Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Face of War

Rate this book
Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) was a war correspondent for nearly fifty years. From the Spanish Civil War in 1937 through the wars in Central America in the mid-eighties, her candid reports reflected her feelings for people no matter what their political ideologies, and the openness and vulnerability of her conscience. "I wrote very fast, as I had to," she says, "afraid that I would forget the exact sound, smell, words, gestures, which were special to this moment and this place." Whether in Java, Finland, the Middle East, or Vietnam, she used the same vigorous approach. Collected here together for the first time, The Face of War is what The New York Times called "a brilliant anti-war book."

337 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1959

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Martha Gellhorn

52 books258 followers
Martha Ellis Gellhorn (1908-1998) was an American novelist, travel writer and journalist. She is considered to be one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century. The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism is named after her.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
476 (48%)
4 stars
380 (38%)
3 stars
115 (11%)
2 stars
14 (1%)
1 star
4 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 139 reviews
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,784 reviews1,458 followers
October 23, 2018
The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998), author, journalist and famed war correspondent, collects in one volume reports the author had previously written for magazines. The reports are about the wars she covered--the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, the Nuremburg Trials, the 1946 Paris Peace Conference, the Indonesian National Revolution, the Six-Day War (the Third Arab-Israeli War), the Vietnam War and finally the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran civil wars of the 1980s. Gellhorn was a journalist over a span of sixty year! The book was originally published in 1959, but successively more has been added. Both the 1959 and 1986 introductions are included in the audiobook version herewith reviewed.

The book is about war. It puts a human face on war. That is its intention—not to draw battle strategies, not to speak of those in command, not to speak of those planning wars for attainment of political goals—but of the soldiers fighting the wars and of the civilians slaughtered because they lie in war’s path. We are at Dachau. We see what she saw when the concentration camp was liberated. We fly with Gellhorn in a P61 Black Widow night-flying bomber. This book puts each reader right there in the war. Not just one war, but several. Only by experiencing what war is really like does one come to understand the true horror of war.

The author wants us to perceive war as it truly is, to feel it in our guts, so united, we will raise our voices against it. Gellhorn gives us Nadezhda Mandelstam’s words “If you can do nothing else, you must scream!” You ask who Nadezhda Mandelstam is? Nadezhda Mandelstam was the Russian author, educator and wife of poet Osip Mandelstam. He died in 1938 in a transit camp near Vladivostok. Gellhorn wants to bring to our attention that we each have a duty to perform. We must see that the government we elect takes action against human injustice wherever such occurs. She is telling us to make our voices be heard.

Gellhorn writes passionately. She writes to make us care. She writes to incite people to take action. Even when writing of war, she employs humor, albeit of the dark, sarcastic, ironical kind.

Quotes jotted down from the book:

”Perhaps it Is impossible to understand anything, unless it (has) happened to you.”

“I do not hope for a world at peace, all of it, all the time. I do not believe in the perfectibility of man, which is what would be required for world peace; I only believe in the human race. I believe the human race must continue.”

“To see a whole nation passing the buck is not an enlightening spectacle.”

Seeing the destruction in Cologne: “If you see enough of anything, you stop seeing it.”

We did not look at each other. “You are ashamed. You are ashamed for mankind.”

“Either Reagan knows he is lying, or he doesn’t know he is lying. Ominous either way!”

“On the night of New Year’s Day, I thought of a wonderful New Year’s resolution for the men who run the world: get to know the people who only live in it.”

Martha Gellhorn was an intelligent woman. She reasoned logically. She expressed herself well.

Some lines are not completely clear. I would ask myself WHO is saying this and WHERE exactly could this be happening, but confusion clears. The confusion arises because the book is a string of separate reports.

Gellhorn was the third wife of Ernest Hemingway, married to him from 1940 to 1945. This book Is not autobiographical. She says not a word about Ernest Hemingway, as one thinks she might when speaking of that which she saw and experienced in Madrid in 1937, and in Barcelona in 1938. They were in Spain together.

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain is the book that made me interested in reading The Face of War. The books complement each other.

Bernadette Dune reads the audiobook very, very well. Steady, even and clear. The strength of the words speak for themselves.

Those interested in The Face of War will surely also be interested in War's Unwomanly Face by Svetlana Alexievich.

I want everyone to read The Face of War! It is that good. You will not regret having read it, even if you have already read a zillion books on the Second World War, even if you are already a pacifist and detest war. It should be required reading for all.
Profile Image for Russell Bittner.
Author 26 books60 followers
February 5, 2017
This curt bit of advice, from the Russian writer (and wife of the poet, Osip Mandelstam) Nadezdha Mandelstam, is one that Martha Gellhorn quotes at the conclusion of the chapter titled “Rule by Terror” in the section titled Wars in Central America (p. 321). It was sage advice (under the then-present circumstances) in Ms. Mandelstam’s time; it was sage advice in Ms. Gellhorn’s time. It remains sage advice in our time.

On pp. 151-152, Ms. Gellhorn writes “On the night of New Year’s Day, I thought of a wonderful New Year’s resolution for the men who run the world: get to know the people who only live in it.”

