. The Americans were in charge. Events from now on would be dictated by American politics, not by the subtleties of French fellow-travelling apologetics. And so he set off after mind waves, alternative modes of consciousness, intelligent design—cosmic mysteries. He must, in the end, have been something of a mystery to himself. And, even after this exhaustive combing of the record, he remains something of a mystery to us—a slightly mad dreidel that spun out of Central Europe and across the history of a bloody century. It’s a story that was worth writing and that is still worth hearing.
Paul Berman, “The Prisoner Intellectuals,” The New Republic, May 5, 2010
The opening pages of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon are thrilling to read. In a very few sentences, Koestler managed to wrap his arms around one of the huge and mysterious philosophical master-themes of the last two centuries, and, in a muscular feat of poetic compression, to reduce his giant theme to a handful of simple images:
The cell door slammed behind Rubashov.
He remained leaning against the door for a few seconds, and lit a cigarette. On the bed to his right lay two fairly clean blankets, and the straw mattress looked newly filled. The wash-basin to his left had no plug, but the trap functioned. The can next to it had been freshly disinfected, it did not smell. The walls on both sides were of solid brick, which would stifle the sound of tapping, but where the heating and drain pipe penetrated it, it had been plastered and resounded quite well; besides, the heating pipe itself seemed to be noise-conducting. The window started at eye-level.
And Rubashov observes the vista beyond the window bars: the snow, the moon, the Milky Way, a marching sentry, the yellow light of electric lanterns.
Anne Applebaum, “Yesterday’s Man?,” The New York Review of Books, February 11, 2010
He began his education in the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at an experimental kindergarten in Budapest. His mother was briefly a patient of Sigmund Freud’s. In interwar Vienna he wound up as the personal secretary of Vladimir Jabotinsky, one of the early leaders of the Zionist movement. Traveling in Soviet Turkmenistan as a young and ardent Communist sympathizer, he ran into Langston Hughes. Fighting in the Spanish civil war, he met W.H. Auden at a “crazy party” in Valencia, before winding up in one of Franco’s prisons. In Weimar Berlin he fell into the circle of the infamous Comintern agent Willi Münzenberg, through whom he met the leading German Communists of the era: Johannes Becher, Hanns Eisler, Bertolt Brecht. Afraid of being caught by the Gestapo while fleeing France, he borrowed suicide pills from Walter Benjamin. He took them several weeks later when it seemed he would be unable to get out of Lisbon, but didn’t die (though Benjamin, denied passage into Spain at the French border, took them and did).
Michael Dirda, “Michael Scammell’s Koestler,” The Washington Post, January 21, 2010
Who now reads Arthur Koestler (1905-1983)? My guess: only a few people past age 50 and the occasional student of 20th-century political history. While biographer Michael Scammell argues for Koestler’s importance as a memoirist (“Arrow in the Blue” , “The Invisible Writing” ), the only book he’s still known for is “Darkness at Noon” (1940) — a novel describing how the revolutionary Rubashov is brainwashed into confessing to crimes he never committed. Everything else Koestler published now seems dated, largely forgotten or simply crackpot.
Yet, besides the novels and memoirs, that also includes moving and still provocative books on Zionism, sex, the Spanish Civil War, evolution and parapsychology. Koestler was, in fact, primarily a journalist of genius, a passionate witness to most of the political nightmares and cultural tumult of the early and mid-20th century. Along the way, he also managed to cruise the Arctic Circle in the Graf Zeppelin dirigible, spend weeks on death row in one of Generalissimo Franco’s prisons, make love to scores of women and drop acid with Timothy Leary.
Johann Hari, “The Casanova of Causes, How Arthur Koestler embodied the 20th century,” Slate Magazine, December 20, 2009
History is a brutal sieve. Arthur Koestler is remembered now—if at all—for writing Darkness at Noon, a hand grenade of a novel tossed at Joseph Stalin’s Kremlin. Those 200 pages are all we retain off an intellectual nomad who stormed across the 20th century. He seems to have been everywhere, like an angry, book-spewing Zelig. Even a thumbnail summary makes me feel exhausted (deep breath): He grew up in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, witnessing revolutions and counter-revolutions. He was one of the first Zionist settlers in Palestine. He became a star in the Berlin of Sally Bowles’ cabarets and a rising Adolf Hitler. He was jailed and nearly shot by Gen. Franco. He fled the Nazis through Casablanca, Morocco. He gave Albert Camus a black eye, George Orwell a holiday home, and Soviet communism an enema. He had sex with supermodel twins, took magic mushrooms with Timothy Leary, and helped create Intelligent Design.Read More
Johann Hari, “The Casanova of Causes, How Arthur Koestler embodied the 20th century,” Slate Magazine, December 20, 2009
History is a brutal sieve. Arthur Koestler is remembered now—if at all—for writing Darkness at Noon, a hand grenade of a novel tossed at Joseph Stalin’s Kremlin. Those 200 pages are all we retain off an intellectual nomad who stormed across the 20th century. He seems to have been everywhere, like an angry, book-spewing Zelig. Even a thumbnail summary makes me feel exhausted (deep breath): He grew up in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, witnessing revolutions and counter-revolutions. He was one of the first Zionist settlers in Palestine. He became a star in the Berlin of Sally Bowles’ cabarets and a rising Adolf Hitler. He was jailed and nearly shot by Gen. Franco. He fled the Nazis through Casablanca, Morocco. He gave Albert Camus a black eye, George Orwell a holiday home, and Soviet communism an enema. He had sex with supermodel twins, took magic mushrooms with Timothy Leary, and helped create Intelligent Design. Oh—and he was a rapist.
