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The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome Hardcover – 20 Aug 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; 1st edition (20 Aug. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571222617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571222612
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.3 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 109,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Book Description

A revelatory, absorbing and often chilling examination of an English icon and his controversial Soviet double life.

About the Author

Roland Chambers studied film and literature in Poland and at New York University before returning to England in 1998. He has worked as a private investigator specialising in Russian politics and business, and is also a children's author. He currently divides his time between London and Connecticut, where his wife teaches literature at Yale. The Last Englishman is his first biography.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By T. Bently VINE VOICE on 28 Sept. 2009
Format: Hardcover
Arthur Ransome is best known, of course, for his children's books but in this biography Roland Chambers chooses to throw light on his previous career as a political journalist. Indeed, during the time of the Russian Revolution, Ransome was one of the few, and at times the only, Western journalist to have access to the leaders of the fledgling Communist government and it's fascinating to gain first-hand accounts, through Ransome's eyes, of what it was like to meet figures such as Lenin and Trotsky.

Ransome emerges as both a beguiling and alarming figure. Whilst he was beloved by generations of English children for creating a kind of juvenile utopia of water-based adventure, he was estranged from his only daughter and made no attempt to get to know his grandchildren. One can only guess at the bewilderment they felt at being ignored, whilst their relative was heralded as something approaching a national treasure.

Chambers writes lucidly and orchestrates a mass of information about Russian politics to good effect. I found it utterly engrossing, despite only having an O-level standard history brain. Ransome's domestic and literary lives are discussed as skillfully as his political activities. Indeed, I wished this had been a full biography of Ransome rather than merely (!) a political one but perhaps Chambers felt the already existing lives were sufficient.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By C. MORGAN-JONES on 4 Nov. 2009
Format: Hardcover
I came to this book expecting a certain sort of story: effete English literary type gets caught up in world events beyond his ken, falls in love and retires to his homeland to write books that bear no hint of his early life. That version would make sense as a film but would rob the story that Chambers has written of complexity and surprises. Ransome, it turns out, was the last man in the world you might consider a typical Englishman. He was complicated, paradoxical and apparently able to be several people at once, and this book brilliantly turns to its advantage what ought to have been a biographer's nightmare by capturing the oddness and richness of his character. If Ransome is more knotty than we might have imagined, the backdrop of the Russian Revolution against which most of the book plays out is both messier and less grand than we're used to reading elsewhere. The really extraordinary fact about Ransome is that he wasn't just close to the leaders of the revolution, he was more or less their intimate, and through him we see the likes of Lenin, Trotsky and Radek in a fresh, human light.

This is a wholly enjoyable book. Chambers writes beautifully, and Ransome supplies enough incident - and enough largely unintentional comedy - to make it entertaining throughout, and often rather moving. Good stuff.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Gtj Charmley VINE VOICE on 24 Sept. 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As achild, I remember my mother reading the Swallows and Amazons stories to me. It was about the time we moved out to the Norfolk Broads, so the stories stick vividly in my mind. Later, I learned that Ransome had been in Russia during the Revolution, as a journalist. We had his memoirs on the bookshelf, but I never read them. I'm sorry now. In this book, Chambers paints a vivid portrait of Ransome's early life, before Swallows and Amazons. The last years of his life, when Ransome assumed the status of a literary celebrity, are contained in the final thirty pages of a book which runs to more than three hundred and sixty pages.

It would be easy to dislike Ransome and write a hatchet-job, portraying him as egotistical and vain. Chambers does not do this, although the portrait is warts and all. Most of the work is occupied by the Russian episode, which is painted as far more complex than mere journalism. Ransome knew the leaders of the revolution personally, and was suspected of Communist leanings. Chambers takes the view that these were largely emotional, and Ransome was nothing more than a fellow traveller, if that. The Russian Revolution is presented as Ransome experienced it, a revolution of personalities as well as policies. It is an intensely human, as well as a fascinating story, in which Ransome, a young man searching for a literary identity, found himself, and also found romance. It is a reminder that the revolution affected people, and that people were affected in different ways. The family of Evgenia Shelepina, Trotsky's Private Secretary, and the woman with whom Ransome fell in love, for example, were split down the middle, one brother fighting against the Bolsheviks, while his sisters worked for them. And Ransome seems to have worked for just about everybody at some time or another, certainly answering Captian Flint's description of himself as a rolling stone.

I made time to read this book, and I strongly suggest that others do so.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on 23 Aug. 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The `Swallows and Amazons' books were such a magical part of my childhood that I had misgivings as to whether it was a good idea to read about their creator. Part of me still wants to believe in those adventures, which in my mind's eye were representative of a long summer's day when all was new, all was exciting and there were few consequences to life apart from a grazed knee and running out of ginger beer.

Even the fact that the stories about the Walkers, the Blacketts and Captain Flint were not a life's work but an alternative to writing for the Guardian somehow spoilt my image of the books. Those stories happened to attain commercial success from an author with higher literary pretentions; his fame as a result of the series is the `hook' for Chambers to conduct a `man behind the mask' exposé.

Ransome grew up at a time when a lot was happening in the world and where those with connections could navigate a haphazard path through emerging history without worrying too much about where their next square meal was coming from. If `Down and Out in Paris and London' is the reality of life where there are no safety nets, Ransome's experiences are those of someone with the arrogant belief that intellectuals will never have to worry about starving.

Chambers seems to try to make a point which seems self-evident of much of humanity in that he demonstrates a conflict between Ransome's outward persona and his behaviour. On the one hand, Ransome appears to exude all the virtues of what it is to be an Englishman but his neglect of his daughter and double dealing with the Russians and the British government suggest an amoral hypocrite. That such contrasts can exist is unlikely to surprise anyone who has been keeping an eye on our politicians over the last few years.
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