Heart of Darkness

by Michael Kimmage
Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic
By Michael Scammell
(Random House, 720 pages, $35)
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Scammell’s two biographies should be read as a contemporary instance of parallel lives, the genre invented by Plutarch to distill political wisdom from the biographies of military and political giants. Solzhenitsyn and Koestler were both ardent communists in their youth; both were illuminated by their time in prison, leading them to become sworn enemies of the Soviet Union; both would merge the writing of history and autobiography with appeals for political action; and both devoted their intellectual maturity to contemplating the Enlightenment and its consequences. For Solzhenitsyn and Koestler alike, the Enlightenment was never a textbook chapter in the history of philosophy. It was the libretto of ideas behind the history of a terrifying century.

Michael Kimmage is an assistant professor of history at the Catholic University of America. He is the author of The Conservative Turn: Lionel Trilling, Whittaker Chambers, and the Lessons of Anti-Communism.

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