This was something she wrote on the first day of January, 1945, which was over 68 years ago. Things haven’t changed much since then — as Ms. Gellhorn predicted they wouldn’t in her coverage of conflicts from the Spanish Civil War up to and through the Reagan’s interventions in both El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Before I ran across Ms. Mandelstam’s suggestion, I originally thought of titling my review “Read this book at your own risk!” — or “Read this book and weep.”

Why? Because I suspect you’ll feel a similar shame while reading it. Shame as an American, certainly. But also shame as a human being. The history of our species is not a pretty one. And The Face of War begins only with the Spanish Civil War!

Martha Gellhorn is no knee-jerk liberal. She’s a solid, unflinching liberal — by conviction. And her conviction is the result of first-person observation, investigation and inquiry. In other words, not of hearsay or conjecture.

At the end of May, I read and reviewed Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. In my opinion, that book could sit side by side with this one on the same shelf of woe. Both women are profoundly competent journalists. Both are the kind of journalist we need more of — unflinching, compassionate and, above all (for those who’d heed their prophetic words), intelligent.

I’ll risk making the same recommendation I made with The Shock Doctrine. Buy this book and read it cover to cover! As with Ms. Klein’s book, we’re talking history; but we’re also talking (almost) current events. And although Martha Gellhorn is now dead, I feel certain that if she were still alive, she’d be observing, investigating, inquiring and writing about similar atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq. After all, was George W. Bush’s “shock and awe” qualitatively different from the Nazi doctrine of Schrecklichkeit (“frightfulness”)?

Since I assume this review will be read — if at all — by Americans, I’ll conclude it with a quote from p. 281 that speaks to us most directly: “(i)t is not easy to be the citizen of a Superpower, nor is it getting easier. I would feel isolated with my shame if I were not sure that I belong, among millions of Americans, to a perennial minority of the nation (: t)he obstinate bleeding hearts who will never agree that might makes right and (who) know that if the end justifies the means, the end is worthless.”

R. I. P. at last, Ms. Gellhorn. You’ve earned it.

Brooklyn, NY
Profile Image for Shane.
Author 11 books264 followers
November 28, 2020
Adrenaline Rush or Compassion for Humanity?

Every time I read a book by or about Martha Gellhorn I come up with the puzzling question: “Why did a woman of white privilege and from middle class America, with influential connections in government, risk her life to travel to the most dangerous and miserable parts of the world, taking Fascist and dictatorial regimes head-on, while forcing the flashlight into dark corners of international politics to expose her own country’s complicity or instigation of heinous crimes against humanity?” Was it ego, mission, guilt, the need for a constant adrenaline rush, or a true compassion for humanity? I guess we will never truly know, except that her writings reveal the world at its worst and most shameful.

This book is termed her masterpiece, for it has gone into many editions, with a new section being added every time she went to yet another theatre of war after the previous edition had gone to press. In all, she covered the Spanish Civil War, WWII, the Vietnam War, The Six-Day War, and the guerilla wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua. The dispatches she sent from the battle front, many of them published by Colliers Magazine, form the chapters in this book.

There are so many set pieces described from her grandstand view, tableaux of life at the battle front, that they are too numerous to include in this review. Suffice to say that this book is a collage of images that highlights the randomness by which winners and losers are picked during conflict; who will live, who will die, and who will be indiscriminately maimed. Flying fragments of shrapnel and bullets pick off body parts at random—a leg here, an arm there, a head here, a stomach there, an eye here, an ear there. Lives for the survivors are indelibly changed thereafter. Gellhorn miraculously escaped getting hurt during all her missions, testament perhaps to her divinely anointed role of witness to the atrocities of the 20th century.

Her earlier dispatches are subjective, where she focusses on the unfairness of the politics and on the plight of the victims. In Spain and during WWII, she laments, “We were guilty of the dishonest abandonment of Spain and the quick cheap betrayal of Czechoslovakia. We niggled and refused asylum to doomed Jews; we inspected and rejected anti-Fascists fleeing for their lives from Hitler; we were full of shames and ugly expediencies.”

Battles and age hardens her, and by the time she gets to Vietnam and Central America, she is broadening her reportage with statistics: Vietnam—“Fifty-eight thousand twenty-two Americans died in Vietnam, in combat and from non-combat hazards. 300,000 Americans were wounded”; Nicaragua—"To the end of 1984, U.S. taxes have paid for the murder of 3,954 harmless men and women and 3,346 children, the uprooting of 142,980 people now refugees, the destruction of 137 hopeful modest infant centers, clinics, schools, co-operatives, built by the Sandinistas for the peasants.” Her statistics on nuclear proliferation is even more cutting (albeit these are 1983 numbers): “Global military expenditure—$728.3 billion—and global health care, $545 billion. In ten years to 1985, Third World governments ran up a debt of $240 billion for imported weaponry. Armed conflicts have been a tragedy for the poor people of the Third World every year since 1945, with a death toll calculated at 20 million and mounting. In 1984, 26,980,000 men and some women wore the military uniforms of 140 nations: global armed forces of nearly 27 million people.”

