Koestler by Michael Scammell
The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic

No critic rating

Waiting for minimum critic reviews

See 6 Critic Reviews



From award-winning author Michael Scammell comes a monumental achievement: the first authorized biography of Arthur Koestler, one of the most influential and controversial intellectuals of the twentieth century. Over a decade in the making, and based on new research and full access to its subject’s papers, Koestler is the definitive account of this fascinating and polarizing figure. Though best known as the creator of the classic anti-Communist novel Darkness at Noon, Koestler is here revealed as much more–a man whose personal life was as astonishing as his literary accomplishments.

Koestler portrays the anguished youth of a boy raised in Budapest by a possessive and mercurial mother and an erratic father, marked for life by a forced operation performed without anesthesia when he was five, growing up feeling unloved and unprotected. Here is the young man whose experience of anti-Semitism and devotion to Zionism provoked him to move to Palestine; the foreign correspondent who risked his life from the North Pole to Franco’s Spain, where he was imprisoned and sentenced to death; the committed Communist for whom the brutal truth of Stalin’s show trials inspired the superb and angry novel that became an instant classic in 1940. Scammell also provides new details of Koestler’s amazing World War II adventures, including his escape from occupied France by joining the Foreign Legion and his bluffing his way illegally to England, where his controversial novel Arrival and Departure, published in 1943, was the first to portray Hitler’s Final Solution.

Without sentimentality, Scammell explores Koestler’s turbulent private life: his drug use, his manic depression, the frenetic womanizing that doomed his three marriages and led to an accusation of rape that posthumously tainted his reputation, and his startling suicide while fatally ill in 1983–an act shared by his healthy third wife, Cynthia–rendered unforgettably as part of his dark and disturbing legacy.

Featuring cameos of famous friends and colleagues including Langston Hughes, George Orwell, and Albert Camus, Koestler gives a full account of the author’s voluminous writings, making the case that the autobiographies and essays are fit to stand beside Darkness at Noon as works of lasting literary value. Koestler adds up to an indelible portrait of this brilliant, unpredictable, and talented writer, once memorably described as “one third blackguard, one third lunatic, and one third genius.”

From the Hardcover edition.

About Michael Scammell

See more books from this Author
Michael Scammell is the author of Solzhenitsyn, a Biography, which won the Los Angeles Times and English PEN's prizes for best biography after its publication. He is the editor of The Solzhenitsyn Files, Unofficial Art from the Soviet Union, and Russia' s Other Writers, and has translated Nabokov, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and other Russian authors into English. His reviews and articles have appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Harpers, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing and translation in the School of the Arts at Columbia University in New York. Michael Scammell has been shortlisted for the LA Times biography prize.
Published November 30, 2009 by Random House. 720 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Koestler

The New York Times

See more reviews from this publication

Michael Scammell examines the complex intelligence and shifting allegiances of the author of “Darkness at Noon.”

Dec 27 2009 | Read Full Review of Koestler: The Literary and Po...

The Economist

See more reviews from this publication

Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic.

Feb 25 2010 | Read Full Review of Koestler: The Literary and Po...

The Telegraph

Scammell admits that Koestler “did behave extremely .

Feb 23 2010 | Read Full Review of Koestler: The Literary and Po...

The Telegraph

It was based, above all, on one brilliant book, .

Feb 14 2010 | Read Full Review of Koestler: The Literary and Po...

The New Yorker

Online version of the weekly magazine, with current articles, cartoons, blogs, audio, video, slide shows, an archive of articles and abstracts back to 1925

Dec 21 2009 | Read Full Review of Koestler: The Literary and Po...

Reader Rating for Koestler

An aggregated and normalized score based on 23 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes

Rate this book!

Add Review