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Selected Letters

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From Martha Gellhorn's critically acclaimed biographer, the first collected letters of this defining figure of the twentieth-century

Martha Gellhorn's heroic career as a reporter brought her to the front lines of virtually every significant international conflict between the Spanish Civil War and the end of the Cold War. While Gellhorn's wartime dispatches rank among the best of the century, her personal letters are their equal: as vivid and fascinating as anything she ever published.

Gellhorn's correspondence from 1930 to 1996--chronicling friendships with figures as diverse as Eleanor Roosevelt, Leonard Bernstein, and H. G. Wells, as well as her tempestuous marriage to Ernest Hemingway--paint a vivid picture of the twentieth century as she lived it.

Caroline Moorehead, who was granted exclusive access to the letters, has expertly edited this fascinating volume, providing prefatory and interstitial material that contextualizes Gellhorn's correspondence within the arc of her entire life. The letters introduce us to the woman behind the correspondent--a writer of wit, charm, and vulnerability. The result is an exhilarating, intimate portrait of one of the most accomplished women of modern times.

544 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2006

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About the author

Caroline Moorehead

53 books228 followers
Caroline Moorehead is the New York Times bestselling author of Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France; A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France; and Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. An acclaimed biographer, Moorehead has also written for the New York Review of Books, the Guardian, the Times, and the Independent. She lives in London and Italy.

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5 stars
63 (45%)
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49 (35%)
3 stars
22 (15%)
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3 (2%)
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Displaying 1 - 24 of 24 reviews
Profile Image for Margaret.
363 reviews54 followers
January 2, 2015
(This is the part of the review when I kind of freak out because I made a resolution to rate AND review all the books I read in 2015 which means I'll have to say something intelligent starting NOW...)

Martha Gellhorn, since I picked up Travels With Myself and Another for fun off a shelf in my favorite hometown bookstore, has been kind of a hero to me. She runs around in war zones, reporting, generally kicking ass, and writing about it. Her reportage gets older and, for lack of a better word, grumpier, as she gets older, so naturally I wanted to move on to her letters.

Overall, this volume of Gellhorn's letters track when she first dropped out of college to go to Europe until her death in 1998. The Spanish Civil War, her years with Hemingway (and naturally the fall out from her association with him, including a few notable letters to publishers and friends objecting to the way she's portrayed in memoirs mentioning E., and she generally refers to him), and her later reporting in Vietnam before a semi-retirement in Kenya and England.

Her terse, journalist style is on display here chronicling her opinions on her affairs, marriages, and her adopted children.

These letters are best taken after reading some of her journalism and Travels With Myself and Another since it they much more sense in context of her life. There were some surprising discoveries I made (I still haven't read a proper biography, preferring her own words to the analysis of others up until now) about Gellhorn's life. An informative and interesting read.
Profile Image for John Hovey.
2 reviews
August 6, 2008
Maybe you've never heard of Martha Gellhorn, that's okay. She was from another time, when writing letters was common. Real letters, like with paper. And maybe you've never read a book of someone else's letters, either. I haven't until now. I wondered if it might be a little creepy, a little shameful, like reading someone else's diary. Which I would never do. But the book is wonderful and, unmoved by death as M was, I cannot imagine she would object too strongly to the world reading of her life through her correspondences.

The letters themselves show the mind and loves of a woman creative, fiery, hard-working, and unconcerned with the opinions of others. Like Capote, I have always been awed with self-sufficiency. Gellhorn had it and now it belongs to us.
Profile Image for T.J..
35 reviews4 followers
March 4, 2015
This was a well compiled book, but I found that I'd much rather read a more traditional biography. The letters were interesting to a point, but it just wasn't to my taste; there was too much rambling about events, people, etc., with no backstory to make them relevant (unless they were already quite famous). Gellhorn's life seems intriguing, however, and I plan to seek out another format for her life story. Maybe then I'll appreciate the letters a bit more. This is my opinion only; again, it is a book of quality, and the editor seemed to do a fine job of selection and arrangement.
Profile Image for kelly.
8 reviews13 followers
February 3, 2017
Not only a fantastic insight into Gellhorn's life, but still extremely relevant to the state of the world's affairs today.
Profile Image for Kim.
29 reviews6 followers
July 15, 2007
Martha Gellhorn is my personal hero. She had glamorous lovers, an illustrious career in journalism, good taste, and the courage to live a life worth writing about. It is the later achievement I most admire. She took risks and was willing to live with the outcomes.