Her condemnation of US complicity in the mini-wars around the world is total in several quotes:
• “These peasants had survived the Vietcong since 1957, on whatever terms, hostile or friendly, and the war however it came to them. But they cannot survive our bombs. Is this an honorable way for a great nation to fight a war 10,000 miles from its safe homeland?”
• “There is never enough money for life, though money can always be found for armaments, nuclear and conventional, and for our immense military establishments.”
• “We should stop calling ourselves the Free World and instead call ourselves the Free Enterprise World.” Totalitarianism is rejected but Authoritarianism is accepted.”
• “In 1823, the Monroe Doctrine established the claim that the U.S. had a backyard and the right to supervise it. Since 1909, when the U.S. ousted a popular Nicaraguan President, the American government has actively supported its own choice for President of Nicaragua, sending the marines if there was any sign of revolt. No American President denounced the long and real Somoza tyranny.”

Despite the desolation of war, there are some bright and philosophical spots in the book. Here is how she describes the life of a war correspondent: “Meantime you could sit on the sand with a book and a drink of sweet Italian rum and watch two British destroyers shelling Rimini, just up the coast; see German shells landing on the front three kilometers away; follow a pilot in a slowly sinking parachute, after his plane had been shot down; hear a few German shells whistle overhead to land two hundred yards farther down; and you were getting a fine sunburn and life seemed an excellent invention.” Or the outlook of a Jewish survivor: : “He was thinking of the future; he was thinking of the world that would be safe and honorable and free. It was amazing that he never commented on the Germans at all.” Or the words of the Polish spy tortured by the Germans: “It is possible that disgust can be greater than hate; that disgust can be the strongest emotion of all.”

Call her a bleeding heart leftist if you will, or a Zionist (she was unshaken in her support for Israel), but she was a very courageous woman, far ahead of her time. She served as witness to the unfairness in the world and was not daunted in writing about it, even if it cost her sanction or censor. Her concluding remarks attests to her belief in a better world just out of reach: “The state has fallen down on its job: instead of a fuller life, the state has led man to a haunted life. There has to be a better way to run the world and we better see that we get it."

Unfortunately, Martha Gellhorn did not live to see that better world.
Profile Image for Joseph Sciuto.
Author 8 books134 followers
August 28, 2021
"Martha Gellhorn was a fearless war correspondent for nearly fifty years and a leading journalistic voice of her generation.
"From the Spanish Civil War in 1937 through the wars in Central America in the mid-eighties, her candid reporting reflected her deep empathy for people no matter their political ideology, and the openness and vulnerability of her conscience. “I wrote very fast, as I had to,” she says, “afraid that I would forget the exact sound, smell, words, gestures, which were special to this moment and this place.” Whether in Java, Finland, the Middle East, or Vietnam, she used the same vigorous approach. Collecting the best of Gellhorn’s pieces on foreign conflicts and now with a new introduction by Lauren Elkin, The Face of War is what the New York Times called “a brilliant anti-war book” and has become a classic."

Bull Buford, Granta, writes "HOW is it possible to have been so ignorant for so long of a writer who has written so passionately about the terror or war?"

The first paragraph is taken from the short biography of the book on the book's website. The second review asks a question I have been asking myself since I started reading Ms. Gellhorn's works.

"The Face Of War," is undeniably one of the best books I have read on the terror of war, the frightful propaganda machine behind wars, and the untold victims of war: The civilians, women, and children, and especially the poorest people in the countries where the combatants are fighting.

Ms. Gellhorn's book, a collection of articles from more than eleven countries where she covered wars, is unlike any book on war I have read because while covering wars in so many countries she gives us a profile of how differently the citizens of those countries responded to the war that was tearing their lives apart. The citizens of Madrid went about their business of surviving the daily bombing of their city during the Spanish Civil War as an inconvenience, removing the dead, and then going to work so they could buy food and take care of their children.

The Polish immediately set-up an underground to combat the Germans, while at the same time pretending to be their friends, farming the land the Germans confiscated from them, and handing over the food to the lazy, crazed Generals in charge.

During the 'Six Day War' where the Arab countries invaded Israel, and the Arabs were spreading propaganda among their soldiers that one had to kill all Jews even if they gave up because they were all evil.

After six days of war, despite the Arabs' superiority in soldiers {as large as 4 to 1} and with the best of Soviet equipment, the Israelis gave them a lesson in conducting a war that they are still living with the consequences to this very day. After the war was won, the Israelis soldiers stopped sending back Egyptian prisoners of war across the Suez canal because the Egyptian Generals were greeting their POWs with a bullet to the head. The Israelis could not believe such barbaric behavior and had to call in the Red Cross to finish the evacuations.

And as Ms. Gellhorn is quick to point out it was not the average citizens going about the business of living and taking care of their children that started wars, but individual egomaniacs such as Hitler, or Arab Kings, or lying US Presidents such as Johnson and Nixon and Reagan, who started and continued wars with propaganda machinery that tricked the citizens of many countries to the very end.

