During the 1920s and ’30s, Americans who wanted to learn what was happening in other parts of the world depended on newspapers, magazines and books. In her beautifully crafted and engrossing Fighting Words: The Bold American Journalists Who Brought the World Home Between the Wars, Harvard historian Nancy F. Cott vividly portrays the important work and complicated lives of four prominent foreign correspondents during a time of monumental change. Bright and resourceful, they let Americans know what was happening in the devastating aftermath of World War I—in Europe as fascism was on the rise, in a deeply divided Middle East, in Russia when Stalin ruled and in China as revolution grew. They were astute observers and often better than diplomats in assessing what was going on.
Aspiring novelists Vincent Sheean and John Gunther were eager to get to Europe, where they hoped to find work as journalists to support themselves. Dorothy Thompson wanted to get to Europe, too, uncertain of how she would earn a living but proving to be a natural reporter. Rayna Raphaelson Prohme yearned to go to China, where she believed a historic transition, “the biggest struggle that is taking place in all the world,” was happening.
Sheean became best known for his Personal History, a bestselling account of his life during the 1920s. Gunther wrote the bestsellers Inside Europe and Inside U.S.A. but is best remembered for his Death Be Not Proud, a portrait of his son’s illness and death. Thompson’s reporting, including an interview with Hitler, was exceptional, and she became an influential newspaper and magazine columnist and radio commentator. Prohme’s path was quite different from the others but certainly fascinating.
This wonderfully readable narrative will hold your attention from beginning to end and features cameos by journalist Louise Bryant (the widow of fellow journalist John Reed) and the prominent authors Rebecca West and Sinclair Lewis, who was Thompson’s husband when he received the Nobel Prize in literature.