Michael Scammell’s terrific new biography—Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic—scrapes together a contradictory life that amounts to far more than the single novel that keeps him on our bookshelves. George Steiner said of him: “There are men and women who seem to embody the times in which they live. Somehow their biographies take on and make more visible to the rest of us the shape and meaning of the age.”… Like the century he embodies, he skipped from one utopian fantasy to another, drinking the dream dry and then tossing it aside with disgust. Yes, he glimpsed darkness at noon—but he always saw another blinding light at 2 p.m. His life is a parable about the dangers of utopianism—and why it will always leave you with a vomit-flecked hangover.
Koestler was a 5-foot-6-inch cocktail of raw nerve endings and neat booze, prone to hurling restaurant tables across the room if you argued with him over dinner. He was born in 1905, and he nearly killed his mother there and then. She was 34—a seriously old age at that time to have your first child. The labor took two agonising days. Koestler liked later to claim his family had flared up from nothing into sudden wealth and then vanished into exile or the gas chambers. It wasn’t true: His mother was from one of the richest Jewish families in Austro-Hungary. But Koestler wanted to deny everything about her, always. She was ill and depressive, and even trips to Sigmund Freud couldn’t iron her out: She said he was “a pervert.” Her sniping rejections of her son—and her abandonment of him for years as she went off on “rest cures”—created in him a sense of guilt and inferiority that became his conjoined twin.
In his excellent biography, Scammell tells all this is plain and cool writing that makes Koestler seem all the more feverish. Yet he falters when it comes to dissecting Koestler’s greatest flaw: his abuse of women. Koestler’s first wife got him rescued from Franco’s prisons—but when the Nazis invaded France, he abandoned her and took another woman to safety. Koestler’s second wife was seriously ill—but he still punched her in the head. Koestler—s third wife was only 55 and entirely healthy when he committed suicide after contracting Parkinson’s—but he still let her kill herself with him. Koestler wrote: “Without an element of initial rape, there is no delight.” Jill Craigie—one of Britain’s best feminist writers—revealed after his death that one morning Koestler had pulled her hair, throttled her, and raped her. But Scammell says we need to keep it “in proportion,” and claims “the exercise of male strength to gain sexual satisfaction wasn’t exactly uncommon at that time.” But throttling a woman and forcing her into sex was regarded as a serious crime then. To excuse it is beneath a writer of Scammell’s caliber.
In a century of serial fanaticisms, Arthur Koestler embodied both the disease and the cure. He was a fanatic capable of sobering up, an ideologue who occasionally let reality in through the cracks. He never led us to the promised land—but he did show us why it is a mirage, dragging us away from the real and relentless work of reform.×
Saul Rosenberg, “An Absolutist in Full: The remarkable life of a passionate writer,” Wall Street Journal, January 2, 2010
Michael Scammell’s “Koestler” is a rescue operation. Today’s well-informed reader may rightly remember Arthur Koestler as the author of the best-selling anti-Stalinist novel “Darkness at Noon” (1940) but also as a deeply flawed if not mentally unstable man who devoted his late-life energies to loopy researches into parapsychology, conducted a predatory sex life whose most distinctive feature was the rape of a good friend’s wife and, when terminally ill, persuaded his healthy middle-aged wife, Cynthia, to join him in suicide. Such, at least, was the impression left in 1998 by David Cesarani, Koestler’s previous biographer. All these and many other aspects of Koestler’s life Mr. Scammell examines carefully, enriching them with context and often pulling back from Mr. Cesarani’s harshest verdicts—for the most part, smartly and successfully.
New York Review of Books
San Francisco Chronicle
The New Criterion
Harper's (available only to subscribers)
The New Republic
(Show British Version)
The Solzhenitsyn Files
“An amazing compilation of once top-secret Soviet government documents… This newsworthy Book reveals the Soviet leadership as complacent, inept and out of touch with the masses.”
From Under The Rubble
By Alexander Solzhenitsyn, et al.
“A far reaching meditation on the human condition. I return to it again and again.”
–John W. Sewell
Russia’s Other Writers, Selections from Samizdat Literature
“An important contribution to the vast and continuing labor of correcting the distorted image of Soviet literature created by fifty years of suppression.”