Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic

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Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic
By Michael Scammell
Random House, 2009
720 pp. $35.00
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Arthur Koestler has sunk into unjust obscurity. Few still read his once ubiquitous novel Darkness at Noon, with its lurid description of how the Stalinist show trials used totalitarian tactics to persecute fellow Communists. Yet who has a better claim to be the archetypal figure of twentieth-century Europe than Koestler? Born an upper-class Jew in the waning years of the
Austro-Hungarian monarchy, he was successively a Zionist settler, an intellectual star in Weimar Berlin, a convinced Communist, a brilliant journalistic observer of the Spanish Civil War, an anticommunist Cold War intellectual, an anti-death-penalty advocate, and a proponent of parapsychology and Eastern mysticism -- living long enough to pop magic mushrooms with associates of Dr. Timothy Leary. Scammell, a Columbia professor and prize-winning biographer of the Soviet writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, has written a gripping chronicle of Koestler's life that captures the essence of a man who reflected so many of the great political and cultural currents of his time. Koestler was, to quote the subtitle of the British edition of this book, an "indispensible intellectual."