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Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa Hardcover – July 25, 2003


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Hardcover, July 25, 2003
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (July 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312315643
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312315641
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,559,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"It does seem to me that Capa has proved beyond all doubt that the camera need not be a cold mechanical device," John Steinbeck wrote of photojournalist Robert Capa in a quote that launches this well-written, exhaustively researched biography. "Like the pen, it is as good as the man who uses it. It can be the extension of mind and heart." That’s quite a compliment coming from an author like Steinbeck, but then Capa won the respect and friendship of some of the brightest talents of his generation; other admirers and poker buddies included Ernest Hemingway and John Huston, and among his many loves was actress Ingrid Bergman. Capa won fame slogging through the blood and grime to capture vivid images of five different wars, from the Spanish Civil War (where he wasn't above staging some of his photographs), through the landings at Omaha Beach on D-Day (which he chronicled for Life magazine as the only journalist to wade ashore with the first wave of G.I.s), to the early days of the Vietnam conflict (where he was killed in action at the age of 41 while covering the French army, soon to be replaced with disastrous results by the Americans). Born a Hungarian Jew named André Friedmann, another great writer, John Hersey, famously dubbed the swarthy chain-smoking photographer "the Man Who Invented Himself," and author Alex Kershaw contends that one of his greatest achievements was the legend that he created for himself. A California journalist who contributes to The Guardian and The Sunday Times Magazine, among others, Kershaw brings Capa and his times to life with bright, vivid writing and telling anecdotes, using a fascinating personal odyssey to put the man's professional accomplishments in perspective. "Capa was the first photographer to make photojournalism appear glamorous and sexy," he writes. Of course, that distinction and all others take a back seat to the photos themselves, and this book’s only shortcoming is that it does not include any examples of the great man’s work.--Jim DeRogatis

From Publishers Weekly

Robert Capa was the archetype of the intrepid war photographer. Asserting that "if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough," Capa braved combat in the Spanish Civil War, hit Omaha Beach in the first wave on D-Day, and jumped behind German lines with American paratroopers, returning with visceral pictures-like the famous (and possibly staged) "falling soldier" photo of a Spanish Republican militiaman who had just been shot-that defined our idea of what modern war looks like. "Profligate, passionate, impulsive," Capa was a ladies' man who liked nice togs, hobnobbed with the rich and famous, got caught up in anti-Fascist and Popular Front politics, and played poker compulsively when he was not risking his life in combat-in other words, he practically invented the persona of the celebrity photojournalist. He also co-founded the pioneering Magnum photo agency, which gave freelance photographers ownership and control of their photos. Journalist Kershaw gives an engrossing account of Capa's impossibly romantic life, elegantly evoking both the horror of the front lines and the glamour of wartime Madrid, London and Paris, where Capa befriended the likes of Ernest Hemingway and romanced the likes of Ingrid Bergman. Packed with arresting anecdotes and character studies, Kershaw's biography is a worthy companion to Capa's work. Photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Alex Kershaw is the New York Times best-selling author of several popular WW11 titles. He is a British born journalist.

Please visit alexkershaw.com for his full bio and some great web-sites devoted to his books. He would be happy to answer any questions and sign books and help in any other way.

You can also catch up with him and his work at his facebook page - alex kershaw, author's page.

He blogs at www.alexkershawauthor.com and provides video/images/posts on facebook.



THE LIBERATOR Q&A

What inspired you to write the book?

I was researching a story about men who liberated the camps in WW11. I came across an extraordinary photograph which showed a young American officer, Felix Sparks, firing his pistol into the air on 29 April 1945. He is in a coal-yard at Dachau, which he has just liberated, and some of his men have opened fire on SS soldiers. He is firing his pistol and shouting to make them stop. The image captures an amazing moment of incredible humanity when one considers that Sparks had by then spent over 500 days in brutalizing combat, losing an entire company at Anzio and a battalion to the SS, since landing on the first day of the invasion of Europe. Most people would not have stopped the killing of such evil men, just minutes after discovering the full horrors of Hitler's first concentration camp. I had to meet this man and in 2007 I interviewed him, literally on his death-bed. No other American fought for longer or suffered more to free more people from the greatest evil of modern times.


