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Rebel of many a cause - a fantastic biography of Arthur Koestler,
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This review is from: Koestler: The Indispensable Intellectual (Hardcover)
Where other biographies of Koestler, including his own (Arrow in the Blue: The First Volume of an Autobiography - 1905-31) deal strictly with parts of the man's life and creation and are in a sense incomplete, Scammell's is a work of most thorough research and it finally brings it all together, warts as well the touches of genious that characterised one of the 20th century's most notorious intellectuals.
I think everyone who has read and been impressed by Koestler's work will benefit greatly from this biography - it will put so many things in context, including his unbelievable breadth of scientific understanding, his relatively peerless interdisciplinarity, as well as his excellent intuitive / insiders' understanding of the subject matters of both his fiction and non fiction work. If you marvel how the same individual could discuss the finer points of Lamarckism in The Case of the Midwife Toad and write probably the most inspired critique of communist trials in Darkness at Noon, be an authority on the process of creativity (The Act of Creation (Arkana)) and describe a scientific conference to a T in Call Girls, this biography is likely to provide pretty much all the answers.
While being much less critical of Koestler than some of his earlier biographers and leaving out much less than Koestler himself, Scammell by no means acts as an apologist or idolator. A relatively thorough examination of Koestler's youth and adolescence is made to look for cause but all his later foibles from the alcoholism, womanising, shameless self promotion and opportunism are apparent. At the same time one can much better understand why Koestler has practically disappeared from circulation and public awareness in Thacherite Britain and after the 1980s more generally. The whole concept of a reneissance man, one who has tried and championed many a cause but who had the intellectual integrity to admit to it, when the causes turned sour or disappointing did not mix well with the guru obsessed, one truth soundbite no attention span society that followed on the heels of his self-administered demise.
This biography is a worthy send off and one could only hope that it will arouse some more interest, and hopefully the odd reprint of Koestler's harder to get work - both would be needed as well as appreciated.