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The Arthur Koestler: The Homeless Mind - Arthur Koestler and the Quest for Belonging Paperback – 4 Nov 1999

4.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New edition edition (4 Nov. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099289679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099289678
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 465,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This is just about as good an example of the art of biography as you are likely to come across. It has all the basic requirements of content based on meticulous research, a thoughtful introduction and a challenging conclusion, an exhaustive index, and a comprehensive record of notes and sources, but it is also a very good read! Lucid, perceptive and, at least as far I was concerned, compulsive. No mean feat for a book almost 600 pages long. Koestler himself is brought brilliantly alive in all his contradictions and complexities, but so also are many of the other figures in his life. His second wife, Mamaine, for example, is so vivid that I kept turning back to the photo of her and Koestler sitting on their sofa just to see her face again. Then there are the figures that pass across the pages and grow to resemble a roll-call of many of the century's major writers and thinkers - Bertrand Russell, Orwell, Camus, Sartre, de Beauvoir and so on. Plus some more incidental ones like Cyril Connolly and Timothy 'Turn on tune in drop out' Leary. On top of all this the author uses the character of Koestler to raise and consider some fundamental universal issues, such as the importance of an individual's sense of self and the part homelessness can play in creativity. Marvelous stuff.
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I have been an ardent admirer of Koestler's ideas and writings for 25 yeards now. As you can guess, I was rather shocked when I read David Cesarani's biography of Koestler ("The Homeless Mind" : 1999).
Using the story of one woman 50 years after the event as a case for proving that Koestler was a "serial rapist".
I have read a lot of biographies in my life and I am convinced that a decent biographer would have been more careful and just mentioned it and left it at that.
Nobody will ever be able to prove what happened; but after this book nobody will be able to disprove it either. The book utterly destroyed Koestler's reputation when it came out. And mine as well...

Michael Scammel has just published a new biography of Arthur Koestler : "The Indispensable Intellectual".
Thank you Michael Scammell for putting things in a clearer perspective and raising some very convincing question marks around the whole story. Thank you also for writing the first biography that goes beyond retelling Koestler's own autobiography.

We must never forget that Koestler has always been despised as a 'renegade' by jews and communists alike. Cesarani, in the introduction of his book mentions the revulsion the name Koestler provoked when his own father heard Koestler's name; his father still being a dedicated communist.
I don't know whether Cesarani is a Jew, but he surely has strong Jewish sympathies if you look at his literary output. I am convinced that Cesarani, while writing his biography of Arthur Koestler, could not withstand the temptation of settling a score. Offcourse I can not prove any of this...
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This is just about as good an example of the art of biography as you are likely to come across. It has all the basic requirements of content based on meticulous research, a thoughtful introduction and a challenging conclusion, an exhaustive index, and a comprehensive record of notes and sources, but it is also a very good read! Lucid, perceptive and, at least as far I was concerned, compulsive. No mean feat for a book almost 600 pages long. Koestler himself is brought brilliantly alive in all his contradictions and complexities, but so also are many of the other figures in his life. His second wife, Mamaine, for example, is so vivid that I kept turning back to the photo of her and Koestler sitting on their sofa just to see her face again. Then there are the figures that pass across the pages and grow to resemble a roll-call of many of the century's major writers and thinkers - Bertrand Russell, Orwell, Camus, Sartre, de Beauvoir and so on. Plus some more incidental ones like Cyril Connolly and Timothy 'Turn on tune in drop out' Leary. On top of all this the author uses the character of Koestler to raise and consider some fundamental universal issues, such as the importance of an individual's sense of self and the part homelessness can play in creativity. Marvelous stuff.
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A great insight into a truly complicated man. David Cesarani deserves high praise.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9911db50) out of 5 stars 1 review
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92314e94) out of 5 stars Nice to see he's not completely forgotten, but... 23 Aug. 2013
By Michael - Published on Amazon.com
While it's nice to see he's not completely forgotten, it would have been great if the author had stuck to biography instead of moral condemnation for incidents unproved, and behaviour in conformity with the social standards of his time. Imagine if we had to rummage through the diaries of all the literary, or for that matter, philosophical, musical, etc greats in search of un-PC behaviour, and on finding something does does not conform to today's illiberalist notions of correct social behaviour, condemning their characters, and possibly even their work as a result. Imagine if we not only used their diaries, but took as statements of fact ANYTHING recorded by anyone who once knew the artist. We would have to eliminate much of our favourite music and art from Koestler's generation and before. We must judge these individuals by what was politically correct in THEIR day, not ours, and we generally do this if the artists behaved themselves, and didn't attack what we hold dear.

