2023 Winner, Goldsmith Book Prize: Trade

Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took On a World At War

What happens when you’re a foreign correspondent, and see the coming of a war – one that America, and much of Europe stubbornly refuse to see? Last Call at the Hotel Imperial, by Deborah Cohen, Richard W. Leopold Professor of History at Northwestern University, tells the story of four European-based American journalists: the Chicago Sun-Times’ John Gunther, Hearst reporter H.R. Knickerbocker, author and journalist Jimmy Sheehan, and the New York Herald Tribune‘s Dorothy Thompson. Vienna’s Hotel Imperial was their watering hole, but their beat was Berlin, Paris, Rome – anywhere where Europe’s slow descent into madness could be documented. It was the 1920s and 30s, as first Mussolini and then Hitler came to power. The four journalist, rivals yet friends, jockeyed for access to interviews in their effort to tell a complacent world that the peace that followed World War I might not hold. Mussolini was the easy interview to get – Knickerbocker alone met with him four times – while Hitler was elusive. Dorothy Thompson finally managed to interview him, and later became the first American correspondent to get thrown out of Germany. Thompson also wrangled an interview with Leon Trotsky, while finding time along the way to leave her husband and marry the Nobel-winning novelist Sinclair Lewis. The book exposes personal and political intrigue, while highlighting the best of foreign reporting. It’s a true page turner, the events and personalities unfolding as if in a novel, although it is, in face, a chronicle of a world sliding towards all-out war.

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