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The last Englishman : the double life of Arthur Ransome (original 2009; edition 2010)

by Roland Chambers (Author)

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585204,058 (3.14)3
Member:TheoClarke
Title:The last Englishman : the double life of Arthur Ransome
Authors:Roland Chambers (Author)
Info:London : Faber, 2010. Paperback.
Collections:Read but unowned, Purged
Rating:****
Tags:1920s, 20th century, 21st century, Arthur Ransome, author, biography, communism, England, espionage, Estonia, Europe, Finland, first thus, history, Ipswich, journalism, journalist, Lake District, London, newspaper, non-fiction, paperback, politics, Russia, socialism, Soviet, Sweden, UK author

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The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome by Roland Chambers (2009)

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I should have enjoyed this much more than I did, combining as it does Arthur Ransome and Russian history. And I was interested in the detail of ARs life in Russia, and Genia's family background (although I gather Chambers has found little new). In the end though it feels like a failed hatchet job, and a search for sensation that isn't there. Was AR a spy, and who for? Well, as it turns out, he wasn't, although MI6 used him as an informant, neither they nor the Bolsheviks ever entrusted him with anything significant, and he never indulged in any sort of espionage. Big whoop. ( )
  sloopjonb | May 24, 2014 |
This book is not a full biography of the famous author of Swallows and Amazons, but focuses on his, on the face of it very unlikely, association with the Bolshevik leaders of the Russian Revolution, including Lenin and Trotsky, whose secretary Evgeniya Shelepina became Ransome's second wife. While it seems clear that Ransome was not politically a Bolshevik, nor indeed even really left wing in the substance of his politics, he was what a later generation would have called a fellow traveller. His ability to relate to both those early Soviet leaders and to the British establishment probably helped to ease relationships during those early years after the end of the Civil War and foreign intervention before Britain first recognised the Soviet government in 1924. Yet Ransome always denied his political influence and was clearly, from a personal point of view, much happier messing around in boats, fishing and living in peaceful and remote areas - thus his personal temperament clashed with his political associations. I got the impression the author didn't really understand Ransome and didn't really like him, either as an author or as a person - and indeed, some of Ransome's behaviour, especially towards his first wife Ivy and daughter Tabitha, seems very shabby. I didn't really understand Ransome from reading this biography either, so feel ambivalent towards this book. ( )
  john257hopper | May 3, 2014 |
Like most people, I only really knew Arthur Ransome as the author of the Swallows & Amazons series. However, those books do not feature very prominently in this biography; they were written relatively late in the life of Ransome, who spent a long time working as a journalist in Russia during the First World War and the Russian Revolution. This isn't a period of history I know much about, so it was very interesting to read about it from the perspective of a single journalist (who was apparently very well-connected and ended up marrying Trotsky's secretary), but in places the book seemed to assume more knowledge of Russia's involvement in WWI than I actually have - although I suppose that's my own failing rather than the book's. ( )
  tronella | Jan 6, 2013 |
A workmanlike biography of Arthur Ransome focusing on his time as a journalist in Russia at the time of the revolution. It produces a clear but strangely distant picture of Ransome. Lots of detail but somehow it doesn't come to life. Fascinating that Ransome had so much access to key figures in the revolution and that he remained largely apolitical. Understandable that he became a Russophile and also that he later tired of the country - it's a difficult place to like. One minor error I spotted - a British Foreign Office official, Rex Leeper, is identified as the future founder of the British Arts Council when in fact it was the British Council an entirely different organisation. ( )
  Steve38 | May 6, 2012 |
This is not so much a biography of Ransome the man as a history of Ransome the journalist and spy. Fully three quarters of the book covers the decade of the Russian Revolution and Ransome's relationships with Lenin, Trotsky, and their circle. It is a fascinating story but it was not I expected when I ordered a biography of a grandson of the Ipswich lawnmower Ransomes and the writer of Swalows and Amazons. Ransome's early life before he became a national treasure is almost incredibly eventful and it is clear that Chambers understands his subject without liking him. Ransome comes across as a selfish self-pitying liar who lived amidst remarkable changes. ( )
  TheoClarke | Sep 16, 2009 |
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Ransome is best remembered as the author of the series of books that began with Swallows and Amazons and sold millions of copies around the world. But before he became the jolly Lakeland storyteller, Ransome had spent a decade in Russia and lived a very different life as a spokesman for authoritarianism and violence.… (more)

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