Reappraisals: Arthur Koestler

Judt’s chapter on Koestler mostly consists of a review he did for the New Republic on David Cesarani’s biography of Arthur Koestler.  In the review, Judt harshly criticizes Cesarani for judging Koestler out of context.  Basically Judt believes that Cesarani judged and criticized Koestler’s behavior toward women based on today’s morals rather than those of Koestler’s time and age.  While I am both unfamiliar with Koestler’s life and relationship to women, I do agree that when composing a biography and examining a person’s life we must judge them based on their time and space rather than how the author lives at his present time.  Removing and judging someone away from their historical context is unfair to person being studied.  Judt also discusses the methods used Cesarani to explore Koestler as a Jew and here I am completely under qualified to comment.

What I do find interesting is the last several pages of the chapter when Judt examines the place of Darkness At Noon in today’s world.  For Judt, this work will be required reading for students of the 20th century because it reveals how the Soviet communist mind worked and why show trails were carried out. While this is why it is important, he believes that today’s students have difficulty grasping the work because they did not understand why anyone would blindly follow any type of movement especially a communist one.  The student’s of today are so wrapped up in consumer, pop, and sub-cultures that they cannot fathom devoting themselves to ideal communism which was believed to be a Historical inevitability.  However, for me, as student of Cold War history, when I first read Koestler’s book it made perfect and even increased my understanding of the Soviet system.  To me, Koestler’s Darkness At Noon is an especially important work that needs to be understood.  Is it a good thing that today we are not willing to devote our lives to single ideological struggle? Yes.  But, to understand Soviet communism, we must be aware of how they thought and this is why Koestler remains important.

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