Comments: 4
Portable Magic 1 year ago
Great review! It's funny that the author managed an objectivity that the subject of the book never achieved. Regarding her unlikeability, though, I think that sometimes the very personality and character traits behind a person's ability to accomplish extraordinary things are also traits that can make them deeply unlikeable. Not saying that one requires the other, but it seems to correlate for many.
It was interesting to read in the intro section where the author Moorehead talked about how she knew Gellhorn - and in particular how she was never really close enough to be dropped like some of the friends were - but I think it was also due to Gellhorn being more of a friend through knowing Moorehead's family. I think Moorehead was just close enough to Gellhorn to see the personality and realize the big problems involved. I now want to make a list of Biographies of People I Didn't Admire As Much After I Learned What a Massive Pain They Were To Live With! And funny thing - all of those bios are well written. And thinking on all of them - I think you're on the nose for the accomplishment power/unlikable thing.

I've read loads of bios on reporters for work/school - and the whole objectivity thing was always something argued over - fun, how that doesn't change really. It's fascinating to read US WW2 reporting that was considered objective at the time - the biases were all there - but only if you know what was not being reported on. (Even today war orphans don't get overly much column space/air time.) And that's different from what was known to reporters but actively not mentioned in any of the news - because in those days the majority of reporters were told not to print things and didn't. (Not just troop movements - deaths, destruction, anything that made the Allies look at all bad, etc. long after such info was known/printed elsewhere.) Which is why history is always soooo much easier than journalism.

But apart from the whole objectivity is complicated thing - Gellman seemed really blind to some issues, or actively never looking at some things from other angles. Which - after reading the book - I only get angry at her for because she was SO damn harsh in criticizing others for such things. And even better - she hated hypocrites. Totally had me talking back to the book/Gellman: "Are you listening to yourself?! How can you, argh, no!"
Portable Magic 1 year ago
Well, objectivity requires both self-awareness and a certain amount of humility. By that, I mean the ability to acknowledge that others may hold differing, but equally valid, points of view. If you can't acknowledge your own biases and faulty thinking, how can you be objective?
I don't know if Gellman would have have been able to be that self aware - I mean, she spent loads of time fixated on what she considered her failings, especially as a writer, but that's not quite the same as deeper awareness of what you're blind to, what you're not seeing. (Now that I think of it, it isn't an easy thing.) And she seems to have been one of those "you don't hold my opinion on X, but you are wrong and should think as I do! Mine is obviously the right way!" I suppose on the plus side she liked to hold spirited debates about things - and in later life seemed to be ok with people disagreeing with her. (As long as they didn't bore her, because that was a sin. To her, that is.)

I guess it comes down to whether a mostly selfish person can ever truly be self aware enough to be able to acknowledge their biases - she seemed too stuck on the idea of her own rightness to question herself that way. I think some of this was solved in ye olden days (heh of like a few decades ago) by having good editors around who'd just cut the overtly biased stuff out, and call out the reporter on the failed bits. Gellman really needed that.

You've now got me really rethinking all this just with the word humility - because oddly she was very much unsure and non-boastful about her writing and career itself, and constantly plagued by self doubt. She was the crusader for issues sort of person - so in the sense she was pushy and self righteous it was all about speaking for people she thought weren't being represented. So it's really hard to balance out with the selfish/demanding way she'd act towards others. I think this goes back to what you were saying about unlikable people their ability to accomplish things - those prickly personality traits making it possible.