All this is ascertained from her beautifully written letters. Martha wrote so many and wrote them well. If written candidly and with style, letters are the best format for delivering the inner workings of complex people and Martha was certainly that - complex. Her values conflicted, as did her activities, yet she managed to grow and gain insight while living fabulously.
Profile Image for sister bluestocking.
5 reviews4 followers
February 26, 2008
Everybody knows who she was. But her glamour and marriage to that famous writer and friendships with the great and near-great and all that travel and war reporting--the stuff you hear about her--doesn't really get at her except in the most glancing, superficial way. Martha Gellhorn was entirely herself: Stubborn, nonconformist, tactless, brutal, brilliant, gorgeous, breathtakingly brave and honest. Making big mistakes, driving people crazy, being a wonderful friend. Writing, always writing (while sunbathing in the nude, whenever possible). Ignore the pretentious sections by the book's editor, Gellhorn's biographer Caroline Moorhead, and spend some quality time with a real woman.
Profile Image for Annemariem.
87 reviews
September 10, 2016
From one of the first and only women war correspondents of the planet and the former wife of Hemingway (although she would prefer to forget that particular episode), the most personal writings imaginable: her letters to her many friends.

As these friends include Eleanor Roosevelt, HG Wells, Hemingway, Leonard Bernstein, Adlai Stevenson and many more, and they span the years from the Great Depression through WW II, the cold war and the sexual revolution, this is a fascinating document of the life of a curious, smart, politically aware and curiously open and vulnerable individual.

