Dangerous Ambition: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson: New Women in Search of Love and Power

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Born in the 1890s on opposite sides of the Atlantic, friends for more than forty years, Dorothy Thompson and Rebecca West lived strikingly parallel lives that placed them at the center of the social and historical upheavals of the twentieth century. In Dangerous Ambition, Susan Hertog chronicles the separate but intertwined journeys of these two remarkable women writers, who achieved unprecedented fame and influence at tremendous personal cost.
 
American Dorothy Thompson was the first female head of a European news bureau, a columnist and commentator with a tremendous following whom Time magazine once ranked alongside Eleanor Roosevelt as the most influential woman in America. Rebecca West, an Englishwoman at home wherever genius was spoken, blazed a trail for herself as a journalist, literary critic, novelist, and historian. In a prefeminist era when speaking truth to power could get anyone—of either gender—ostracized, blacklisted, or worse, these two smart, self-made women were among the first to warn the world about the dangers posed by fascism, communism, and appeasement.
 
But there was a price to be paid, Hertog shows, for any woman aspiring to such greatness. As much as they sought voice and power in the public forum of opinion and ideas, and the independence of mind and money that came with them, Thompson and West craved the comforts of marriage and home. Torn between convention and the opportunities of the new postwar global world, they were drawn to men who were as ambitious and hungry for love as themselves: Thompson to the brilliant, volatile, and alcoholic Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis; West to her longtime lover H. G. Wells, the lusty literary eminence whose sexual and emotional demands doomed any chance they may have had at love. Tragically, both arrangements produced troubled sons, whose anger and jealousy at their mothers’ iconic fame eroded their sense of personal success.
 
Brimming with fresh insights obtained from previously sealed archives, this penetrating dual biography is a story of twinned lives caught up in the crosscurrents of world events and affairs of the heart—and of the unique trans-Atlantic friendship forged by two of the most creative and complex women of their time.
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About the author

Susan Hertog was born in New York City and graduated from Hunter College. After earning her M.F.A. from Columbia University, she became a freelance journalist and photographer. She is the author of one previous book, Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life. She lives in Manhattan with her family.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Ballantine Books
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Published on
Nov 8, 2011
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Pages
512
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ISBN
9780345529435
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Literary Figures
Biography & Autobiography / Women
Family & Relationships / Love & Romance
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In this honest, hilarious, fiercely intelligent memoir, journalist Susan Shapiro dares to do what every woman dreams of: track down the five men who'd broken her heart and find out what really went wrong. Between the ages of thirteen and thirty-five, Susan had plunged into love, heart-first, five times. One bad breakup was more hurtful and humiliating than the next.

With insight and daring, Susan chronicles her six-month-long journey back down a road strewn with romantic regret. Although for years she'd blamed her boyfriends for their flagrant infidelity, ludicrous faults, and immature foibles, to her shock she can now suddenly pinpoint the exact moment where she herself screwed up each relationship.

A successful freelance writer living in Manhattan, Susan Shapiro was in the midst of a midlife crisis she called her “no-book-no-baby summer.” Married for five years to Aaron, a workaholic TV comedy writer always on the road, she was beginning to wonder if she'd remain book- and babyless forever. Then the phone rang, and it was Brad, a college flame who'd become a Harvard scientist with a book coming out. Susan offers to interview him, and she winds up launching into all the intense, invasive questions she'd always wanted to ask him. To her surprise, he answers them! This ignites a spark that sends her on a cross-country jaunt back through her lust-littered past.

While Brad is still single, she finds that Heartbreaks Number Two, Three, and Four are not. George, a theater professor, and Richard, a music biographer, are happily married with children. Tom, a handsome blond lawyer in L.A., is getting divorced. Just as it's becoming easy to worm her way back into her exes' good graces, she crashes head-on with David, a wry Canadian root canal specialist. ("It’s the equivalent of what you did to me emotionally," she tells him.) She then gut-wrenchingly relives the agony of splitting up with her first love all over again. Yet somewhere between the tantalizing what-ifs and bittersweet might-have-beens, she finds what she's been searching for all along.

Part relationship manifesto, part confessional, and part valentine to the males in her life she adores, Five Men Who Broke My Heart is for anyone who has ever wondered what became of their first love. Or second, third, fourth, or fifth…
In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter.  How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir.  In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his  cash.  He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and , unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented.  Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away.  Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.

Jon Krakauer constructs a clarifying prism through which he reassembles the disquieting facts of McCandless's short life.  Admitting an interst that borders on obsession, he searches for the clues to the dries and desires that propelled McCandless.  Digging deeply, he takes an inherently compelling mystery and unravels the larger riddles it holds: the profound pull of the American wilderness on our imagination; the allure of high-risk activities to young men of a certain cast of mind; the complex, charged bond between fathers and sons.

When McCandless's innocent mistakes turn out to be irreversible and fatal, he becomes the stuff of tabloid headlines and is dismissed for his naiveté, pretensions, and hubris.  He is said  to have had a death wish but wanting to die is a very different thing from being compelled to look over the edge. Krakauer brings McCandless's uncompromising pilgrimage out of the shadows, and the peril, adversity , and renunciation sought by this enigmatic young man are illuminated with a rare understanding--and not an ounce of sentimentality. Mesmerizing, heartbreaking, Into the Wild is a tour de force. The power and luminosity of Jon Krakauer's stoytelling blaze through every page.
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