4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2011
The product description of this book is misleading. Duranty was not a working class socialist, but a product of the industrial middle classes in Liverpool. He attended Harrow Public School, although withdrawn later when his family fell on harder times, still attending a good school, where he was part of the rowing team. He subsequently went to Cambridge. It is hard to credit now how influential Duranty was as a journalist for the New York Times. Having pestered his way into a job for the paper in Paris, his personalised pieces on the horrors of trench warfare, gained a wide audience in America and led to him reporting from Riga and eventually Moscow. He seems to have been liked for his gregariousness wit and readiness with the bottle, and made friends and admirers easily. Women were drawn to his charm, even though his relations with them, were for him at least largely sexual. He was married to Jane Cheron, the rather bizarre opium addicted muse of Aleister Crowley, with whom he also dabbled in the 'black arts' before WW1, much to his later embarassment. His subsequent relationship with his Russian housekeeper/mistress Katya and the birth of a son Michael, brought out little in the way of responsibility. He abandoned both without much qualm.
Duranty undoubtedly wrote some very good pieces for NYT, and his sympathies, not overtly political, stemmed from his view that the soviets had a lot of ground to make up to industrialise a backward country and in his favourite phrase, You don't make an omelette without breaking eggs. Having established his credentials as a jouralist and Russia expert, his influence certainly contributed to the US recognising the USSR, although it is difficult to say how much. The fact that he was awared a Pulitzer prize added to his lustre. Duranty was liked and disliked by his journalistic colleagues in fairly equal number. Some of this was certainly professional jealousy. But others such as Malcolm Muggeridge thought him an unprincipled liar. This, particularly in relation to his under reporting of the famines in the Ukraine resulting from collectivisation and the later show trials. He had painted himself into a corner and arrogance, vanity and not a little contempt for others ability held him there. His sympathy for Stalin, who rewarded him for his part in US recognition with a personal interview in 1929, fails my understanding.
In some ways this book was published at just the wrong time 1990. The opening up of soviet archives following 1989 would undoubtedly have brought whole reams of new material, that could have added much to the story. However, this is no criticism of Sally Taylor. I assume she Used S J, because female historians on heavier subjects, might have been taken less seriously. The writing is fluid and rattles along at a great pace. She fits Duranty well into his surroundings, and is also excellent at describing his relationships, personal friendships and professional rivalries.
The last part of the book dealing with his decline, near penury and constant cadging for money, adds little to our understanding of his Russian views. It does round out his story, and also show that even then he had friends, and in his second wife Anna Enwright, a woman who stood by him to the end. They married on his deathbed.
It would be easy to descibe Duranty as a sociopath, he certainly displayed some of those tendencies. But it is hard to pin him down, although Sally Taylor has a very good go at trying. Well worth reading.