In one piece she talks about a young German waiter in Berlin after the war. A nice, pleasant young man who tried to convince her and her friends that Hitler was not at all bad. After all he said, "Didn't you Americans also have at your disposal French culinary delights and Italian pastries?"
Profile Image for Dana DesJardins.
265 reviews35 followers
August 25, 2015
This is an astonishingly brave book, as it would need be, covering conflicts from the Spanish Civil War through the nuclear arms race in the 1980s. Gellhorn unerringly finds the underdog in any conflict and suspects power, propaganda, and privilege; in other words, her enemies are the right enemies. Unfailingly wry, by turns nonplussed and angry, Gellhorn never mitigates her outrage and says, oh so reasonably in 1959, "For we are led and must follow whether we want to or not; there is no place to secede to. But we need not follow in silence; we still have the right and duty, as private citizens, to keep our own records straight." She finds the human face in war, as her title asserts, chronicling the Nazi POW's tears as faithfully as the skeletal survivors in Dachau, which she was among the first to report.
By the time she writes about the American War in Vietnam, Gellhorn no longer has to stow away in bathrooms on outbound hospital ships to be allowed access to the battlefields, but she focuses rather on refugee camps and villages, deserted town squares in El Salvador, and town meetings in Nicaragua. Her outrage has ripened into a compassion so abiding that one almost weeps to read her documentation of suffering, combining facts ("We left behind in South Vietnam six and a half million destitute refugees ...") and examples ("A girl of six had received a new arm, ending in a small steel hook to replace her left hand"). Having steeled oneself to read about the internment camps in Poland in WWII, it is nonetheless shattering to be made witness to the "small" wars waged between superpowers from the Cold War forward.
Everyone should read at least some of this book, divided as it is into short articles reported live from each horror.She ends in her conclusion, written in 1986, "We all pay for this Defense, this greatest single industry on earth. We, who do not profit from it, support it. And what do we get for our money? Security? Who feels secure?"
As upsetting and moving as this book is, I felt braced by the courage and resolution of not only Gellhorn, but the victims of war on whom she reports. And we are all victims. May we at least acknowledge what other people must endure. Thereby a hard peace might eventually be achieved.
Profile Image for Megan O'Hara.
180 reviews53 followers
April 1, 2020
read Martha or perish! She hates Nazis and Reagan so much what more can you really ask for. But you get so much more! Namely perfect final sentences and incisive criticism of the powerful. Her perspective is historically limited but extremely worthwhile. Anyway fuck Hemingway read Martha
Profile Image for Britt Skrabanek.
Author 3 books25 followers
September 17, 2016
Gellhorn's eye-opening perspective on war, from Spain to Finland to Java to Vietnam, is unlike any I've ever experienced before. A bold statement coming from someone who has extensively studied World War II, but I stand by it.

Not only was Gellhorn one of the first female war correspondents in history, she was a phenomenal writer as well. Her writing is raw and heartfelt, capturing the real moments of war, the fighters on both sides of the front and the non-fighters caught in the middle of it all.

This is what truly sets Gellhorn apart, as her historical accounts launch off the page with unapologetic feeling, like the grenades, mines, and bombs she loathes. Regardless of your interest or disdain for war history, The Face of War is worth a slow read. Slow, because you can't rush through this one—nor will you want to out of respect for the many souls represented here who lost their lives for their countries, lovers, and families.

This is the one book that should have been a required reading in history class. Yet somehow it didn't make it in...too honest and anti-war perhaps?

“The only way I can pay back for what fate and society have handed me is to try, in minor totally useless ways, to make an angry sound against injustice.” ― Martha Gellhorn

Britt Skrabanek
Profile Image for Don Groves.
21 reviews2 followers
July 28, 2012
Picked up this book to compare Gellhorn's reporting with Hemingway and to see how their war coverage differed. Sorry, Poppa, Gellhorn kicks your ass. While Hemingway's boring me with chauffeurs of Madrid, Gellhorn is talking to the women and children and old men of Spain, China, Vietnam, the ones suffering without political ambition, no bravado, just ordinary people hoping to return to ordinary lives while surrounded by the horror of war.
Profile Image for Adam  McPhee.
1,274 reviews211 followers
March 2, 2018
The point of these articles is that they are true; they tell what I saw. Perhaps they will remind others, as they remind me, of the face of war. We can hardly be reminded too much or too often. I believe that memory and imagination, not nuclear weapons, are the great deterrents. ... Though I have long lost the innocent faith that journalism is a guiding light, I still believe it is a lot better than total darkness.

Mistakenly thought this was just about her experience reporting the Spanish Civil War, which I took an interest in after reading Adam Hochschild's Spain in our Hearts which has some great stories about her and Hemingway in Spain. (Also, I think Hochschild criticizes Gellhorn specifically for missing the revolutionary aspect of the war, especially in Barcelona, but praises her for getting Eleanor Roosevelt to work on getting FDR to support the war, though he never did.)

