Don't take this one on holiday,
This review is from: The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World (Paperback)
Heard the old joke about the wily Hungarian? He follows behind you in to a revolving door but comes out ahead. Perhaps unkind, but many Magyars have a stroke of genius. Kati Marton has chosen nine brilliant stars from a veritable Hunagarian firmament.
As her title indictes, her choice of nine Hungarian Jews is driven largely by two common factors. The first is anti-semitism; the second is that our lives have been brightened, or enlightened as a result of their ideas. But in the case Edward Teller and von Neumann and their attitude to the development of the Atom bomb, some would say our lives have been blighted.
This book is not simply about scientific genius. Marton has chosen subjects from the world of both the arts and sciences. Michael Curtiz directed Casablanca. Alexander Korda produced The Third man. Robert Capa co-founded (with Henri Cartier-Bresson) Magnum Photos, which virtually invented modern photo journalism in which the photo-essayist André Kertesz played a father-figure. Arthur Koestler, one of the twentieth century's greatest political writers, was among the first to expose Stalinist brutality. Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Eugene Wigner and John von Neumann pushed the frontiers of physics and maths.
As the twentieth century unfolds, Marton unfurls the lives of her escapees to reveal some of the ingrained characteristics of their native Hungary, and Hungarian culture. Her book is not a story of tragedy, but of the enormous success and influence on our modern-day lives.
The story is made real, and endearing by the many anecdotes Marton has been able to tease out from the many interviews she held with contempories of these great escapees. Korda lived in the grandest hotels, when he could least afford them. Capa bought an elegant Burberry raincoat for the Normandy invasion he photographed.
This book is about nine men, all of whom were big thinkers with big dreams. Many of their ideas surround our daily lives. For example, game-theory originally developed by von Neumann underpins the strategic thinking of many of the world's largest corporations.
Many of their dreams, and some of their nighmares, have become our reality. Szilard's mind was his laboratory. In 1933, Szilard was walking the streets of Bloomsbury, when he suddenly realised that if one neutron is shot in to an atom, and more than one neutron is produced, then a chain reaction releasing vast amounts of energy could be the result. In a flash, he realised that a nuclear chain reaction could also mean an explosion.
Marton's "Great escapees..." helps us all to understand the background to many aspects of our lives today, by bringing these nine great escapees to life. But don't do what I did by taking the book on holiday. Hardly able to put the book down, I feel I missed about half the holiday but caught up on some very important lives.