Ascherson, (Charles) Neal 1932-
ASCHERSON, (Charles) Neal 1932-
PERSONAL: Born October 5, 1932, in Edinburgh, Scotland; son of Stephen Romer (a sailor) and Evelyn (Gilbertson) Ascherson; married Corinna Adam (a journalist), November 20, 1958 (divorced); married Isabel Hilton (a journalist), August, 1984; children: (first marriage) Marina, Isobel; (current marriage) Alexander, Iona. Education: King's College, Cambridge, M.A. (honorary fellow; degree with distinction), 1955. Politics: Socialist
ADDRESSES: Home—27 Corsica St., London N5, England.
CAREER: East African Institute of Social Research, Kampala, East Africa, researcher, 1955-56; Guardian, Manchester, England, journalist, 1956-58, Scotsman, London, England, Commonwealth correspondent, 1958-59, Scottish politics correspondent, 1975-79; Observer, London, journalist, 1960-75, associate editor, 1985-89; The Independent on Sunday, London, assistant editor, 1989-98; Institute of Archaeology, UCL, London, lecturer, 1998—. Military service: Royal Marines; served in Malaya.
MEMBER: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (fellow).
AWARDS, HONORS: Granada Awards for Reporter of the Year, 1982, and Journalist of the Year, 1987; James Cameron Award, 1988; George Orwell Prize for Political Journalism, 1993; Golden Insignia of Polish Order of Merit, 1993; Saltire Award for Literature (joint award), 1995; Los Angeles Times Book Award for History, 1996, for Black Sea. Honorary degrees: D.Litt., Strathclyde, 1988; D.Sc. (Social Science), Edinburgh, 1990; L.L.D., St. Andrews, 1999.
The King Incorporated: Leopold in the Age of Trusts, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1963, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1964.
(Editor and author of introduction) "The Times" Reports the French Revolution: Extracts from "The Times," 1789-1794, Times Books (London, England), 1975.
The Polish August: The Self-Limiting Revolution, Viking (New York, NY), 1982.
(With others) The Fourth Reich: Klaus Barbie and the Neo-Fascist Connection, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1984, published as The Nazi Legacy: Klaus Barbie and the International Fascist Connection, Holt (New York, NY), 1985.
The Struggles for Poland, M. Joseph (London, England), 1987, Random House (New York, NY), 1988.
Games with Shadows, Radius (London, England), 1988.
Black Sea, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1995.
(Author of foreword) Hubert Butler, In the Land of Nod, Lilliput Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1996.
The Yes Road: A Reflection on Two Devolution Campaigns, The National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth, Wales), 1999.
(With others) Berlin: A Century of Change = Die Gesichter des Jahrhunderts, Prestel (New York, NY), 2000.
Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 2003.
Also author of New Europe!, 1990. Author of scripts for Thames TV's "World at War" series, 1973-76, and BBC's "Cold War" television program, 1998. Contributor to the New Statesman, New York Review of Books, and other periodicals.
SIDELIGHTS: Neal Ascherson has served as a journalist, reporter, and columnist for several British publications, most notably the Observer. His work as a foreign correspondent has taken him all over the world, but especially to Eastern Europe. Ascherson's writing is characterized by a deep grasp of history and an ability to apply its lessons to contemporary social and political situations. In the Times Literary Supplement, John Dunn wrote of the author: "A person's views are always a blend of sentiments and beliefs. On the page Ascherson is a marvellous companion. His sentiments are consistently engaging, his beliefs invariably intelligent, and the experience on which he draws, both vicariously and directly, is impressively wide and intense."
In the late 1970s and early 1980s Ascherson worked as a foreign correspondent in Poland. He was present on many of the occasions that marked the founding and rise to power of the Solidarity movement. His books on the movement and its leadership include The Polish August: The Self-Limiting Revolution and the introduction to The Book of Lech Walesa. Additionally he has published a wider-ranging history of Poland in conjunction with a British Broadcasting Corporation television series, The Struggles for Poland. These books draw not only upon Ascherson's own experiences as a reporter in that nation, but also upon his knowledge of several hundred years of Polish history. "Neal Ascherson has a matchless ability to evoke periods of intense experience with a few strokes of his pen," observed Timothy Garton Ash in the Observer. "The Polish August is repeatedly illuminated by such flashes of evocative brilliance." New York Times Book Review correspondent Richard M. Watt noted that Ascherson's work "contributes mightily to understanding . . . Poland," adding that The Polish August "is a major work by an author who is at once a political scientist, a historian and a very good writer, indeed."
Between 1985 and 1989 Ascherson wrote a political column for the Observer. Some of this column work is collected in Games with Shadows, published in 1988. In his review of the book for the Observer, Michael Frayn wrote: "Journalism is about the here and now; but Ascherson approaches these two familiar points from everywhere in space and time except here and now; and very strange he makes them look." The critic concluded that Ascherson "writes with a wonderful sinewy expressiveness, always colloquial but always elegant. . . . His idiosyncratic intelligence and shameless erudition give me hope each week; hope for newspapers, hope for all of us."