- What surprised you the most during the writing process?

I was often astonished by the sheer violence and trauma endured by the so-called Greatest Generation. Over 150,000 mostly working-class Americans died to liberate Europe. Hundreds of thousands came home and never talked about it. Why would you want to recount what felt like being in a terrible car crash each day? I interviewed many men who served with and under Sparks and because they opened up to me I was struck over and over by how great their suffering had been. None came home unbroken. They all paid a huge price if they were in combat.

- What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

I'd be a retired banker, sipping cocktails in St. Lucia, lazily scanning the Wall Street Journal to see how my investments, taxed at almost nothing, are doing. Sadly, l decided to try to do something a little more interesting....

- What else are you reading right now?

I am utterly absorbed in the Civil War and Revolutionary War America - my son is studying these periods at middle school. It's hugely colorful history. Even as an expat "limey" who has lived here for twenty years I'm astonished by how radical the idea was that all men should be equal before the law, not subjects of a king. As concerns the Civil War, Michael Shara's The Killer Angels is amazing. The Civil War has not ended of course - just look at the red and blue states.

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
A great, cinematic read - a shame that the estate did not allow photographs, but they never will. Yet this book is so vivid and esxciting that you don't notice the images not being there - you see them in your head. Really tremendous research, so much more objective than the authorized hagiographer Whelan's account, and this will one day be a movie - it just feels so right. A great, great tale told very well by Kershaw. Best bio on a photographer ever written.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is a story, told to be thrilling and informative and will stand the test of time as the best book written about the trade of war photography. It should be a film because the action and character development are well plotted. And if you want to know, close up, about the great moments of the last century, then here is a ring-side seat on history in the making too. Inspiring stuff. If only there were more biographies written like this.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I think this book is well written and covers the subject. The problem is that after reading this I have come to the conclusion that Robert Capa is not the photographer I thought he was. So his life is disappointing in many ways, but I can't take that out on the author.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A photographer VINE VOICE on September 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Capa is one of the romantic characters of journalism, a free spirit with an insatiable appetite for risk-taking, alcohol, cigarettes and women. That he died at age 40 in the line of duty as a war photographer has only embellished his image. These are the facts we have known about Capa for decades, reported nicely in Whelan's biography in the 1980's. This book doesn't expand on this information very much.

If you leave out the sections about the famous women he bedded, this would be a much shorter book. It's tawdry in that regard but that does keep the book rolling along. Overall, it's not a bad biography of Capa. It does seem to me to borrow heavily from Whelan's biography and from Capa's own book "Slightly Out Of Focus". If you're familiar with those books, there are no new revelations here.

I do take issue with one small point. Capa is constantly referred to as having Leicas dangling around his neck, using Leicas on assignments and holding Leicas. While I do not doubt Capa used Leicas--along with other brands of cameras--during his career, Kershaw's repeated references are tedious. This is especially true when one considers that Capa is closely identified with the now defunct 35mm Zeiss Contax, he used Contax cameras during the D-Day invasion and he was using Contax cameras at the time of his death in Indochina in 1954. In fact, the two photographs in Kershaw's book that show Capa with a camera "dangling around his neck" actually show him with Contax cameras, not Leicas.

That small point is indeed small, however, it begs the question of how correct the other information might be. Of course biographies are often based on hearsay and ancedotal information, the veracity of which is open to interpretation.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
An exceptionally nasty hatchet job, sloppily written, relying heavily on the authorized biography by Robert Whelan. Not surprisingly, Cornell Capa, the biographee's brother and custodian of his heritage refused cooperation, even to the extent of denying the use crucial photos, with this author.
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