Fascinating reading.
Profile Image for Donna Kusuda.
230 reviews
October 6, 2010
Great biography through her letters. What a smart "ahead of her time" woman. Certainly the equal of Ernst Hemingway her husband for about seven years during the time he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Martha was a war correspondent, unique for a woman during WWII. Good friends with Eleanor Roosevelt among many other smart people. I really didn't know much about her before, but you get to know her on a personal level through the letters and think I would have liked to have her as a friend.
Profile Image for Laura McNeal.
Author 15 books278 followers
July 19, 2011
I read this book because I wondered if the tour guide's description of Gellhorn was accurate when we visited Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West. Now I want to buy cases and cases of this book and hand them out to tourists as they leave the property. It's brilliant and illuminating and devastating--must-read material for fans (or former fans) of Hemingway or for anyone who's ever tried to be a writer.
Profile Image for Carolyn Rector.
59 reviews5 followers
March 3, 2014
Incredible book. Read also The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn published in 1959,1967,1986 and 1988. An early foreign correspondent, her letters show her opposition to Hitler abd Fascist governments. She is always concerned for the innocents on the ground in the Spanish Civil War and all over Europe. She reports on the napalm bombing by the American in Vietnam and becomes an anti-war demonstrator. She died in 1998 at the age of 90.
1,399 reviews2 followers
May 28, 2019
Actually 508 pages of text and edited by Caroline Moorehead. A terrific look at the life of MG via the letters that she wrote to friends, enemies, acquaintances, editors, publisher, lovers, famous people and politicians. From the time she was born in 1908 in St. Louis to college at Bryn Mawr in 1926 on through to the end of her life in 1998. Over 7 decades of letters giving her advice, opinions, and love.
Profile Image for André.
30 reviews
March 3, 2013
Love Martha Gellhorn. 20th and 21st century's problems are not so different. Challenges and questions in love, war, journalism, politics, family, literature remain. The self-destruction of human beings will never change.
117 reviews
November 16, 2007
Martha Gellhorn was once married to Ernest Hemingway but this is not what is important about her life...she was a brave, brilliant journalist who lived her life in her own way.
50 reviews1 follower
August 31, 2010
If you like reading autobiographies about independent women you'll like this.
Profile Image for Laura.
Author 11 books10 followers
February 24, 2009
Interesting info on her covering wars, traveling extensively, and relationships.
Profile Image for Mary Alice.
2 reviews
October 24, 2013
Martha is a fantastic letter writer, which seems to be a dying art. She knew a lot of famous people
and it's fun to read a one-way correspondence!
Profile Image for Kristine.
248 reviews6 followers
September 26, 2021
As someone who studies cultural norms and the prices people (sometimes) pay for violating them, I LOVE Martha Gellhorn. What a complete, total badass, a woman who seemed almost completely unconcerned about what the world thought of her living her own life exactly as she saw fit: sleeping with anybody's husband she wanted, refusing to get married, traveling to places women didn't go, being a journalist in very difficult, dangerous places (Spanish Civil War, Vietnam, Africa), preferring to live on her own in a tent rather than deal with those troublesome servants in London society. All of this was made possible by being born into a position of privilege, of course, and being slim and pretty and blond didn't hurt a bit, but Lady was smart, tough and ever so ballsy. She said what she thought and she was a thinker, a writer and a doer, and later in life a pretty cranky old bat, as she would have admitted. I read this before her narrative work or any biographies, so I look forward to getting to know her from other angles. Because letter writing used to be one of my great leisure activities, though, I'm not sorry I started with this one. Martha joins my pantheon of sheroes, alongside her dear friend Eleanor Roosevelt and her contemporary Margaret Mead.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,753 reviews7 followers
June 10, 2018
I am not a fan of books consisting of letters, but since I enjoyed Love & Ruin so much, I wanted to learn more about Martha Gellhorn, beyond her marriage to Ernest Hemingway. Though the book was too long, I enjoyed following the thread of many people she had a correspondence with over the years. In a way it seems so intimate to read such letters. Martha was certainly an independent feminist loyal to the causes that won her heart. 3.5 stars
420 reviews
October 5, 2021
These letters show that while Gellhorn was a mediocre novelist/Foriegn correspondent she was a superb letter writer. They are in fact, better than anything else she wrote. She seems to have known every Leftist Politician and writer - Eleanor Roosevelt, Hemingway, George Kennan, Lenard Bernstein, Adlai Stevenson, James Gavin, and Alvah Bessie to name a few. Since Gellhorn was a self-described
hater" and Lefitst, don't look for any letters to anyone to the Right of Eleanor Roosevelt. Also, the letters were selected by the "authorized Biographer" So, Gellhorn is shown in her best light. You can wonder what letters were left out.
Profile Image for Nisma.
280 reviews
November 16, 2017

Of course, I can't bring myself to rate this. Or judge it, really. These are someone's letters - they weren't necessarily written for the world to put their two cents in. Who am I to judge the quality, content, style? Her character? That being said, one cannot read this stuff without some sort of commentary.

So Martha Gellhorn was really something. She had insights and opinions that resonated strongly with me - not just because they were shared, but because she worded them so well. And because it's a personal letter, you can't help but feel struck by the honesty, the sincerity - it must come straight from the heart, right?

And there were other things I didn't like or agree with. But so what, right? She wasn't writing to me. She isn't answerable to me. She did her own thing, and I just happen to get a peek into it. A good long peek. It's unbelievable, reading the real-time story of someone from a different era - not reconstructed, but as it was. Even moreso in someone so aware of the world, so involved, but emotionally and physically, in a way. So it was worth getting through this.
64 reviews
Currently reading
February 15, 2018
These letters are so rich I don't even know where to start. I honestly will have to call my girlfriend and say honey I am sorry I am going to ignore you. Please don't call me for a week so I can read. Reading doesn't get much better than Martha Gellhorn.
Profile Image for Ruthanne.
156 reviews
August 13, 2018
Wonderful book

"Death," she once said to Betsy Drake, many years before, "is nothing The only thing to fear is the manner of dying."

On Feb 18, 1998, at the age of eighty-nine, Martha took a pill she had got hold of several years before for just this occasion, and died.
Displaying 1 - 24 of 24 reviews

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