Author: Jeffery Meyers (Jeffery Meyers)

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The Lady Vanishes

In September 2000, I went to Burma to see the places where George Orwell had worked as a policeman in the 1920’s.  As I planned my trip, I fantasized about meeting the brave and beautiful Suu Kyi, daughter of the national hero, Aung San, who was assassinated by a rival political faction in 1947.  Her...

Objective, Burma!
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Objective, Burma!

The Burma campaign included some of the most charismatic and colorful soldiers of World War II: Vinegar Joe Stilwell and his X-Force, Claire Chennault and his Flying Tigers, Frank Merrill and his Marauders; the British commanders Harold Alexander, William Slim, Archibald Wavell, Claude Auchinleck, Orde Wingate and his Chindits, and Lord Louis Mountbatten, luxuriously ensconced...

Flawed Genius
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Flawed Genius

Vladimir Nabokov—like Hemingway, Lorca, and Borges—was born in 1899, began life in the stable Victorian era, lived through the horrors of the Great War, and came to artistic maturity in the 1920’s.  Driven out of Russia by the revolution of 1917, exiled in Berlin and Paris for the next two decades, Nabokov reached New York...

The Authority of Pain
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The Authority of Pain

In April 1970—between the fall of Prince Sihanouk’s government and the American and South Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia—the young Sean Flynn, war photographer and son of Errol Flynn, deliberately drove into a Vietcong roadblock in Cambodia. He wanted to report the war from the communist side but was captured and accused of spying for the...

Bad News From Africa
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Bad News From Africa

In previous books, now classics of travel writing, Paul Theroux described his long train journeys through India and Russia, South America, and China; his ramblings around England and the Mediterranean; his paddling through Oceania.  More interested in people and landscape than in history and art, Theroux combines description and interpretation with social criticism and political...

Agonies of Intrigue
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Agonies of Intrigue

Lord Byron was the most fascinating literary figure of the 19th century.  Fiona MacCarthy’s solid and competent biography covers the ground in great detail (the deformed foot, the scandalous exile, the endless wandering, the early death in Greece) but fails to engage our interest or do justice to its subject.  Desperately straining to say something...

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Unseen Places

In Huysmans’ Against the Grain (1884), the precious hero Des Esseintes has “the idea of turning dream into reality, of traveling [from France] to England in the flesh as well as in the spirit, of checking the accuracy of his visions.”  He orders a servant to pack his bags, calls a cab, and stops in...

Tame Monster
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Tame Monster

Randall Jarrell was born in Nashville in 1914 and grew up in Tennessee and Southern California.  He studied under poet and critic John Crowe Ransom at Vanderbilt University and followed him to Kenyon College, where he lived in Ransom’s attic with the young Robert Lowell and wrote his thesis on A.E. Housman.  Encouraged by Allen...

Palm and Pine
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Palm and Pine

David Gilmour’s witty and elegant, original and useful book chronicles “Kipling’s political life, his early role as apostle of the Empire, the embodiment of imperial aspiration, and his later one as the prophet of national decline.”  Sympathetic yet aware of Kipling’s faults, Gilmour shows that his ideas were more subtle than those of a crude...

The Realms of Gold
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The Realms of Gold

In Vienna, during the decade before the Great War, an astounding concentration of creative genius coincided with the final stages of political collapse.  The work of Hofmannsthal, Musil, Broch, Schnitzler, Kraus, Werfel, and Zweig in literature; Mahler, Wolf, and Schönberg in music; Krafft-Ebing and Freud in psychology; Wittgenstein and Buber in philosophy; Schiele and Kokoschka...

In the Shadow of Bibendum
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In the Shadow of Bibendum

In his Journals of the early 1990’s, English novelist Anthony Powell observed that Kingsley Amis (1922-95) “has begun to look oddly like Evelyn Waugh.  He now seems to be behaving rather like Evelyn too.”  On the telly, showing full jowl, pot belly, and beefy complexion, and sporting loud check suits, Amis—who moved from trendy Socialist...

Hold the Gush
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Hold the Gush

Like Virginia Woolf and Mary McCarthy, Rupert Brooke and Bruce Chatwin, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s striking appearance greatly enhanced her literary reputation.  Readers were drawn to her poetry by her good looks and notorious sexual behavior.  When she lost her health and beauty and became an alcoholic and a drug addict, she lost her following...

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Hollywood and the Convent

Biographers do much of their work in the study and the library, but they also get to some out-of-the-way places.  I’ve interviewed people in bars, nursing homes, and insane asylums, chased down wealthy informants in country houses and elegant apartments, poor ones in drafty cottages and cluttered flats.  Some welcomed me with a hefty drink,...

