Gellhorn A Twentieth-Century Life

Caroline Moorehead

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

496 Pages


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Whitbread Prize Finalist
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
An Entertainment Weekly Best Nonfiction Book of the Year

Martha Gellhorn's heroic career as a reporter brought her to the front lines of virtually every significant international conflict between the Spanish Civil War and the end of the Cold War. The preeminent—and often the only—female correspondent on the scene, she broke new ground for women in the male preserve of journalism. Her wartime dispatches, marked by a passionate desire to expose suffering in its many guises and an inimitable immediacy, rank among the best of the twentieth century.

A deep-seated love of travel complemented this professional interest in world affairs. From her birth in St. Louis in 1908 to her death in London in 1998, Gellhorn passed through Africa, Cuba, China, and most of the great cities of Europe, recording her experiences in impressive travel writing and works of fiction. A tall, glamorous blonde, she made friends easily—among them Eleanor Roosevelt, Leonard Bernstein, H. G. Wells, and Marlon Brando—but she was as incapable of settling into comfortable, long-term relationships as she was of sitting still. Happiness often eluded her, despite her great professional success. Both her marriages ended badly—the first, to Ernest Hemingway, dramatically and publicly so.

Drawn from extensive interviews and exclusive access to Gellhorn's papers and correspondence, this seminal biography spans half the globe and almost an entire century to offer an exhilarating, intimate portrait of one of the defining women of our times.


Praise for Gellhorn

"A masterpiece of biography."—The Nation

"Gripping . . . [Told] with historical command and psychological insight."—The New York Times Book Review

"Moorehead has written Gellhorn's life as if it were a Greek tragedy . . . This sort of biography, pitiless in its truth telling and beautifully written, does real justice to the heroically flawed Martha Gellhorn."—San Francisco Chronicle

"A long-overdue chronicle of one of the most daring wartime journalists—female or male—of all time . . . In this thought-provoking homage, Moorehead sees to it that Martha Gellhorn's place in history of reportage is assured. The biography serves as a moving testimony to both the writer's talent and her courage—on and off the battlefield."—The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"Moorehead has written fine biographies of Bertrand Russell, Freya Stark, and Iris Origo, but they were historical figures, whereas Gellhorn was a close friend of Moorehead's parents, Lucy and Alan Moorehead, the writer, and Caroline was later one of Gellhorn's 'chaps.' This lifelong friendship gives the biography a special edge and immediacy, as if Gellhorn were hovering over it, checking out the facts and monitoring the prose, although Moorehead never allows this to cloud her judgement. She deals subtly and sympathetically with her subject's skewed inner life and the implacable demands she made on everyone, especially herself. She knows the woman too well to pretend that her behavior wasn't often inexcusable or that her anger, boredom, and selfishness didn't make others suffer more than she did. Moorehead is as scrupulous and unfooled as Gellhorn could have wished but, unlike Martha, she is forgiving, and that somehow adds to the authority of her book. It is a model biography, at once fond and disabused. Even a writer as hard to please as Martha Gellhorn would have approved of it."—A. Alvarez, The New York Review of Books

"[The author] succeeds with the sort of indefatigable research that Gellhorn herself would admire . . . This new biography is a welcome reminder of her importance."—John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press

"Superb . . . [Moorehead] does a masterful job of weaving the political and personal strands of Gellhorn's life into a thrilling twentieth-century travelogue."—The New York Observer

"This is the biography I've been longing to read. Caroline Moorehead's thorough and balanced book sets Gellhorn before us, complete. She gives us the guts, the glamour, and the gusto, but also a perceptive accounting of the personal costs of this great reporter's restless questing. It is, by turns, inspiring, exhilarating, and enraging."—Geraldine Brooks, author of Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women

"In her enthralling new biography . . . Moorehead briskly extracts Gellhorn from Hemingway's shadow, and as a parting shot, convincingly argues that of the two, Gellhorn was both the better journalist and had the bigger pair of cojones . . . A nuanced and compelling portrait . . . Gellhorn once said, 'You can do anything you like if you are willing to pay the full price for it.' Throughout her superb biography, Moorehead chronicles Gellhorn's triumphs and the bills that always came due."—NPR's Fresh Air

"Moorehead had the cooperation of Gellhorn's family and friends, and access to her copious correspondence. She has made good use of both, giving us not just the usual account of the career and the public person but an intimate look at the private person."—The Washington Post Book World