That is part of the reason why this book is not an objective study. In his life, Koestler upset a large number of people from many different social groupings, be they communists, fascists, nazis, Indians (his assessment of Gandhi), death penalty supporters, Darwinists, scientists from various fields who opposed his views, the French, the English sometimes, many others, but perhaps most importantly, the Jewish people. His attitude in Promise and Fulfillment plus supporting essays he wrote a bit later were unforgivable for many Jewish people, and he crowned it all much later with The Thirteenth Tribe, which proposes the theory that many Jews of Eastern European origin are in fact Caucasians.

Leaving aside the validity of his statements regarding the Jewish people, it is quite clear when looking at all his works, mostly with absolutely no connection with Judaism, that his Jewishness was not a personal obsession. This is where the author's personal feelings come into play and prevent his assessment of Koestler from being objective. As an important writer of books on Jewish-related themes, he has made a great contribution in that field, and I believe his intentions were good in helping keep Koestler's memory alive. Sadly, the removal of Koestler's bust from the University of Edinburgh following the belief that Koestler was a 'serial rapist' show just how alive and well Koestler's favourite concept of Bathwaterism is. One does not label another a serial rapist until that individual has been found guilty in a court of law, and Cesarani's evidence for this is seriously lacking. Thus, he may have brought Koestler's name back into the public eye, but at the great cost of blackening a great man's life.

Those who choose to discard Koestler's contribution to 20th century thought because he did not conform to today's idea of political correctness, which in a hundred years will no doubt itself be considered politically incorrect, besides this book and many others like it, are doing themselves a great disservice. Koestler's various analyses of the wide range of interests he put his heart into were deeper and far-reaching than anyone else's of his time and since. Just compare his masterful 'Reflections on Hanging' with Albert Camus' comparatively unconvincing 'Reflections on the Guillotine'. It is a shame that despite being nominated several times for the Nobel Prize, society was unable to show it's gratitude for his grand contribution while he was alive, but considering the lesser talents to which it has been, and still is today awarded, and the politics behind the prize, it is perhaps better so.

It must be remembered that Cesarani is a typical specimen of the genus 'Homo Castratus', who sees female abuse in one-night stands, tolerates female adultery but not male (many of his Koestler's girlfriends were two-timing him, or were married women cheating on their husbands), and sees debauchery in an all-nighter at a nightclub. How he'd judge half the people I know, male or female, would be interesting. What is evident though, is that one would have to live the life of a saint to come through the Cesarani PC-analysis unscathed. The bigger problem, though, is that Cesarani allows his disapproval of Koestler's lifestyle (which one can't help wondering if he secretly envies, so extreme is his criticism) to cloud his judgement of Koestler's work too, resulting in him giving a negative slant whenever possible, while glossing over Koestler's good side, like his extreme generosity (such as setting up a fund to support penniless emigrant writers, helping out a number of strangers who asked for financial help through the post, being overly generous to ex-wives and girlfriends, etc). According to Cesarani, Koestler's greatest work is his journalism, this despite the impact The Act of Creation and The Ghost in the Machine had on the academic world, and the multitude of symposia and congresses he was invited to as a result, besides the doctorate and honorary degrees he later received. It seems Cesarani is saying the hundreds of academics who respected Koestler's contributions to science were all wrong, were all fooled by a novelist turned pseudo-scientist. But in fairness to Cesarani, one must compare his life as a modern American university professor, living in the PC-minefield that is the modern American university, with that of Koestler's, a seemingly endless round of drinking, partying, women vying for his attention, as well as artistic and commercial success, all a result of his unique talent plus a charismatic and sociable personality. When one makes this comparison, the reasons for Cesarani's envy become only too clear.

As far as the allegations of hating women go, keep in mind that Koestler maintained close relations with most of his ex-girlfriends and ex-wives until his death, and helped out his ex-wives on numerous occasions long after their separations. The most vigorous lifetime supporters of Koestler were often women, including many who Cesarani accuses of abusing or raping! On the contrary, Koestler both loved and needed women in his life. Far from hating them, if anything, he simply loved them too much...

This book is still worth getting despite my three stars due to the lack of other material on Koestler, but always remember to keep your PC-filter switched ON. That is the only way you can be assured of 'historical correctness'.

(January 2010 update: Michael Scammell has just written the definitive biography on Koestler. You can forget about this book now.)
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