Moynahan, Brian 1941-
MOYNAHAN, Brian 1941-
PERSONAL: Born 1941. Education: Graduated in 1962 (with first-class honors), from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 201 E. 50th St., New York, NY 10022.
CAREER: Journalist and writer of popular histories. Has been a foreign correspondent for many years, served on the staff of Yorkshire Post and Town Magazine, and was later the European editor for the London Sunday Times.
Airport Confidential, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1980, published as Airport International [England].
Claws of the Bear: The History of the Red Army from the Revolution to the Present, Random House (New York, NY), 1989.
Comrades: 1917—Russia in Revolution, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1992.
The Russian Century: A Photographic History of Russia's 100 Years, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
The British Century: A Photographic History of the Last Hundred Years, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
Rasputin: The Saint Who Sinned, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
The Faith: A History of Christianity, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2002.
If God Spare My Life: William Tyndale, the English Bible and Sir Thomas More—A Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal, Little Brown (London, England), 2002, published in the United States as God's Bestseller: William Tyndale, Thomas More, and the Writing of the English Bible, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Brian Moynahan, former European editor of the London Sunday Times, has been a freelance writer since 1989, concentrating on historical subjects. Several of Moynahan's works have dealt with late nineteenth-and twentieth-century Russia, often using resources that had been unavailable prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The author has also focused on the history of the Bible and of Christianity in general in two further volumes.
Moynahan's 1989 book Claws of the Bear: The History of the Red Army from the Revolution to the Present analyzes what was at one time the largest army in the world. The Red Army was first organized to fight a civil war, but its officer corps was devastated during Stalin's purges. Even so, it was still able to rebuff the German army during World War II. Moynahan misses none of this history, noting that the post-Soviet army was still up to muster at the end of the 1980s. A reviewer in the New Yorker praised Claws of the Bear as "a solid, informative history," and Dennis E. Showalter called it in Library Journal "fast-paced" and "compelling."
Moynahan's 1992 book Comrades: 1917—Russia in Revolution was narrower in the time frame covered but broader in its political scope. Comrades starts with Rasputin's murder and ends with the Bolshevik Revolution that closed out the year. Along the way Moynahan covers the fall of Tsar Nicholas II, the building of the Provisional Government, and the rise of Vladimir Lenin. Steve Weingartner, reviewing Comrades for Booklist, noted that the book "is wondrously enjoyable to read" and that Moynahan is "an intrinsically gifted writer." Frank McLynn was harsher in his assessment in a review in the New Statesman and Society. "Moynahan is a good writer but a poor historian," McLynn declared, adding that "Moynahan's grasp of political theory is poor and hence his understanding of Lenin limited. Even if he was unwilling to read Lenin's own works or those of his apologists, he should have consulted those by reputable political theorists."
Rasputin: The Saint Who Sinned, published in 1997, is the most narrowly focused of Moynahan's Russian histories, and the story it tells is one that has fascinated historians and the general public alike for many years. The outline of the story is well known: Grigory Rasputin, a Siberian-born mystic—or charlatan, depending on one's outlook—ingratiated himself into the Russian royal family. The subtitle of Moynahan's book refers to Rasputin's dual nature. He was an uneducated peasant with base desires and a sexual appetite for highborn women. No evidence exists that Rasputin had an affair with Tsarina Alexandra, yet such were the rumors at the time among the Russian populace. He had many other affairs, however, and Moynahan ably documents these in his book. The saintly part of his nature—the part that earned him the sobriquet "Mad Monk" (though he was neither mad nor a monk)—was built around his reputation as a healer.
Prior histories of the period, particularly Robert K. Massie's 1967 book Nicholas and Alexandra, have credited Rasputin's hold over Alexandra to his uncanny ability to successfully treat her son's hemophilia where Russian doctors had failed miserably. Moynahan's opinion differs from the received wisdom in that he believes Alexandra was in thrall to Rasputin's personality and that his positive results with her son were merely a confirmation of her first assessment. Whether the proverbial chicken or the egg came first, Rasputin was soon exerting an enormous influence over Alexandra and her weak-willed husband, Tsar Nicholas II. His recommendations for appointments to ministry posts were meekly accepted by the royal couple with disastrous results, particularly during World War I. Eventually, conspirators from the Russian aristocracy plotted Rasputin's assassination in December 1916 in order to stem the weakening of the royal power base.
Reviewing Rasputin in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Robert D. Warth wrote that "Moynahan's biography . . . is generally lively and compelling. It is also the most comprehensive, though some readers will appreciate and others will object to the 'padding' that presents a panorama of Russian life and times under Nicholas II." In a review for Library Journal, Robert H. Johnston wrote that Rasputin "makes for good, even juicy reading." A reviewer in Publishers Weekly, however, stated that "Moynahan's version of this oft-told tale is less spellbinding than sordid." Suzanne Massie, an author of Russian histories herself, had particularly harsh criticism for Moynahan's book in the New York Times: "What we are offered in this book is sensationalism. Drawn from well-known sources (some of them dubious) and little or no original material, it reads like a compilation of every snide whisper and innuendo circulating in St. Petersburg before the Revolution—plus a few never thought of during those inflamed days." She especially criticized Moynahan's theory about the wellspring of Rasputin's influence over Alexandra, pointing out that the hemophilia theory is the "generally accepted view" and that Moynahan's theory is a "radical departure from responsible historical opinion." Moynahan met this criticism head-on in a letter published in the Times after Massie's review appeared. He chided Massie for not revealing that she was a former wife of and coauthor with Robert Massie, who popularized the hemophilia theory. Moynahan also claimed to have used original material, writing that "[my book's] account of Rasputin's murder, for example, draws on censored and previously unknown material from police officers."