The Study of Wisdom
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The Study of Wisdom

The second half of the life of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) is not nearly as interesting as the first, when Russell did his major work in philosophy and mathematics and, through close contacts with the Bloomsbury Group, knew all the major writers of his time. In this second volume, Ray Monk picks his way through the...

Prince of Painters
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Prince of Painters

Titian, the greatest painter of the Venetian Renaissance, was born about 1488 in Pieve di Cadoro, in the foothills of the Dolomites. He came down to Venice at the age of nine and was apprenticed to the workshops of Gentile and Giovanni Bellini. He wrote letters to his noble patrons, some of them explaining the...

Hugging Himself
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Hugging Himself

James Boswell (1740-95), whose frank and revealing London Journal sold are than a million copies, is the most “modern” and widely read 18th-century author. His circle of friends—Johnson, Burke, Gibbon, Reynolds, Hume, Goldsmith, Garrick, and Fanny Burney—was the most brilliant in the history of English literature. Cursed with a morbid Calvinistic streak, Boswell had uneasy...

Kissing the Toad
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Kissing the Toad

John Richardson, the brilliant biographer of Picasso, resembles (by his own account) those charming and attractive young men of limited means and boundless ambition—right out of the novels of Stendhal and Balzac—who use any means to make their way in the world. The son of an English soldier, educated at Stowe school and the Slade...

Military Messiah
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Military Messiah

Orde Wingate (1903-44), the most eccentric and innovative commander in World War II, was remarkably like his distant cousin Lawrence of Arabia. Both came from a guilt-ridden fundamentalist (Scots Presbyterian and Plymouth Brethren) background and grew up in an atmosphere of religious gloom and repression. Both were short and slight (5’6″ and only 130 pounds),...

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Dashing Through Asia

        “Down to Gehenna and up to the throne, He travels the fastest who travels alone.” —Rudyard Kipling Not as horrible as Calcutta or as ugly as Seoul, Bangkok, spreading along the flat flanks of the Chao Phraya river, is the whorehouse of Asia. Berth girls and boys will do anything you...

The Displaced Person
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The Displaced Person

“The depravity of Tiberius, or the salacity of Suetonius,” wrote Anthony Burgess, “had left its mark on an island all sodomy, lesbianism, scandal and cosmopolitan artiness.” For the last 150 years, writers have been attracted to the natural beauty as well as the lechery of Capri—20 miles across the bay from Naples, four miles long,...

The Mirage of Movies
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The Mirage of Movies

The cinematographer, the director’s collaborator and confidant, uses the lens, camera, and lighting equipment to make the fake look real and the real authentic. He creates the visual appearance and style of the film. Freddie Young (1902-98), combining stamina and discipline, was perhaps the greatest cinematographer of the century. The youngest son of a large...

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Turkish Tally

A few years ago, my wife and I set off to spend a sabbatical year in Spain, but thought we would go via Turkey. The idea started with a new Swiss “motoring” map that laid out the highways in firm red lines. We also wanted to go to the Aegean islands of Greece. We’d been...

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Jamaicas of Remembrance

        “Jamaicas of Remembrance stir That send me reeling in.” —Emily Dickinson Most visitors to Jamaica fly to Montego Bay on the north coast and head straight for the resort compound. Fating and drinking at an “all-in” price, confined to their bit of beach, pool, and garden, they are happily protected from...

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Cruising the Amazon

        “Here the people could stand it no longer, And complained of the long voyage.”—Christopher Columbus Vacations follow fashion, like everything else, and now cruising is back. Full employment, cheap oil, a flush Wall Street—the problem is what to spend it on. And think of the Titanic. Never mind that it sank....

The End of Something
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The End of Something

Hemingway continues to fascinate. The legendary life and heroic exploits of the man who was so admired, honored, and imitated are now wellknown: fisherman in the Michigan woods, reporter in Kansas City, wounded war hero, foreign correspondent from Constantinople to Cordoba, Left Bank drinker, bullfight aficionado, innovative stylist, African lion hunter, reporter in war-torn Spain,...

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The Quest for Bijou O’Conor

In 1975 an eccentric old lady who lived near Brighton, England, with a Pekinese gave a taped interview about her affair in 1930 with Scott Fitzgerald. Recent Fitzgerald biographers have mentioned the evocatively named Bijou O’Conor and quoted bits from the tape, but no one has discovered anything significant about her background, appearance, or character....

Bambino and Minotaur
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Bambino and Minotaur

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once mentioned the self-punishing limitations of his projected but never written autobiography: “I cannot write my biography on a higher plane than I exist on. And by the very fact of writing it I do not necessarily enhance myself; I may therefore even make myself dirtier than I was in the...