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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 31 March 2014
This book would seem to be a carefully researched perspective on one of Kenya's early pioneers; another side of a multifaceted relationship that was bought to the public by Isak Dinesen, a pen name used by the Danish author Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, in her now famous Out of Africa, a memoir of her life in Kenya.

Perhaps a more accurate and dispassionate portrayal of the man she undoubtably loved, and her life in the turbulent difficult and exciting times of Kenya's early pioneers, it rIngs true to a third generation ex bush pilot who was familiar with the areas, clubs, family's and skies of that wild and beautiful country.

My grandparents and parents moved and mingled with many of the characters mentioned. I live a few miles from that house at the coast, flew the routes taken by the principle chapters who were living history, and lived as a boy not far from that coffe farm that consumed so much of her life.

I found it moving, fascinating and wholly believable. It is a beautifully written most enjoyable account of the life and times of my grandparents generation. I can highly recommend it.
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on 9 October 2009
Following the very successful film Out of Africa there have been several biographies of the principal real-life characters, Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton and their times - roughly the first three decades of the 20th C. Sara Wheeler has undertaken an enormous amount of diligent research to bring us Too Close to the Sun, the most comprehensive biography I have seen of the latter, an English aristocrat to whom Karen Blixen gave herself, body and soul, in what seems to have been a largely unrequited relationship. Karen was undoubtedly a snob and even her concern for the Africans on her lands, the only redeeming feature tempering that defect, could be seen as treating Africans more as children or pets than fellow human beings. However, she was honest and straightforward and the genius that some thought worthy of a Nobel Prize for Literature was not far from the surface during her relationship with Finch Hatton. What Karen Blixen realised too late was that Finch Hatton had little concern for anybody but himself. Sara Wheeler's beautifully written dispassionate biography makes his inherent selfishness all too clear and for this reader gave her account of his life a mesmeric fascination. Finch Hatton was a man of his class and his time; a member of the English aristocracy (far removed from Robert Redford's anti-Brit American adventurer) and committed to King and Country and Class above all else. His upbringing as the younger son unlikely to succeed to the family title may well have formed his character. There is much in his life we can admire, a certain grittiness about getting on with what has to be done, courage in war and in the wilderness and the usual manly virtues. He formed enduring friendships within his class, which eased his passage through society wherever he found himself; he was admired by men and adored by women. Sara Wheeler tells it all, glosses over nothing and makes her biography of Denys Finch Hatton essential reading for any student of his times and the great social changes that have ensured those days are gone forever. Strongly recommended.
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on 21 April 2017
Overall, this was a lovely book. I agree that the author went OTT with flowery descriptions and I did find this distracting. Having read a lot of books about East Africa I was aware that Karen Blixen's Out of Africa was a very romanticised memoir and that Denys Finch Hatton was not Robert Redford. However, I had been unaware of how two world wars affected the area, so I thoroughly enjoyed learning about what was to me, a totally new aspect. Having travelled in Kenya I was also extremely interested in the vivid portrayal of how the area teemed with wild animals in those days and just what was involved in planning and carrying out a safari. I disagree with other reviewers who suggested his life was pointless. He concluded quite early on that shooting the animals would eventually devastate the wildlife and went public in trying to persuade folk to shoot only with a camera. He also argued via the English newspapers that hunting from wagons should be banned. So he wasn't completely useless as has been suggested. He definitely was self centred and all of the attributes that some reviewers seem to dislike about him are probably the traits that gave him the ability to be one of the 'Great Hunters' of those early days. I would imagine that, had he lived to old age, he might well have developed into a leading conservationist. Despite annoying descriptive flights of fancy by the author, she transported me back to a Kenya as it was 70 years before I visited it. Her depiction of this land teeming with wild animals, the downright dangers to and courage of those settlers and hunters was beautifully conveyed. For me, Karen Blixon was a very secondary character. She had enough guts to take care of herself and, like Denys, so often used people for her own ends that it is no wonder they were attracted to each other. My great great disappointment was that the tantalisingly huge list of illustrations was not available in this kindle book and this is reflected in my 3 star rating. However, because of this, Amazon are refunding me my purchase price. Overall, a wonderfully evocative book, well written and only 2 typos that I spotted. Forget Robert Redford and Karen Blixon's fictional version of Out of Africa and enjoy this slice of kenyan history with the knowledge that social mores were VERY different then.
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on 24 December 2012
Good to read more about Denys than appeared in the film and book 'Out of Africa'. So much more to understand and
admire and a good insight into the times.
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on 14 February 2012
Denys Finch Hatton was a charmer, one of East Africa's greatest big-game hunters, a traveller and an adventurer but he was perceived by some to possess many different personalities. Others would have described him as being a bounder and a cad, one who was much loved by women but found it difficult to return their love; and often, he really didn't try. Finch Hatton was brave - when a crocodile seized him by his leg, he extricated himself from this undeniably tricky situation by poking his finger in its eye. He was awarded a Military Cross during the First World War but perhaps his most daring escapade was becoming involved with Karen Blixen, whose errant husband had thoughtfully infected her with a dose of Cupid's Measles. It appears that Finch Hatton was not himself infected with syphilis and given the number of women he bedded during his association with the neurotic Baroness Blixen, it was just as well.