Less controversial books by Moynahan include two photographic histories for which he supplied the text to go with the pictures: The Russian Century: A Photographic History of Russia's 100 Years, appearing in 1994, and The British Century: A Photographic History of the Last Hundred Years, in 1997. The photos in the Russian book range from a Dzhigit woman riding a horse in 1936 to a modern-day Lenin looka-like enjoying the show at a Moscow strip club. Some of the photographs in the Russian book are from archives sealed from the West until a short time before the book's production. The British book documents British life from the waning days of Queen Victoria's reign to the more recent ascent of Tony Blair to the prime minister's office. Moynahan also wrote a book about the airline industry, Airport Confidential, in 1980. In it he covered all aspects of how modern airlines are run.
Moynahan pursued a new direction in his research with two books appearing in 2002. In The Faith: AHistory of Christianity, Moynahan "attempts the almost impossible," according to Judith Maltby in the Times Literary Supplement: a one-volume overview of Christianity. The author begins the history with the crucifixion of Christ, and continues through the spreading of the faith by Paul and on to the ultimate adoption of the religion by the Roman Empire. A reviewer for the Houston Chronicle found that Moynahan's book "is objective, often inspiring, filled with facts that illuminate and portraits that enlighten." Similarly, Aaron Tyler, writing in Journal of Church and State, thought that Moynahan "makes a valiant effort to confront this seemingly insurmountable task in his fascinating work." Tyler went on to commend The Faith as an "eminently readable book." However, Maltby was less convinced, finding the narrative "overwritten" in places, and further noting that Moynahan simply "takes the gospel accounts on trust." For Maltby, "interpreting evidence" is just as important as "constructing a narrative." Jana Riess, writing in Publishers Weekly, found more to like in The Faith, calling it a "proficient survey" written in an "engaging voice." Riess concluded that Moynahan "tells crisply" this "moving tale."
In If God Spare My Life: William Tyndale, the English Bible and Sir Thomas More—A Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal (published in United States in 2003 as God's Bestseller: William Tyndale, Thomas More, and the Writing of the English Bible,), Moynahan tackles a less imposing but no less important subject. William Tyndale was a Protestant reformer who translated the Bible into English in the early sixteenth century. Though this was not the first translation, it was the first that was printed. For his efforts, Tyndale had to live in exile in Europe, fearing the wrath of Sir Thomas More, who wanted him tried as a heretic. Though such a fate did ultimately befall him, Tyndale's contributions lived on in the King James Bible, which incorporates much of his translation.
The biography was greeted by critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. Reviewing the American edition of the work, Riess in Publishers Weekly called it an "exhaustively detailed biography." Writing in London's Guardian on the English edition, Diarmaid MacCulloch commended Moynahan for his "convincing and lively pen-portrait that is fully sensitive to the achievement of the Bible translator who sacrificed his life for words." More praise came from Book's Eric Wargo, who termed the book a "painstakingly researched account," and from Booklist's Bryce Christensen, who dubbed it a "gripping historical drama." Likewise, Charlie Murray, reviewing the title in Library Journal, drew attention to Moynahan's "novelistic attention to detail," and a critic for Kirkus Reviews found it a "well-crafted outing" for those who like to read "modern English history or . . . fiction rooted in scholarly detection and religious intrigue."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, September-October, 2003, Eric Wargo, review of God's Bestseller: William Tyndale, Thomas More, and the Writing of the English Bible, p. 94.
Booklist, March 1, 1992, Steve Weingartner, review of Comrades: 1917—Russia in Revolution, p. 1195; July, 2003, Bryce Christensen, review of God's Bestseller, p. 1849.
Contemporary Review, November, 2002, review of If God Spare My Life: William Tyndale, the English Bible and Sir Thomas More—A Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal, p. 315.
Guardian (London, England), January 1, 2002, Diarmaid MacCulloch, review of If God Spare My Life, p. R13.
Houston Chronicle, June 8, 2002, review of The Faith: A History of Christianity, p. 1.
Journal of Church and State, spring, 2003, Aaron Tyler, review of The Faith, p. 369.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2003, review of God's Bestseller, p. 734.
Lexington Herald-Ledger (Kentucky), November 2, 1997, Robert D. Warth, review of Rasputin: The Saint Who Sinned.
Library Journal, July, 1989, Dennis E. Showalter, review of Claws of the Bear, p. 96; September 1, 1997, Robert H. Johnston, review of Rasputin, pp. 198-199; July, 2003, Charlie Murray, review of God's Bestseller, p. 88.
New Statesman and Society, October 2, 1992, Frank McLynn, review of Comrades, pp. 39-40.
New Yorker, September 4, 1989, review of Claws of the Bear, p. 107.
New York Times, November 30, 1997, Suzanne Massie, review of Rasputin; December 21, 1997, Brian Moynahan, "Rasputin's Influence."
Publishers Weekly, July 21, 1997, review of Rasputin pp. 193-194; February 11, 2002, Jana Riess, review of The Faith, p. 180; June 30, 2003, Jana Riess, review of God's Bestseller, p. 75.
Times Literary Supplement, November 8, 2002, Judith Maltby, review of The Faith, p. 35.
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/author/ (October 30, 2003), "Brian Moynahan."*