John Fleming leads off The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War with an account of Arthur Koestler and Darkness at Noon. It is a riveting chapter of an excellent book.
Professor Fleming described Koestler (1905-1983) as among the better-known intellectual figures of the twentieth century: “He was a multilingual polymath whose large literary production included journalism, fiction, political and philosophical speculation, and some of the most remarkable autobiographical memoirs of his time. He was for some years a member of the German Communist Party. Later he became one of the most effective of literary anti-Communists…Koestler’s rich life will surely be illuminated by a long-awaited biography by Michael Scammell.”
Scammell’s biography of Koestler was published at the end of last year. In the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books (subscribe here), John Derbyshire turns his attention to Scammell’s biography in “Meeting the goose,” the last of the three pieces we are previewing from the new issue.
Derbyshire quotes Koesler’s warning to an admirer that coming face to face with one’s favorite author is “a bit like having a wonderful meal of goose liver and then meeting the goose.” Koestler led an interesting life, but familiarity with it is not likely to increase one’s admiration for the goose. Derbyshire observes that the “goosiest aspect” of Koestler the man was his promiscuity.
Professor Fleming writes that “To read Darkness at Noon today may require a refresher course in European history of the late 1930s; but once a a little ‘background’ is in place, the book is as profound and stimulating as it was on the day it was published.” It remains in print 70 years after its publication. It is to be hoped that Scammell’s biography will reawaken or intensify interest in Koestler’s contribution to the literature of hell.
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