Macintyre, Ben 1963–
Macintyre, Ben 1963–
PERSONAL: Born 1963.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins, 10 E. 53rd St., New York, NY 10022.
CAREER: Journalist and author. Has worked as foreign affairs reporter for England's Sunday Correspondent; Times, London, England, former bureau chief in New York, NY, and Paris, France.
Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1992.
The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1997.
A Foreign Field: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in the Great War, HarperCollins (London, England), 2001, published as The Englishman's Daughter: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in World War I, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.
The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2004, published in England as Josiah the Great: The True Story of the Man Who Would Be King, HarperCollins (London, England), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times Book Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Ben Macintyre is a journalist who has written biographies of some controversial, flamboyant figures. They include Elisabeth Nietzsche, the sister of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and the founder of a racially pure community in the jungles of Paraguay; Adam Worth, a legendary criminal mastermind of the 1890s; and Josiah Harlan, an American who carved out a prominent place for himself in nineteenth-century Afghanistan.
Macintyre's first book, Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche, details the life of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth and the ways in which she affected the life and writings of her brother. As Macintyre explains in the book, Elisabeth not only destroyed Nietzsche's relationship with Lou Andreas Salome, a woman to whom he proposed marriage, but she herself married a rabid anti-Semite named Bernhard Forster. The Forsters traveled to Paraguay in 1886 to form an idealistic, "pure" Aryan community, but when it failed and Forster committed suicide, Elisabeth returned to Germany to take care of her brother, who by that time was seriously mentally ill.
Macintyre notes in Forgotten Fatherland that though Friedrich Nietzsche had already published several works of philosophy, he was not yet famous. Under Elisabeth's care—and with her revising his works so that they appeared to embrace fascism and anti-Semitism when originally they did not—Nietzsche's prestige began to increase. After his death, but still within the lifetime and influence of Elisabeth, his philosophy was adopted and used by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. Indeed, when Elisabeth died at the age of eighty-nine in 1935, Hitler gave her a state funeral and wept over her casket.
In addition to relating these events in Forgotten Fatherland, Macintyre also tells of his own journey to the remains of the Paraguayan colony that Elisabeth and her husband founded. There, Simon Collier reported in the New York Times Book Review, "a handful of descendants of the original families still survived, still scraped a modest living from the poor soil, still spoke German with a thick Saxon accent and still preserved a residual notion of Aryan supremacy." They also displayed the effects of severe inbreeding. George Steiner, reviewing Forgotten Fatherland in the New Yorker, praised Macintyre for linking these two aspects of Elisabeth Nietzsche's story together, calling it "a sparkling idea" that "yields vivid travel writing and information of a ghostly but fascinating sort."
In his second book, The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief, Macintyre offers a biography of the man who served as the real-life model for Professor Moriarty—the fictional archenemy of detective Sherlock Holmes. Adam Worth was the son of German-Jewish immigrants who came to America around 1850. Worth began his adult life honestly enough, working as a clerk in a store. His criminal activities began after he enlisted with the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War. He fought and was wounded at the Battle of Bull Run, then found a way to be declared dead—freeing him to reenlist many times under assumed names and deserting each time after he collected the thousand dollar enlistment bounty. When the war ended and this means of income was closed to him, Worth drifted north to New York City, where he became a pickpocket. He was arrested and imprisoned in Sing Sing, but escaped by tugboat to return to Manhattan. He changed his vocation to that of burglar and eventually formed a partnership with Mother Mandelbaum, a shrewd, tough woman known as the best fence for stolen goods in New York.
Worth's exploits gradually became more daring and ambitious. He and a partner eventually pulled off a million-dollar bank robbery in Boston, then headed to England. In Liverpool, Worth met the woman who would be the love of his life, Kitty Farrell. She was a waitress at the time, but soon joined Worth and his partner, "Piano Charley" Bullard. Worth and Bullard expanded their operations across England and Europe, meanwhile establishing themselves under assumed names as wealthy, respectable gentlemen. Despite his countless crimes, Worth was in some ways a decent man, disdaining violence, never carrying a gun, and going to great lengths and expense to protect and care for his international gang. His most daring crime was the theft of Thomas Gainsborough's famed portrait of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. He intended to use it to ransom his brother from prison, but shortly after he got the painting his sibling was released on a technicality. Worth developed a strange obsession with the portrait, in part because it reminded him of Kitty, who had deserted him and broken his heart. He never sold the painting, but he sometimes slept with it under his pillow and took it with him when he traveled.
Reviewing The Napoleon of Crime in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Allen Barra commented that "Macintyre's detective work in unearthing the details of his subject's crimes is as exemplary as that of Worth's lifelong nemesis, William Pinkerton of the Pinkerton Detective Agency." Mike Phillips asserted in the New Statesman that Macintyre "treats Worth as a brilliant, flawed human being, driven by the greed and moral ambiguity that shaped the mores of his time. In spite of the accumulation of detail and the sheer breadth of the book's reach he maintains a firm grip on his narrative and, in the end, his portrait of Worth as a tragic figure is almost persuasive." Richard Bernstein concluded in the New York Times that The Napoleon of Crime is "a brisk, lively, colorful biography of an amazing criminal."
