Inside the Inside Man

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The spines are fading now and advancing higher up the shelves in second-hand bookshops. Yet, when glimpsed, the word ‘Inside’ in their titles tells all – these are the journalistic documentary works of John Gunther.

Inside Europe, Inside USA, Inside Russia . . . if journalism is the first draft of history, John Gunther’s journalistic documentary works are indisputably dated – his last, Inside Australia, had to be co-authored and was published in 1972, two years after his death. The books are time-capsules: all the world leaders and political figures featured in the Inside series – and they focus primarily on leaders and politicians – are long gone. Gunther’s style, however, is still most vividly alive. He was first and foremost a reporter, and throughout his books an immediate journalistic active-case style dominates – short, punchy sentences such as ‘Hitler rants. He orates. He seldom answers questions.’ And: ‘If Stalin has nerves, they are veins in rock.’

These quotations are from his first book, Inside Europe, first published in 1936 and updated in no less than twenty-six editions over two years – quite a publishing feat in the turbulent pre-war period. In his own memoir about his writing entitled Inside the Inside Books (1962), Gunther tells how, as an already-busy European newspaper correspondent, he did all he could to evade taking on what was to become Inside Europe. In 1934 his publisher, Cass Canfield of Harper & Brothers, had to track Gunther down to a hotel in Vienna and sit on his bed to get him to agree to the project. On its publication, the book not only sold well but also won praise. The diplomat and diarist Harold Nicolson called Inside Europe ‘a serious contribution to contemporary knowledge. This is one of the most educative as well as one of the most exciting books I have read for years.’

What of John Gunth

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About the contributor

Matt Huber started working life as a newspaper journalist and wishes he’d had the nerve to stick with it. Now he studies history, writes unpublished fiction – and worries about Putin’s Russia.

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