But no, the book tracks Gellhorn's whole career: from covering Spain to Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist army in China to the Winter War and WW2. Also Indonesia, Vietnam, the Six Day War and Reagan's backing of right wing death squads in El Salvador and Nicaragua, ending with a piece on Chernobyl.

Most of it's good, except for the stuff on Vietnam. Reading it, I had a sense that it sounded overly optimistic, too favourable to the American side, and sure enough: in her epilogue to that section, she admits to having self-censored, thinking that, "even liberal readers in Britain were not prepared for the full true story. The official American version of the war, as a generous effort to save the South Vietnamese people from communism, had been a public relations triumph. To dispute it, by showing what the war was actually doing to the South Vietnamese, risked the label of communist propaganda." And yet she still gets in a sad portrait of a child napalm victim, which was enough to get her blacklisted from Saigon.

Gellhorn has a great Hemingwayesque way of channeling the horrors of war by describing the dead or wounded in simple but visceral terms. Some of those images are going to stick with me. Not for the squeamish.

If you liked this, I recommend checking out Nahlah Ayed's A Thousand Farewells.

Kindle highlights:

Get the feeling she supported the Morgenthau Plan:

(1987 edition)
Profile Image for Ben Keisler.
227 reviews14 followers
February 18, 2023
Terrific war reporting other than from the Middle East, where her usual critical faculties were lacking.
Profile Image for Ingeborg .
234 reviews39 followers
February 18, 2023
This is a well written and very important anti-war book. In the face of another war in Europe - everybody should read it. Man is an irrational animal after all (are we just monkeys driving aeroplanes and using computers? or is this offensive to the monkeys?), and war seems to be our permanent state of mind - we can't seem to escape it, form one generation to another, we all suffer the same. When I say "suffer", I mean two things - the ones who really suffer most are those who are out there in Ukraine, really affected by the realities of war; but I also mean everyone else, everybody who is an aware and thinking individual.

Because every war is a death of reason, a direct negation of civilization and progress - and no one is innocent in the face of these big questions. It is time we rethink the way we elect our leaders and stand behind them, it is time to think about why and how do we trust them with our lives, and most importantly, we should ask ourselves are we doing enough to protect our young people from the virus of nationalism?? No, we are not.

And every time we use the us and them dichotomy - this is a small root of the new war, new meaningless conflict, a new war in the making. Just imagine - a conflict in Ukraine came even though we are well aware of Auschwitz, of Hiroshima, of Sarajevo.... It is time to stop. To really, really stop, and make a fundamental change. Do not ask for permisson. Just do it. Start today. Read Martha Gellhorn and keep thinking about the possibiloities for change.
Profile Image for Lucrezia Ugolini.
47 reviews8 followers
February 1, 2017
Ho iniziato a leggere questo libro perché mio nonno, sapendo che sto preparando l'esame di Storia Contemporanea, me lo ha prestato. Non avevo mai letto niente della Gellhorn, la conoscevo solo come "una delle mogli di Hemingway", anche se avevo visto il film del 2012 sulla loro storia non posso dire di aver mai conosciuto la Gellhorn da un punto di vista letterario.
Il libro per certi versi mi è piaciuto e per altri no. Non sono una giornalista né capisco molto di giornalismo, figuriamoci poi di corrispondenza di guerra. Anzi, direi che l'argomento stesso non è e non sarà mai il mio preferito (e non venitemi a dire che chi studia storia studia solo guerre!), tuttavia sono molto contenta di aver incrociato la Gellhorn sulla mia strada. Giudicare un testo di questo tipo non solo non è facile: non ho proprio gli strumenti per farlo. Sono anche un po' influenzata dall'immagine di donna sicura di sé che il film mi aveva fornito, quindi questa è una recensione che faccio in modo quasi istintivo: il libro mi è piaciuto e basta. Non saprei spiegare il perché, semplicemente mi è piaciuto, al punto che anche le vicende che non erano esattamente parte del mio raggio di interesse sono risultate avvincenti e interessanti. Questo è merito della Gellhorn: se le stesse cose fossero state scritte in modo diverso, non mi sarebbe piaciuto così tanto.
Profile Image for Nick Black.
Author 1 book740 followers
October 1, 2013
Beautiful prose, lingering images, and the bravery to honor Israel, that most admirable of nations (and so often the whipping boy of the gormless). Some of the best war writing I've ever read.


Amazon 2008-10-23. Yesterday outside the Klaus Fortress of Computing, who should I run into but my old roommate and co-conspirator Vegan John (For those who know him, he and Pam are now married and living on the westside; he's a year or so from his condensed matter physics PhD, while she's finishing up hers in optial physics this semester)? Over mutual Newports, we talked Bose-Einstein condensates and quantum computing and a great deal about the Spanish Civil War. It turned out VJ also knew a good bit about the republicanos and
, but from a different perspective than I'd picked up from Beevor, Hemingway and Homage to Catalonia. He recommended this strongly, and who am I to disagree with the most Vegan of Johns?
389 reviews8 followers
August 10, 2014

When I started this book, I was amazed and astounded. I flatter myself that I write this way, or maybe it's better to say that I aspire to write this way -- the poetic attention to detail, the way she notices the little things that say everything about the big things. Her reporting of the Spanish Civil War and World War II are so incredibly spot on. I was a huge fan.