Another well-received Ascherson title is Black Sea, a wide-ranging meditation on the countries and states, past and present, that fringe the Black Sea. Traveling through Turkey, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, and Abkhazia, Ascherson pondered the legacy the region has given the world in its perhaps unparalleled blending of divergent cultures. In a review of the work for the Spectator, Dominic Lieven contended that the author "understands both classical and modern history. He uses both to illuminate issues which haunt contemporary mankind. Because he combines interests and approaches which are not usually found in one head he can make connections which most authors would miss." Lieven concluded: "Ascherson's book has sweep and style. It makes one ponder the transience of civilisations, our own included. Above all, it simply encourages its readers to think. It is a glorious antidote to a contemporary university education in the social sciences." In the New York Times, Richard Bernstein called Black Sea "a fascinating hodgepodge with something to learn on almost every page. With ethnic conflicts much in the headlines, Mr. Ascherson's portrait of a place whose chief characteristic is the durability of its many ethnic identities comes at the right moment, providing perspective on a primordial element in human history."
Ascherson continues to examine the fascinating people, histories, and politics of Europe's less publicized nations in Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland. One of Ascherson's most acclaimed works, it's spirit flows from the author's abiding love and concern for Scotland, his homeland. It is not a direct history of the country or its citizens, but instead a compelling patchwork of that author's insights on varied topics, including archaeology, demography, geography, and nationalism. Some of its highlights include Ascherson's own experiences during Scotland's recent bid for independence. June Sawyers wrote in Booklist that one of the book's finest offerings is the tale of "the sometimes amusing, often illuminating, back-country bus expedition that Ascherson and other Scots took during the 1997 referendum campaign that eventuated in the new parliament. In Scotland, Ascherson points out, love of country is, more often than not, a private affair." In the London Review of Books, Andrew O'Hagan wrote that the book is "one man's attempt to map his feelings about his own country, to send his affections through the prism of history and then through the mincer." The end result, O'Hagan continued, is "a story about what it's like to spend your life married to a scenic fiction: Scotland the Brave." Similarly, one Economist contributor noted that Ascherson "is a subtle and insightful writer" who has written a "tough, closely woven book" which is "much more a reflections, or a series of them, in the continental manner, than it is a history or a piece of reportage."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Book Review, March, 1985, p. 19.
Booklist, April 15, 2003, June Sawyers, review of Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland, p. 1444.
Bookseller, March 28, 2003, "Orwell Prize." p. 26.
Contemporary Review, November 1, 1995, Leo Muray, review of Black Sea, pp. 274-275; October, 1999, review of The King Incorporated: Leopold in the Age of Trusts, p. 219; May, 2003, R.D. Kernohan, review of Stone Voices, p. 309.
Economist (U.S.), January 4, 2003, "Puzzles of Patriotism: Scottish Nationalism," review of Stone Voices, p. NA.
Foreign Affairs, March-April, 1996, Robert Legvold, review of Black Sea, p. 162.
History: Reviews of New Books, spring, 1997, Mari A. Firkatian, review of Black Sea, p. 133; September, 1997, review of Black Sea, p. 133.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2003, review of Stone Voices, pp. 280-281.
Library Journal, October 1, 1995, Melinda Stivers, review of Black Sea, p. 107; May 1, 2003, Jo-Anne Mary Benson, review of Stone Voices, pp. 132-133.
London Review of Books, November 24, 1988, p. 7; May 9, 1996, p. 19; October 31, 2002, Andrew O'Hagan, "Beast of a Nation," review of Stone Voices, pp. 11-12.
Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2000, Neal Ascherson, review of T. M. Devine's The Scottish Nation A History: 1700-2000, p. E-1.
National Review, October 4, 1985, Curtis Carroll Davis, review of The Nazi Legacy: Klaus Barbie and the International Fascist Connection, p. 53.
New Republic, December 18, 1995, Nader Mousavizadeh, review of Black Sea, pp. 42-45.
New Statesman, September 25, 1998, Andrew Billen, television program review of "Cold War," p. 68.
New Statesman & Society, July 7, 1995, p. 40.
New York Review of Books, February 4, 1982, p. 3; September 29, 1983, pp. 18-27; April 18, 1996, article by Norman Davies, pp. 50-54.
New York Times, December 6, 1995, p. C21.
New York Times Book Review, April 25, 1982, pp. 11, 19; November 26, 1995, p. 17.
Observer, December 6, 1981; August 16, 1987, p. 23; May 15, 1988, p. 23.
Publishers Weekly, August 14, 1995, review of Black Sea, p. 63.
Slavic Review, summer, 1996, Dianne E. Farrel, review of Black Sea, pp. 477-478.
Spectator, February 6, 1982, pp. 20-21; June 20, 1987, pp. 23-24; July 15, 1995, pp. 29-30; January 17, 1998, Stephen Glover, "So This Is How Serious the Sindie Now Is: Neal Ascherson 'Released' by the Independent on Sunday,"p.28.
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), October 6, 2002, James Campbell, "Yes for Scotland; James Campbell on a Rich, Politically Partial Scots History and Memoir," review of Stone Voices.
Times Literary Supplement, June 11, 1982, p. 640; July 1, 1988, p. 724; July 28, 1995, p. 4; November 1, 2002, Keith M. Brown, "Blame England," review of Stone Voices, p. 30.
World Today, November, 1995, Anthony Hyman, review of Black Sea, pp. 223-224.
Granta Web site,http://www.granta.com/ (June 30, 2004), "Neal Ascherson."
Guardian Unlimited Web site,http://www.guardian.co.uk/ (June 30, 2004), Neal Ascherson, "End the Exile."
London Review of Books Web site,http://www.lrb.co.uk/ (June 30, 2004), "Contributor: Neal Ascherson: Articles Available Online."
Radio Prague Web site,http://www.radio.cz/en/ (June 30, 2004), Ian Willoughby, "Neal Ascherson: Fascinating Memories of the Soviet Invasion and Much More."