cover image The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II

The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II

Judith Mackrell. Doubleday, $30 (464p) ISBN 978-0-385-54766-6

WWII was “the defining opportunity for female correspondents,” according to this immersive and revealing group biography. Guardian journalist Mackrell (Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation) follows correspondents Sigrid Schultz, Helen Kirkpatrick, Martha Gellhorn, Virginia Cowles, Clare Hollingworth, and photographer Lee Miller from Berlin in the 1930s, where Chicago Tribune bureau chief Schultz cultivated Nazi leader Hermann Göring as a source, to the 1947 Paris Peace Conference, where Gellhorn and Kirkpatrick feared that the same mistakes that failed to resolve the tensions of WWI were being made. Sparkling quotations from the reportage are woven throughout (Gellhorn once wrote that British prime minister Neville Chamberlain had a “face like a nutcracker and a soul like a weasel”), and colorful biographical details shed light on the correspondents’ defiance of conventions and “basic hunger for action.” Miller was a Vogue model before she picked up the camera, Mackrell notes, while Gellhorn stowed away in the bathroom of a hospital ship to be the first woman reporter to cover the Normandy landings. Secondary characters including Ernest Hemingway, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Clare Boothe Luce make entertaining appearances, and Mackrell lucidly sketches military and political matters. The result is a rousing portrait of women who not only reported on history, but made it themselves. (Nov.)