And then we get to the portion about Vietnam. And she adopts this tone that she was the only American who had problems with the Vietnam War (which is wrong) and that no American soldiers were in an danger (which is wrong) and makes a great point of not knowing or caring who Robert McNamara was. Her reports flirted around the bigger picture of all the millions of, billions of dollars that are spent on refugees without making the refugee lives any better, so where does the money go? *That* is a compelling thread for late twentieth century wars, but because she doesn't see beyond the details, she misses it. Her later writings are almost a cautionary tale of how we try to keep using the same filters on different situations, how we age ungracefully by not being flexible enough.
Profile Image for X.
1 review
May 9, 2020
Journalists without sufficient historical and cultural background research on their “stories” lead to superficial analyses just like hers. Maybe she tried to cover too many different stories from too many places without ever specialising in understanding one - not her own fault but maybe it’s the nature of the job. The complexity of both European and Asian histories and motives driving their populations seemed just out of her reach as an American journalist.
On another note: trying not to sound biased by simply describing one’s observations does not necessarily lead to un-biased or un-political works, if one’s experiences stem from an unauthentic role. And she has indeed miserably failed in this and shown it throughout her articles. The most enjoyable and genuine part of the book is her introductions so if you do decide to open this work, make sure you do not skip those.
11 reviews1 follower
August 10, 2012
For anyone who wants an excellent read, because perhaps you have a taste for understanding history, or the nature of war, or international politics, or human rights, this should be on your list.
If you don't know a lot about history except what you learned in high school, this is a quick way to balance what you thought you knew.
I found it riveting, but then I'm biased. I have experienced war in Vietnam as a Navy medic, and I became for some time disappointed in humanity, and very curious about the rest of the world.
Profile Image for Shaun Bossio.
151 reviews15 followers
May 23, 2016
This was phenomenal for a number of reasons, but mostly because of how fascinating it was to see a female war reporter evolve while witnessing fifty years of horror. I stumbled onto Gellhorn because she was Hemingway's third wife, but her writing and intellect help her stand alone. I'd thoroughly recommend this to anyone remotely interested in an insider's perspective of the changing (ed) face of why we go to war.
Profile Image for Anupa.
24 reviews1 follower
June 2, 2017
"Our government belongs to us. We are not little mice anymore." - The Face of War is a masterpiece and Martha Gellhorn is a real live SUPERHERO. She taught me that as a writer I should always use my skill for good. And that sometimes the most important writing is born out of fear and a hysteric need to be of use when the world is falling apart. Take your time reading this. Read sentences again. Reread the chapters if it feels right.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
622 reviews29 followers
August 12, 2022
Martha Gellhorn spent a lifetime - literally - documenting the effects of war on civilians. She covered soldiers and airmen sometimes, but focused, mostly, on how war destroys regular people's lives, leads to almost unimaginable suffering, and, again and again is an unavoidable travesty resulting from bad decisions, ugly politics, lies, personal ambition, and powerful people's disassociation from the pain it causes. This book covers Gellhorn's experiences in the Spanish Civil War, the war in Finland, World War II Europe, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Six Day War, and the US-supported wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua. By the time she wrote The Face of War, Gellhorn was spitting mad, embarrassed by Americans' fomenting of wars, horrified by nuclear weapons proliferation, disgusted with the leaders who decide to wreak havoc from safety, exhausted from seeing so many innocent people - children, especially, but non-combatants of all types - burned, raped, blown up, dismembered, orphaned, impoverished, and driven insane by war.

I read endlessly about war, fiction and non-fiction, soldiers' and civilians' and journalists' accounts, and I watch documentaries and war films and, in short, feel, if not inured, at least like little can surprise me. But Gellhorn describes here two events she witnessed that bring me to tears even in writing this. The poignancy of her straightforward reporting is extraordinarily powerful.

Gellhorn, who was born in 1908, has a terrible habit of describing Asians and Latin Americans as "little brown people" and there's no question that this is an early 20th century White American woman from a privileged background who sees the world through a very White lens. That said, she took herself into dangerous places in Europe, Asia, and Latin America; asked people respectful questions; and abhorred what the US did in Vietnam and Central America precisely because she knew the people in those countries, no matter how patronizingly she described them, were people and deserved more than the dehumanization and violence the US unleashed on them.

Some of Gellhorn's observations are particularly interesting in light of subsequent events. She was hugely sympathetic to Nicaragua's Sandinistas; I think she would be disappointed by how they squandered the people's trust. She was appalled by the Arabs' wars on Israel and deeply supportive of Israel as a nation; I think she would see Gaza today and the settlement in the West Bank and be as saddened by Israel's actions as she was infuriated by the Arabs' (she had particular dislike for UNWRA and the positioning of Palestinians as refugees - I'd be curious what she thought today).

