Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took On a World at War (Hardcover)
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NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE • A prize-winning historian’s “effervescent” (The New Yorker) account of a close-knit band of wildly famous American reporters who, in the run-up to World War II, took on dictators and rewrote the rules of modern journalism
“High-speed, four-lane storytelling . . . Cohen’s all-action narrative bursts with colour and incident.”—Financial Times (Best Books of Summer)
They were an astonishing group: glamorous, gutsy, and irreverent to the bone. As cub reporters in the 1920s, they roamed across a war-ravaged world, sometimes perched atop mules on wooden saddles, sometimes gliding through countries in the splendor of a first-class sleeper car. While empires collapsed and fledgling democracies faltered, they chased deposed empresses, international financiers, and Balkan gun-runners, and then knocked back doubles late into the night.
Last Call at the Hotel Imperial is the extraordinary story of John Gunther, H. R. Knickerbocker, Vincent Sheean, and Dorothy Thompson. In those tumultuous years, they landed exclusive interviews with Hitler and Mussolini, Nehru and Gandhi, and helped shape what Americans knew about the world. Alongside these backstage glimpses into the halls of power, they left another equally incredible set of records. Living in the heady afterglow of Freud, they subjected themselves to frank, critical scrutiny and argued about love, war, sex, death, and everything in between.
Plunged into successive global crises, Gunther, Knickerbocker, Sheean, and Thompson could no longer separate themselves from the turmoil that surrounded them. To tell that story, they broke long-standing taboos. From their circle came not just the first modern account of illness in Gunther’s Death Be Not Proud—a memoir about his son’s death from cancer—but the first no-holds-barred chronicle of a marriage: Sheean’s Dorothy and Red, about Thompson’s fractious relationship with Sinclair Lewis.
Told with the immediacy of a conversation overheard, this revelatory book captures how the global upheavals of the twentieth century felt up close.
About the Author
Deborah Cohen is the author of The War Come Home, Household Gods, and Family Secrets. She is also the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Humanities and Professor of History at Northwestern University, focusing on modern Europe.
“As effervescent, for more than four hundred pages, as its winsome and hyperactive characters, and it blends scholarly attention to ideas like psychoanalysis and Wilsonian liberal internationalism with novelistic renderings of these writers’ dizzying trajectories abroad.”—The New Yorker
“As they follow Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Americans are getting an inkling of what it felt like eight decades ago when fascist dictators were on the brink of plunging Europe into war. . . . Back then the best source of news was an intrepid band of young American newspaper correspondents whose exclusive dispatches brought home word of the coming cataclysm. . . . [Ms. Cohen] takes their story to a new level with prodigious research and sparkling prose. The book is a model of its kind.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Riveting . . . With the breezy scene-setting of a party reporter, the rigor of a scholar, and deep empathy for the humans behind these historic bylines, Cohen makes the correspondents come alive.”—Air Mail News
“Ambitious . . . a distressing, immersive recounting of how denial, passivity and pacification aided the rise of authoritarian regimes.”—New York Times Book Review
“The celebrated journalists of the Lost Generation were voracious, reckless, promiscuous, funny, and drunk, and they were also shrewd and deeply political. They explained the world to Americans, shaping their thoughts on fascism and empire, racism and sex. As intimate and gripping as a novel, this brilliant book vividly conveys what it felt like to live through the shocking crises of the thirties and forties as they were occurring, when nearly anything could happen next.”—Larissa MacFarquhar, author of Strangers Drowning
“In this sterling book, Deborah Cohen follows a remarkable group of now mostly forgotten reporters as they try to make sense of a world turned upside down. The result is a shrewd and vivid work of history, one that combines deep research with lustrous narrative verve.”—Fredrik Logevall, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Embers of War and JFK
“A fresh, fast-paced history of the twentieth-century’s most defining events through the eyes of the foreign correspondents who dashed off to cover them . . . a riveting narrative that unites public and private affairs with rare fluency and power.”—Maya Jasanoff, author of The Dawn Watch
“A whip-smart, propulsive book about the globe-trotting (and bed-hopping) journalists who brought foreign affairs alive. Last Call at the Hotel Imperial is a triumph.”—Daniel Immerwahr, author of How to Hide an Empire
“A kaleidoscopic epic . . . a timely and often uncanny mirror for our present moment of national reckoning.”—Deborah Baker, author of The Last Englishmen
“It is both bracing and oddly comforting to read Deborah Cohen’s luminous account of a group of writers who faced their own challenging times with courage, wit, and portable typewriters. We have much to learn from this brilliant reclamation of their commitments and their lives.”—Susan Pedersen, author of The Guardians
“Brilliantly conceived, beautifully written, this is a daring new history of the world between the wars. Cohen’s revelatory book shows how, in the age of extremes, the lines blurred between the personal and the political, biography and history. The work of a truly original historian . . . unforgettable.”—Adam Tooze, author of Crashed and Shutdown
“Scintillating . . . Reads like an Alan Furst novel, full of close calls and intrigue . . . [Cohen] convincingly argues, too, that journalism was the true literature of the interwar period, shaped by outsiders from small towns who wanted to better understand the world. An exceptional book of cultural history that makes one long for the days of teletype, booze, spies, and scoops.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“In her engrossing account of this era and the people who did more than simply report facts, Cohen successfully interweaves international events with personal histories, creating a narrative that is well-crafted and comprehensively researched. . . . The resulting history is both unique and memorable.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“An evocative portrait . . . Striking a masterful balance between the personal and the political, this ambitious and eloquent account brings a group of remarkable people—and their tumultuous era—to vivid life.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)