cover image Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War

Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War

Deborah Cohen. Random House, $30 (576p) ISBN 978-0-525-51119-9

Northwestern University historian Cohen (Family Secrets) delivers an evocative portrait of a tight-knit coterie of American journalists who reported from the world’s hot spots from the 1920s through the 1940s. Stationed in European capitals, with forays to Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, H.R. Knickerbocker, Vincent “Jimmy” Sheean, Dorothy Thompson, John Gunther, and his wife, Frances, covered the fall of empires, the spread of communism, and the rise of fascism. Influenced by Freudianism and anti-colonialist struggles, they fashioned “a new kind of journalism, both more subjective and more intimate,” Cohen writes, and stimulated a growing American interest in foreign affairs. Drawing on extensive archival material, Cohen vividly describes the privation Knickerbocker saw in Russia under Stalin’s Five-Year Plan; Thompson’s 1931 sit-down with Hitler, whom she called “the very prototype of the Little Man”; Sheean’s marveling at the “dogged defiance” of ordinary Spaniards during the Spanish Civil War; and the Gunthers’ witnessing of the 1934 July Putsch in Austria. Interwoven with these and other historical events are immersive accounts of the correspondents’ extramarital affairs, divorces, bereavements, and literary endeavors. 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. Agent: Kathy Robbins, the Robbins Agency. (Mar.)