Gellhorn had no patience for propaganda or other forms of lying. She reported directly. She took risks. She wanted to know the truth and she wanted to share it. She believed people have responsibility to keep their governments in check, to prevent them from causing terrible harm or, worse, terrorizing. She admonished people to pay attention, to speak up, to demand better. She had particular vitriol for powerful men who destroyed innocent people's lives with impunity, whether it was Nazi leaders or American politicians.

This is a book well worth reading. Gellhorn was clearly a force of nature and her coverage of war - of wars, one after the other - is a potent reminder of how unremittingly ugly that particular enterprise is and how cruelly it affects millions and millions of people caught in the violence caused by - in most cases - a few unchecked men's ambitions. That I'm reading it as the wars and conflicts in Ukraine, Burma, Yemen, Mali, Uganda, Congo, and Ethiopia inflict terrible pain on non-combatants makes it all the more resonant.
Profile Image for Brian Page.
Author 1 book9 followers
September 14, 2018
There is a reason that Martha Gellhorn is still in print; and it’s not because she was once the wife of Ernest Hemingway. Read The Face of War -- if for nothing more than the joy of savoring beautiful prose. This is not to say that the stories are beautiful. TFoW is Gellhorn’s passionate antiwar manifesto. She certainly earned the right of credibility, as the book encompasses nearly every conflict beginning with the Spanish Civil War, to World War II (including the concentration camps), the American War in Vietnam, and on to the Central American fiascos in the 1980s. In all of these she was on the ground, in the action. The best sections, to me, are those from Spain and WW II, though one wonders how she would today view Israel’s Six-day War now that the Israelis have practically recreated the Warsaw Ghetto in Gaza.

Gellhorn comes across as a realist and is deeply cynical about the integrity of leaders: “Politics really must be a rotten profession considering what awful moral cowards most politicians become as soon as they get a job.” (p. 68) All-in-all this is a superb, witty, and informed account of war in the 20th century. Sadly, so much of what she concludes is still very relevant and shows the extent of how little our leaders have learned from history.
Profile Image for Sam Reaves.
Author 21 books65 followers
September 14, 2019
Martha Gellhorn was married to Ernest Hemingway for a few years, which is how most people have heard of her, but she was a fine writer in her own right, most notably a war correspondent who witnessed nearly forty years of ghastly history in the middle third of the twentieth century.
This book is a collection of articles covering conflicts from the Spanish Civil War through Vietnam and the Six-Day War, compiled with introductory essays by Gellhorn for each section. As a woman, she faced daily resistance in the mere exercise of her profession (she had to stow away on a ship to get to Normandy for the invasion), but this also entailed interests and insights that escaped her male colleagues. In often understated prose, she delivered scathing judgments on the crimes she witnessed, from the premeditated brutality of the Nazi regime to the willful callousness of American bombing in Vietnam.
Few people witnessed as much history as Martha Gellhorn; even fewer wrote about it so eloquently.
Profile Image for Susan Liston.
1,352 reviews36 followers
November 8, 2018
What a book. How incredibly brave this woman was, and at a time when women just weren't this sort of thing... a war correspondent...during the Spanish CIvil War, WW2 and Vietnam. Her writing is so simple and precise and she hits the nail on the head over and over. THIS is what war is like, THIS is what is really going on and THIS is why it's so incomprehensibly stupid. It's not easy to read, I had to do it in small doses because it's often quite intense, but this is something everyone should read. In schools for sure. And every time you start thinking that going to war with anyone is a good idea, get this out and read it again.
Profile Image for Mike.
914 reviews26 followers
September 5, 2020
One of the best books - and most challenging - I have read in quite some time. For all of my reading I had never heard of Martha Gellhorn but will certainly be looking for more about her in the future. This book is a collection of her stories written as a journalist covering wars all over the world. She tells the stories of the people on the ground and many of them are heart-wrenching. It would be difficult to read her work and not loathe the idea of war based on what it does to those every day people that usually want nothing to do with it.
Profile Image for Roger Snell.
Author 7 books3 followers
February 19, 2019
The ex-wife of Ernest Hemingway is the best war correspondent I have ever read, and that is saying something for all the war history books I have read. What sets Martha Gelhorn apart is that she covered from World War II through the Reagan years in Central America and, even more significantly, her coverage focuses on the civilian impact of war on both sides.
Profile Image for Laura.
469 reviews22 followers
April 28, 2023
The sense of the insanity and wickedness of this war grew in me until, for purposes of mental hygiene, I gave up trying to think or judge, and turned myself into a walking tape recorder with eyes. The way people stay half sane in war, I imagine, is to suspend a large part of their reasoning minds, lose most of their sensitivity, laugh when they get the smallest chance, and go a bit, but increasingly, crazy.