But all this begs the question - would Finch Hatton have become as well-known as he has, had it not been for the combined efforts of Karen Blixen, the more hirsute Robert Redford - and of course, the author of this compelling book, Sara Wheeler? Probably not.

So it says a great deal for Ms. Wheeler's literary skills that she's produced a first-class book, one tremendously well-written, full of sly humour and painstakingly researched; she says it took her three years and that, I can well imagine. Sara Wheeler has convincingly brought all of the characters to life. Karen Blixen is portrayed as a loyal friend, talented, obstinate and histrionic who was used as a convenient bed-fellow for Finch Hatton, between safaris; Beryl Markham as scheming, self-serving, promiscuous and, I think, quite unpleasant. And poor, doomed Berkeley Cole, with (as he told his brother) his `rotten heart', dying at the early age of forty-three.

I was sorry when this brilliant book came to an abrupt end, with Finch Hatton dying - at almost exactly the same age as his friend, Berkeley Cole - when his aeroplane crashed and burst into flames. If the lions really came and lay on his grave in the Ngong Hills, as it's alleged they did, he was in good company.
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on 27 November 2011
Too Close to The Sun is a biography by Sara Wheeler about Denys Finch Hatton, the outstandingly handsome younger son of the 13th Earl of Whinchilsea. Denys was a man of great charm who achieved little in his lifetime. I read Out of Africa by Denys' mistress, Karen von Blixen, before I saw the film in which Michael Redford played Denys. Too Close to the Sun describes the East Africa Dnys explored and the settlers, their success, struggle or failure to make a living. It also depicts the 1st World War in which Denys fought. However, at the end of the book when Denys died in a plane crash my impression was of the wasted life of a man unable to make emotional committment.
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on 11 July 2010
This book is written in a non pushy style and lets the imagination take you on a journey back to the old east africa. you feel by the end of it you actually have been there and know the people and places involved, what an excellent piece of writing well worth the purchase price: also, it gives balance to the characters you have read about in out of africa by Karen Blixen, a very satifying read.
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on 29 January 2009
I agree with the negative reviewer: "Disappointing Slapdash". Apart from a few good photographs I have not seen of Finch Hatton before, there was little in this book that made me think it was more informative about the character than what I had read previously by Errol Trzebinski. I was disappointed as I felt she had a good opportunity to really research the character of Finch Hatton. Some of the descriptions of Kenya I felt were "flowery" and again I refer back to Trzebinski who obviously had a deep love and understanding of the country and knew how to bring it to life with minimum yet effective phraseology. For me there were too many unaswered questions about Finch Hatton which I feel a good biography should address She doesn't really make clear why she did not like Karen Blixen initially and that makes me wonder if she researched the character thouroughly enough. There is so much to know about this fascinating woman
and yet I feel Sarah Wheeler did not give a balanced account of the relationship between Finch Hatton and Blixen. After all if the relationship had not existed would there have been a need for a biography about him at all?
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on 2 March 2008
This is a cleverly written book about someone who did little and achieved less but was by all accounts a great charmer. His main claim to fame, posthumously, was through Karen Blixen's memoir Out of Africa. With so little information on Denys Finch Hatton's (DFH) life and indeed little to write about - the main themes are endless trips back and forth from England to Kenya and failed business ventures - the author wisely gives the book the sub title, The life and Times of DFH. This enables her to pad the book out with describtions of events in England and Kenya during DFH's lifetime. This is the saving of the book as the author is both witty and has an eye for the absurd. However, at times she falls into the trap of adopting the same writing style as her subjects with many archaic phrases and describtions. The biggest drawback of the book, however, is the subject himself. DFH's life appears little different from the hundreds of wealthy englishmen who went out to Kenya in the early part of the last century, even his romance with Blixen has the air of a relationship of convenience - certainly not the great romance that Blixen made it out to be. The book therefore comes accross more as a gentle stroll through Kenya/English society in the 20s and 30s rather than a biography of someone who probably doesn't merit one.
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on 24 March 2013
At the beginning of the book the author admits that Finch Hatton left no diary and few letters, so in order to stretch her material to book length she reasonably concentrates as much on his times as on his life. Less forgivably she has decided to pad the book out with pretentious poetic flights of fancy which are presumably included to show off her command of the English language. There is a place for such exercises in creative descriptive writing but this sort of biography is not it and they jar whenever they occur. Not only are they inappropriate here, they frequently don't even make sense.
This could have been an enjoyable book had the style not been so irritating.
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