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Gellhorn: A Twentieth Century Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) was a woman of enormous accomplishment. Writer and journalist, she covered the major international conflicts of her lifetime, from the Spanish civil war to Vietnam, managed to land on Omaha Beach shortly after D-Day, entered Dachau a few days after it was liberated, observed the Nuremberg trials and, in the course of a long life, visited and wrote about most of the areas of the world. But she was a woman working in a man's world and, as the subtitle of Moorehead's first-rate biography reminds us, hers was a 20th century life, filled with all the contradictions between private and public existence experienced by most achieving women of her generation. As her first husband, Ernest Hemingway, put it before their acrimonious divorce, "Are you a war correspondent or wife in my bed?" a question Gellhorn finally answered by leaving him. As Moorehead shows, Gellhorn, at once tough and vulnerable, was surefooted in her professional life and capable of enduring friendships with people as varied as Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Capa (some of whose photos are included) and Leonard Bernstein. Her intimate life was another matter, with both her marriages and her numerous affairs all ending in tears. Moorehead, the author of well-received biographies of Iris Origo and Bertrand Russell, was a friend of Gellhorn's, but the affection and admiration she feels for her subject (to whose papers she had exclusive access) does not prevent her from providing a vivid, balanced and fascinating portrait of a "woman who was oddly deaf to the intonations of feminism," and yet who paid a price for her independent spirit. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From The New Yorker

From her early days as a correspondent in the Spanish Civil War to her coverage, at the age of eighty-five, of murdered Brazilian street children, Martha Gellhorn was a defender of the underdog. Scornful of "all that objectivity shit" and intemperate in her judgments—friends were exiled, lovers dismissed—Gellhorn was driven to her itinerant existence by a terror of boredom. She was tall, blond, and legendarily tough; her marriage to Hemingway was celebrated with a dinner of roast moose. At the age of thirty-one, she travelled to Finland to await the Russian invasion; at forty-one, she adopted a child who had been abandoned in postwar Italy; in her fifties, she reported on the Vietnam War. Throughout, she remained a solitary being. "I only loved the world of men," she wrote to a friend, "not the world of men-and-women."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (October 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805065539
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805065534
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,664,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have been a Martha Gellhorn fan snce I found a copy of Travels With Myself and Another on the shelf at Hatchard's in London in 1983. I had never heard of Gellhorn, but was immediately taken with her no-nonsense reporter's style of writing. I scooped up all her non-fiction and some of her fiction. After reading both of Carl Rollyson's bios of her (one written before she died, against her wishes, the other right after her death), I thought I knew a little about Gellhorn. After reading Moorehead's bio, I found out just how little.

This is likely to be the standard text on Gellhorn's life. It is complete, readable, and doesn't pull any punches. You get Gellhorn, warts and all, and there are plenty of warts. There was a lot of information here that I hadn't known, and wouldn't have guessed. It may even be too much information. I think I may know more about Gellhorn now than I really wanted to.

Martha Gellhorn was a terrific war reporter, a great non-fiction writer, a competent author of fiction, and a fascinating person. Moorehead's biography captures all that and is well worth your time.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Virginia E. Selanik on October 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This new biography on Martha Gellhorn by Caroline Moorehead is a most gripping biography from a number of angles. First of all, Moorehead chronicles Gellhorn's personal and professional life with interesting and amusing anecdotes and many of Martha's ad hominem humorous quips. As a writer and a war correspondent, few women in this field can match Gellhorn's scope and travels. It is unfortunate that most people only know of Gellhorn as Hemingway's third wife.Moorehead, however, covers Gellhorn's entire life without added emphasis on the Hemingway marriage, which would have pleased Gellhorn greatly. A valuable fringe benefit of this biography is the expansive coverage of Gellhorn's famous acquaintances in her work as a war correspondent as well as in her personal life....Eleanor Roosevelt and President Roosevelt, Gen James Gavin, Robert Capa, photographer,Leonard Bernstein, and
H.G. Wells. In reading this biography one also acquires a feel for the politics of the era and its history...the Spanish Civil War, World WarII, and even the Vietnam War. History becomes most interesting reading in this superb biography.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Robert Lockwood Mills on May 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Caroline Moorehead captures the passion of trend-setting journalist Martha Gellhorn in this biography. She follows Gellhorn through the Spanish Civil War, a turbulent marriage to (fellow friend of Spanish loyalists) Ernest Hemingway, and Gellhorn's success in breaking tradition by accompanying the invading Allied armies in World War II. Moorehead's sense of history is acute and she avoids the pitfall of over-dramatizing.

The book falls short only in its failure to resolve the contradictions of Gellhorn's personality...the promiscuous woman who was ambivalent toward sex...the egalitarian who cultivated the high and mighty...the compulsive wanderer and adventurer who cherished the companionship of her mother and close friends. We want to like Gellhorn, but we don't understand her well enough to get there.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Richard Glenister on December 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You did not learn all about Martha Gellhorn in the recentHemingway and Gellhorn movie. This book lays bare a genuine heroine - as brave as she was senusal. It reveals a competitive woman with an understanding of world affairs - most of all the shortcomings of her own country. She felt dearly for the poor and unemployed and was critical of injustices wherever she found them. Martha pushed herself into the front battle lines without required approvals and did whatever it took to gain entry
She withstood hardship in several countries as part of her task in gathering facts and writing news pieces.

Prior to meeting Hemingway in Florida in 1935, Martha had numerous love affairs and a few aborted pregnacies. Sex came easily to this tall leggy blonde but love was more elusive. She did not enjoy sex and more than once sought medical advice.
In Paris, pre-war she wrote..."No one reached out for me, really, not for what I wanted or wanted to become, but grabbed for my body...It was never any good. The only part I ever liked was arms around me and an illlusion of tenderness."

During their affair and short marriage, Martha and Hemingway fought and were openly unhappy. And what did not help was they were professional contestents - Hemingway striving to outdo Martha, with the advantage he was alreadly a leader, well known in journalistic circles.

Martha became well known after splitting with Heminway and endured further relationships which in the end went nowhere. She continued to write, and was heavily in demand as a lecturer. Travel remained her passion.

Ill health eventually took its toll but she lived until 1998 a which time she quietly suicided.

This book takes an in depth look at a strong woman and her performances stand out on every page. This is a book you will want to share with others.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Charlotte Corday on May 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I'm a Gellhorn fan, no doubt. However, I'm able to separate the journalist from the legend and the myth from the woman, who like so many of us, had clay feet. It's interesting to me how many men develop a virulent dislike of her, while most women can see past her many flaws, admire her courage, and take the inspirational parts of her life for what they are. I suppose if you have very set ideas about what a woman should be like, then Martha Gellhorn's bio is not for you.

However, I'd recommend her work and this biog. For the open minded.
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