Macintyre used his skills as a biographer to create a "powerful and evocative" book retelling an incident from World War I. While not significant in a military sense, the events related in The Englishman's Daughter: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in World War I serve as an "elegy of a lost time," according to a Kirkus Reviews writer. The story concerns a group of British soldiers who were separated from their regiment in France, as the German forces were overrunning the countryside. The Englishmen were taken in and protected from the Germans for two years by the residents of a small village in Picardy. As time went by and the German occupation continued, the men even took up false identities as village peasants, and their leader, Robert Digby, began a romantic liaison with one of the young women in the village. Yet in time the men were betrayed, captured, and executed. Macintyre learned much of the story from the daughter Digby had with his lover. Reviewing the British edition of the book, which was published there as A Foreign Field: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in the Great War, M2Best Books contributor Darren Ingram called it "quite a moving story" that features "a combination of clever writing and a good story-telling mechanism."
In The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan (published in England as Josiah the Great: The True Story of the Man Who Would Be King), Macintyre offers a biography of Josiah Harlan, the man who inspired Rudyard Kipling's classic short story "The Man Who Would Be King." Harlan was a Quaker from Pennsylvania who, following a broken engagement, went adventuring in Asia. There he made allies among various Afghan tribes and eventually became known as Prince of Ghor in Afghanistan. Kipling's story is a "bleak account of Europeans who attain godly power over benighted natives and are destroyed by their taste for exaltation," in the words of Commentary writer Algis Valiunas. Numerous commentators took note of the connections and parallels between the situations described in Macintyre's book and the occupation of Afghanistan by U.S.-led troops in the twenty-first century. "Harlan's story alone is fascinating, but its resonance with modern-day struggles … makes it compelling," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Matthew Leeming, a contributor to Spectator, also commented that "the parallels between Afghanistan then and now are striking," and recommended the book as one "full of fascinating characters and desperadoes."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic Monthly, September, 1997, review of The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief, p. 117.
Booklist, August, 1997, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. 1857; February 15, 2004, Jay Freeman, review of The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan, p. 1022.
Commentary, June, 2004, Algis Valiunas, review of The Man Who Would Be King, p. 62.
Contemporary Review, May, 2002, review of A Foreign Field: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in World War I, p. 319.
Economist, November 15, 1997, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. 12.
Entertainment Weekly, April 16, 2004, Raymond Fiore, review of The Man Who Would Be King, p. 83.
Geographical, August, 2004, Sarah Crowden, review of Josiah the Great: The True Story of the Man Who Would Be King, p. 94.
Insight on the News, January 12, 1998, Rex Roberts, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. 36.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1997, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. 778; November 1, 2001, review of The Englishman's Daughter, p. 1536; January 15, 2004, review of The Man Who Would Be King, p. 72.
Library Journal, June 15, 1997, Michael Sawyer, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. 84; December, 2001, Amy Strong, review of The Englishman's Daughter, p. 144; March 1, 2004, Scott H. Silverman, review of The Man Who Would Be King, p. 91.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 31, 1997, Allen Barra, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. 9.
M2 Best Books, July 23, 2002, Darren Ingram, review of A Foreign Field: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in the Great War.
Nation, May 24, 2004, Leela Jacinto, review of The Man Who Would Be King, p. 34.
New Republic, November 9, 1992, Jeff Rosen, Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elizabeth Nietzsche, p. 50.
New Statesman, August 1, 1997, Mike Phillips, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. 48.
New Yorker, October 19, 1992, George Steiner, review of Forgotten Fatherland, pp. 122-126; August 11, 1997, Alex Ross, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. 76.
New York Times, August 27, 1997, Richard Bernstein, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. C13.
New York Times Book Review, October 4, 1992, Simon Collier, review of Forgotten Fatherland, p. 9; August 24, 1997, Jack Cade, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. 10; January 27, 2002, Thomas Mallon, review of The Englishman's Daughter, p. 11.
Observer (London, England), June 15, 1997, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. 16.
People, October 27, 1997, David Lehman, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. 33.
Publishers Weekly, May 26, 1997, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. 72; December 3, 2001, review of The Englishman's Daughter, p. 52; February 9, 2004, review of The Man Who Would Be King, p. 66.
Smithsonian, October, 1997, Robert Wernick, review of The Napoleon of Crime, p. 152.
Spectator, June 26, 2004, Matthew Leeming, review of The Man Who Would Be King, p. 34.
U.S. News & World Report, Anna Mulrine, review of The Man Who Would Be King, p. 76.
2Think, http://www.2think.org/ (February 5, 2006), review of The Englishman's Daughter.
Book Reporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (February 5, 2006), Andrea Hoag, review of The Englishman's Daughter.
Bookslut, http://www.bookslut.com/ (February 6, 2006), Michael Farrelly, review of The Man Who Would Be King.
Curled Up with a Good Book, http://www.curledup.com/ (February 5, 2006), review of The Englishman's Daughter.