Dangerous Ambition


DANGEROUS AMBITION, Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson: New Women in Search of Love and Power
(Random House Publishing Group; Publication Date: November 8, 2011; $30.00 hardcover) by Susan Hertog. Already praised by authors Jon Meacham, Andrew Roberts, David Nasaw, and Peggy Noonan, this is the first dual biography of Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson, two of the most formidable women of the 20th century. With the same passion for history that Hertog brought to her critically acclaimed Anne Morrow Lindberg, Her Life, she delves deeply into the complex lives and legacies of these two early feminists.

Born one year apart in the early 1890s on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Rebecca West, an English journalist, novelist, and critic, and Dorothy Thompson, an American journalist and the first female head of a U.S. news bureau in Europe, rose above poverty, class, gender, and social convention to achieve power and influence in the male-dominated worlds of political journalism and literature. Friends for forty years, they had the courage to confront the most important issues and events of the day, as fascism and communism swept through Europe and threatened Western civilization. They fought the only way they knew how—through the spoken and written word–unabashedly chronicling their perspectives on World War II and its aftermath. And their voices were everywhere—radio, newspapers, books, and magazines—throughout America and Europe.

By the mid-twentieth century, West and Thompson both reached astounding levels of professional achievement. By the age of 30, West was hailed across the English-speaking world for her literary genius. And Thompson was considered by FDR and Churchill to be the most influential woman in America. But as Hertog masterfully weaves together their parallel stories, she reveals that even as their careers prospered, their personal relationships shattered. Drawn to men equally ambitious and hungry for love—West to H. G. Wells and Thompson to Sinclair Lewis—their relationships with their husbands and their sons would be sacrificed for the sake of their work.

Impeccably researched for more than six years, Hertog’s tremendously engrossing account highlights how West and Thompson paved the way for women today, along with the price they paid for ambition and success.

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“With grace and insight, Susan Hertog has written a masterly dual biography of two of the most formidable women of their age. This is a deeply researched, carefully wrought book, at once illuminating and entertaining, and it brings Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson back to vivid life. As readers, we owe Hertog a great debt.”—Jon Meacham, author of American Lion

“Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson were brave, driven, ferociously intelligent, and magnificently right about the thing that mattered more than anything else in their era: the Nazi threat. In this well-researched, fluent, and groundbreaking work, Susan Hertog successfully connects their personal and professional lives, drawing profound moral conclusions from the friendship between these two ambitious, high-achieving, and admirable women.”—Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War

“Susan Hertog brilliantly captures these two women as they lived, loved, and marshaled their power to fight for Western civilization in the hour of its greatest challenge. We know what Dorothy Thompson and Rebecca West did; Hertog shows us how they did it.”—Amity Shlaes, author of The Forgotten Man

“They were literary icons—among the most admired writers of their day. At a time when most women were made to choose between the two, Britain’s Rebecca West and America’s Dorothy Thompson never managed to reconcile professional success with personal fulfillment. It’s all unveiled here in Susan Hertog’s deft and perceptive portrait of their accomplished but messy lives—riveting tales of triumph and tragedy. This is an illuminating, sobering read.”—Ellen Chesler, author of Woman of Valor

“Meticulously researched, interpretively daring, and beautifully written, Dangerous Ambition interweaves the stories of two remarkably talented women writers (and their sons and lovers) as they stumble and dance their way through the terrible twentieth century, struggling with their conflicting roles as wives and mothers, witnesses and chroniclers of a world gone mad.”—David Nasaw, author of Andrew Carnegie

“I very much enjoyed this worthy look at two big lives, these fascinating women of the twentieth century: both intellectuals, both serious writers, both passionately engaged in the great issues of their day, and both functioning, in different ways, as true leaders. This is a great story, and Susan Hertog tells it with verve and spirit.”—Peggy Noonan, author of Patriotic Grace

About the Author

Susan Hertog was born in New York City and graduated from Hunter College. After earning her M.F.A. from Columbia University, she became a freelance journalist and photographer. She is the author of one previous book, Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life. She lives in Manhattan with her family.