"Imagine a cross between Dorothies Parker and Thompson in the body of Katharine Hepburn and you have an approximation of Martha Gellhorn, a woman who never met a war zone, a culture, a male ego, or an exercise routine from which she shied. Moorehead has resurrected her beautifully in this vivid and seamless biography."—Stacy Schiff, author of Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov): Portrait of a Marriage

"[Moorehead is Gellhorn's] latest—and clearly best—biographer . . . [This] book offers insight into the complex life of one of the twentieth century's most astute observers . . . Gellhorn was an enigma—to everyone around her and, most particularly, to herself. Moorehead, dispassionately and thoroughly, cracks the shell and gives us a look, from the inside out, at this remarkable writer."—The Salt Lake Tribune

"Exhaustive, engaging . . . This textured, intimate biography does much to lift Hemingway's shadow from a writer who gave readers a fascinating glimpse of world events—and ourselves."—The Sun-Sentinel (South Florida)

"Martha Gellhorn (1908-98) was a woman of enormous accomplishment. Writer and journalist, she covered the major international conflicts of her lifetime, from the Spanish civil war to Vietnam, managed to land on Omaha Beach shortly after D-Day, entered Dachau a few days after it was liberated, observed the Nuremberg trials, and, in the course of a long life, visited and wrote about most of the areas of the world. But she was a woman working in a man's world and, as the subtitle of Moorehead's first-rate biography reminds us, hers was a twentieth-century life, filled with all the contradictions between private and public existence experienced by most achieving women of her generation. As her first husband, Ernest Hemingway, put it before their acrimonious divorce, 'Are you a war correspondent or wife in my bed?'—a question Gellhorn finally answered by leaving him. As Moorehead shows, Gellhorn, at once tough and vulnerable, was sure-footed in her professional life and capable of enduring friendships with people as varied as Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Capa (some of whose photos are included), and Leonard Bernstein. Her intimate life was another matter, with both her marriages and her numerous affairs all ending in tears. Moorehead, the author of well-received biographies of Iris Origo and Bertrand Russell, was a friend of Gellhorn's, but the affection and admiration she feels for her subject (to whose papers she hhad exclusive access) does not prevent her from providing a vivid, balanced, and fascinating portrait of a 'woman who was oddly deaf to the intonations of feminism,' and yet who paid a price for her independent spirit."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A grand journalist and feminist emerges from Papa's shadow in this high-toned-but oh-so-juicy-life by veteran biographer Moorehead. Mention Martha Gellhorn these days, and when she's remembered at all—though she died in 1998—it's often only as one of Ernest Hemingway's long-suffering wives. But Gellhorn was much more: a combat correspondent who wrote enduring sketches of battle during some of the fiercest fighting of WWII . . . a leftist critic of American foreign policy and governments in general . . . and a model to journalists, particularly women, throughout much of her long career, one who thumbed her nose at 'all that objectivity shit' but who produced some of the best literary journalism ever tapped out, and usually from some smoky hotel room in some out-of-the-way town. Moorehead ably captures these aspects of Gellhorn's life and work, though she adds to the icon plenty of human foibles, from her long string of affairs with men scarcely able to keep up with her to her legendary disputes with editors great and small, including the legendary Max Perkins, whom she seems to have scared a little. A good chunk is given over, of course, to Gellhorn's short marriage to Hemingway, born in the Spanish Civil War and effectively over by Pearl Harbor, and of the whole business Gellhorn remarked, 'A man must be a very great genius to make up for being such a loathsome human being.' But Moorehead devotes much more room to Gellhorn's independent adventures, from casual flings to episodes showing her extraordinary grace under pressure . . . [In this book] a tough woman and marvellous writer gets her due."—Kirkus Reviews

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Read an Excerpt

New York with Hemingway was not what she expected. In Key West there had been time for long flirtatious meetings, time to talk seductively about writing and political commitments. In New York they were always in a crowd, everyone drinking, rushing in and out, answering the telephone, going to the Stork Club and Twenty One. Martha was frantic herself. She needed papers for Spain, and with some difficulty persuaded her friend Kyle Crichton at Collier's magazine to give her, not exactly a job, but a letter identifying her as their special correspondent. Martha also needed money for her boat ticket
Read the full excerpt


  • Caroline Moorehead

  • Caroline Moorehead's biographies of Bertrand Russell and Iris Origo were both New York Times Notable Books. She lives in London.