No other writer of the 20th century had Arthur Koestler’s knack for doing odd things, crossing paths with important people and being present when disaster struck. As a 27-year-old Communist he spent the famine winter of 1932-33 in Kharkov, amid millions of starving Ukrainians. Rushing southward through France ahead of the invading Nazi armies in 1940, he ran into the philosopher Walter Benjamin, who shared with him half the morphine tablets Benjamin would use, weeks later, to commit suicide. The Harvard drug guru Timothy Leary gave Koestler psilocybin in the mid-1960s, and Margaret Thatcher solicited his advice in her 1979 election campaign. Simone de Beauvoir slept with him but came to hate him, and in a fictional portrait described a blazing intelligence and a personality capable of sweeping people off their feet. Yet, although he wrote more than 30 books, Koestler is today known primarily, perhaps exclusively, as the author of “Darkness at Noon,” his gripping short novel of Stalinist coercion. The biographer Michael Scammell wants to put Koestler’s multifaceted intelligence back on display and to show that something more than frivolity or opportunism lay behind his ever-shifting preoccupations and allegiances.
more from Christopher Caldwell at the NYT here.