Brilliant reporting from her war correspondent days. And albeit I learnt a great deal from all her pieces, I was drawn mostly to her older writing of Spain, Finland, Germany, DDay +1. Her work then, always terse, always essential, is informed by a fire and a passion for life that drew me in. Martha the journalist and the risk taker. I had never known the Spanish war so close, the war as seen from Finnish eyes, nor the horrors of lagers so closely. Her later work is still good (except as someone else says here the piece on the Middle East where she loses perpective somewhat), but the cerebral Martha takes over and instead of being there on the street with the people, there is more internal dialogue and more introspection. I wonder how she never reached the same fame as other writers because her work, devoid of any narcissistic tendencies, is still today of huge historical value.
Profile Image for Neha.
37 reviews1 follower
September 27, 2021
man I really over glorified journalism in my head this shit is scary
3 reviews
June 13, 2013
I desperately want to give this book five stars. It is brilliant. Gellhorn's war coverage should be required reading. Unfortunately, after getting everything else right, she fails completely in her coverage of the Middle East. There are two obvious reasons for this, and, rather poignantly, one is a result of her strength (her humanism) and the other of her humanity (mortality). Having been present at the liberation of the Nazi death camps, Gellhorn was completely and justifiably appalled and outraged by what she saw. It is no wonder that her sympathy for the victims of a horrendous genocide would predispose her to see no wrong in anything that might be done afterwards in their name. The irony is that her great sympathy for one set of victims made her totally blind and deaf to the sufferings of another people who were victimized, in their turn, by the objects of her sympathy. She writes about the Middle East as though Palestinians never existed, no real humans ever lived in the area that became Israel, and no legitimate human being was in the least bit harmed by expulsion and exile from land their family had occupied for countless generations. Apparently, the crimes committed in Europe, by Europeans, completely justify everything that was done to somebody else in atonement. The logic doesn't hold. However, it is painfully easy to see how Gellhorn missed the point after being an eyewitness to some of the most atrocious crimes in history. It seems almost inevitable that she would misread what was happening in Israel. I would hope that her humanism would have led to a change of opinion if she had lived longer, but her coverage of the Middle East came late in her life and she simply did not survive long enough to witness the ruthless suppression of the West Bank and Gaza, or to observe the deliberate and relentless ethnic cleansing of Palestine that is now abundantly evident to anyone willing and able to take an objective and humanitarian look at the situation. The pity is that an otherwise brilliant, insightful, and genuinely indispensable book - as well as a life's work - is fatally marred by her impassioned and totally biased coverage of what is now one of the most important, and still least understood, war zones in the world.
Profile Image for William Kirkland.
164 reviews5 followers
July 8, 2016
Martha Gellhorn (1908 – 1998,) wrote much and lived more. As Bill Buford, the fiction editor at “The New Yorker” is quoted in her 1998 obituary, ”Reading Martha Gellhorn for the first time is a staggering experience. She is not a travel writer or a journalist or a novelist. She is all of these, and one of the most eloquent witnesses of the 20th century.”

Martha Gellhorn

She came out of relative privilege to spend a life driven by a fierce anger at the troubles of “ordinary people trapped in conflicts created by the rich and powerful.” She was a “non-ideological radical” as Clancy Sigal described her.

Late in life, when she had finally decided she was no longer “nimble enough” to go to the Bosnian war, she revised her 1959 collection, The Face of War(1994), which Herbert Mitgang of the New York times had said of the original “a brilliant anti-war book that is as fresh as if written this morning.” It now included the “War in Vietnam,” “The Six Day War” and “Wars in Central America” — making seven wars she had personally witnessed and written about. Actually there were more: at the age of 81 she covered the 1989 United States invasion of Panama, and a few years later made her last reporting trip to Brazil to witness the lives of street people. By this time she had lost her youthful belief that truth and empathy with the suffering of others would help staunch the human hunger for war.

blockquote>It took nine years, and a great depression, and two wars ending in defeat, and one surrender without war, to break my faith in the benign power of the press. Gradually I came to realize that people will more readily swallow lies than truth, as if the taste of lies was homey, appetizing: a habit. (There were also liars in my trade, and leaders have always used facts as relative and malleable. The supply of lies was unlimited.)

For full review see All In One Boat
Profile Image for Rick.
778 reviews2 followers
February 2, 2008
An anthology of war essays that span this fine journalist’s long career from the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Cold War, Vietnam, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Not a pacifist but someone who is strongly and bluntly antiwar, even when she supports the cause, as she did in the Spanish Civil War and World War II, which she thought we waited too long to get involved in. Gellhorn believes war is never better than a necessary evil. She also believes that aspects of modern war with its long-distance, indiscriminant bombing is an unnecessary evil, whether the target is Guernica, London, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, the Vietnamese countryside, or rebel strongholds in peasant lands. She brings a ground-level view, that of the soldiers, sailors, medics, and non-combatants, of warfare and its collateral damage, something she paid attention to decades before the euphemism came into existence. Her writing is sharp, factual, and compelling. “And it is awful to die at the end of summer when you are young and have fought a long time and when you remember with all your heart your home and whom you love, and when you know that the war is won anyhow. It is awful and one would have to be a liar or a fool not to see this and not to feel it like a misery, so that these days every man dead is a greater sorrow because the end of all this tragic dying seems so near.” A great work of modern journalism.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 139 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.