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Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn Hardcover – July 25, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Celebrated American war reporter Martha Gellhorn (1908–1998) was a prolific letter-writer, sharing with a circle of cherished intellectual friends her declarations against war and poverty; her frustrations in an almost exclusively male profession; her hopes for success as a novelist; and disappointments in love. Gellhorn's biographer organizes correspondence from 1930 to 1996, interspersing brief commentaries that place it in the context of Gellhorn's nonstop global assignments and various international domiciles. Gellhorn's tone is typically warm, forthright and full of spirited analysis. More guarded are letters to her former second husband, Ernest Hemingway, and letters to her adopted son, Sandy, with whom she had a troubled relationship. With Eleanor Roosevelt, a lifelong friend, she shared a passionate liberal outlook; letters to Leonard Bernstein attempt to convey her appreciation of his art. While Gellhorn's unswerving energy and work ethic impress, her love of fierce debate, hard drinking, male company and sunbathing, and her capacity to lose her head in romance render her thoroughly human. Particularly moving is Gellhorn's troubled passage into old age and isolation in the African bush, before being rediscovered as a grande dame of journalism by a young London literary crowd, in whose company she delighted. Gellhorn's letters sparkle to the very last. (Aug. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

War correspondent, free spirit, and writer of conscience Martha Gellhorn was beginning to fade into obscurity when Caroline Moorehead reversed the process with her galvanizing biography, Gellhorn (2003). Moorehead now continues her mission to secure Gellhorn her well-deserved place in the pantheon of never-to-be-forgotten writers in this compelling, enjoyable assemblage of letters. Gellhorn is at her most outspoken, fluent, hilarious, charming, and insightful in her energetic correspondence, writing about matters personal and political to her mother, Eleanor Roosevelt, H. G. Wells, Leonard Bernstein, Ernest Hemingway (until their ugly divorce), and many others. She wrote letters as warm-ups for writing her articles, essays, and fiction, and to cool down after unnerving adventures covering World War II, hurtful battles in the war between the sexes, and general agitation over the state of the world. Gellhorn's peripatetic life was unusual and dramatic, and her dispatches are vital and exciting, empathic and gutsy, and brimming with choice metaphors, stinging social commentary, and sharp analysis. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (July 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805065555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805065558
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,417,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Martha Gellhorn did not cooperate with her biographers when she was alive and she did not make it easy for them after she died. She made her opinions on this matter quite clear: "...writers are diminished by having their lives known: they should only be known by what they write." She left many of her manuscripts and some letters and other papers to Boston University before she died, but she deliberately destroyed most of her letters. She probably hoped her correspondents would destroy the letters she sent them as well, and even specifically requested them to in some cases, but she knew a clean sweep would not be possible.

Well, then. Should we respect her wishes and read only her many stories and articles? Or should we pry into her private life, in the hopes of learning something valuable that will add to her published writings? Or should we be completely honest and read her biographies and letters, knowing full well that although we will find out nothing that adds to her journalism or literature, we'll get an adventure story that rivals anything she ever wrote.

Having tossed aside my misgivings when I picked up the first biography of Gellhorn, Nothing Ever Happens to the Brave by Carl Rollyson, I didn't hesitate when Caroline Moorehead's Gellhorn: A Twentieth Century Life came out. It was a foregone conclusion that I would read The Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn. Sorry, Martha.

In The Selected Letters, as in the Moorehead biography, we find out that Gellhorn was a difficult person. She could be rude and something of a bigot, although it may not be fair to judge her based on letters she wrote to friends. Still, suffice it to say that if I were to quote her on African Americans, or the Chinese, or the Italians, my review would not be published on this website.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on February 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is beautifully edited by Caroline Moorehead, the one woman in all the world who knows more than any other about dear old, trying old, basilisk-fierce Martha Gellhorn. The odd thing is that the publishers sent out an advanced uncorrected proof claiming that this was Gellhorn's "COLLECTED LETTERS" and now, months later, the dust has settled and the book has changed its title to "SELECTED LETTERS," perhaps a subtle difference but one that makes you wonder what went south at the last minute. If only the beloved investigative snoop, Gellhorn herself, was still here to look into this minor mystery! Warning, there is indeed a lot in it about Hemingway, but that's why many will be drawn to Gellhorn in the first place, and the other half of the readers will be wanting to know how a dogged spirit stays independent, especially in the face of huge sadnesses, There's an inspirational feel about the collection, surprising as it may seem, and even though tragedy seemed to overshadow her fun no matter where she went.

Her dedication to reporting is in itself remarkable. Wasn't there ever a point where she paused and wondered what on earth good it did to do this particular job, or did she merely shrug off the moral niceties. She doesn't seem to have cared whose feelings she hurt, even those she loved (one of her novels was withdrawn from the UK when a dear friend, whose love life Gellhorn had written up and lightly salted with fiction, complained, first to the author, then to the courts) and her ire hangs high against those who have crossed her (especially Lillian Hellman, who must have been scared silly every day of her life with that menace Gellhorn still out for her blood).
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Miriam Korshak on November 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This will appeal most to either Martha Gellhorn fans or Hemingway mavens. Martha was Ernest Hemingway's third wife, and the only one of four who told him to take a hike. This collection of her letters, from various repositories, represents events, periods and peoples in her life.

The main shortcoming is the paucity of narrative material threading it all together. Unless you're already familiar with the outline of her biography, the meaning of most of the entries is lost on the reader. I found myself going back to my shelf for previous Gellhorn biographies, just to keep the sequence of events straight in my head as I read the letters.

Nevertheless, Martha's extraordinarily open and frank about what's going on internally which her various biographers fail to do. She was a pained woman, lonely at times, bitter frequently, but always keeping it shiny and brittle on the exterior. She lived an extraordinary accomplished life for a woman in her era, but ultimately not one many would choose to emulate. She paid a heavy price for all she achieved.

She died at her own hand at age 89, alone in London, using a poison pill she'd stashed away previously for just such an occasion. (cyanide?)

If you're already a Gellhorn or Hemingway fan, this is an important addition to your library. If not, skim it at the library. There are no photos.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By D. G. Hatcher on January 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
To turn the pages of a collection of letters in our time, is to return to a time when people wrote, at leisure, at length and in great detail, to one another about trifles, confidences, and assorted themes. In our age of e-mails it is almost inconceivable. Inconceivable too is that Martha Gellhorn's letters, by Caroline Moorehead, brings this world before us with such force, that we are held captive from page to page, from the start to the last. Yet while her correspondents are many of them famous, it is true, it is the letters themselves that shimmer, that gives us images rare, reflections profound, letters for all of time.
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