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Ryszard Kapuscinski: A Life

Controversial biography of the twentieth-century master of literary reportage

The life and work of Ryszard Kapuściński was dangerously bold and deeply enigmatic. This controversial biography opens up the secrets and contradictions of this globally renowned Polish journalist and writer.

Artur Domosławski travels the globe, following in Kapuściński’s footsteps, delving into his private conflicts and anxieties and discovering the relationships that were the catalyst for his unique style of ‘literary reportage’. The result is a compelling and uncompromising portrait of a conflicted and brilliant individual.


  • “Domoslawski seems fascinated by moral gray areas—Kapuscinski neglected his family, had affairs, spied for Poland’s government, and maintained his Party membership until 1981—but he always takes a lenient view.”
  • “The first real biography of Kapuscinski.”
  • “A truly great achievement”
  • “Domoslawski's book is a poignant feat of biography, not only because he trekked all over the world on Kapuscinski’s trail, but because it reopens dilemmas of integrity and conscience that are still painful for any journalist who tried to report the big world in the late twentieth century … [a] compelling, exhaustive and often upsetting book.”
  • “A compelling and controversial biography ... Mr Domoslawski was a friend of the great man; but resolved to treat his life as a subject for serious inquiry, setting out with an open mind and detailed knowledge, and adding more insights and evidence along the way. The result is an exemplary explanation of what made Kapuscinski tick.”
  • “A candid biography [written] in hopes of understanding both Kapuscinski’s enigmatic personality and, on a more abstract level, whether journalism is big or brave enough to include more ‘literary approaches.’”
  • “A great book about a great man.”
  • “Exhaustive and focused ... substantial and interesting ... a real contribution to our understanding of Kapuscinski.”
  • “Not just a fascinating biography of an important writer but also a subtle study of life under authoritarianism, with all the compromises and complexities that entails.”
  • “Artur Domoslawski ... fires off questions like distress flares. He is dedicated in pursuit of evidence, crossing continents to get it, but a reluctant judge.”
  • “[A] reluctant and fascinating exposé.”
  • “The first real biography [of Kapuściński] ... reminds us that we reveal ourselves too in our evasions and confabulations and, indeed, that the distortions of reality are an important part of the image of reality.”
  • “[A] fascinating, gently probing study.”
  • “This comprehensive biography of the Polish foreign reporter extraordinaire is the most eagerly awaited book of the year.”
  • “Domosławski's biography seems fascinated by moral gray areas—Kapuściński neglected his family, had affairs, spied for Poland's government, and maintained his Party membership until 1981—but always takes a lenient view … As Kapuściński once said, 'I don't want to stop at observation, I want to take part.'”
  • “… a spectacular piece of literary investigation that takes us on an exploration of the meaning of journalism and tells us more about political life and choices in Poland during the communist years—and, in particular, how a leftist could maintain himself as a leftist during that time—than perhaps any book that has appeared to date.”
  • “Artur Domoslawski "has written an impeccable biography, one critical but also compassionate. Best of all, he situates his biographical narrative in the larger history that his subject helped to build and then tear down. Amidst ironies aplenty, the biographer remains steadfast in his determination to understand his subject--whatever the consequences."”


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    For more inspiration check out our FREE e-book sampler with highlights from our 2014 list, including pieces from Arundhati Roy, Benjamin Kunkel, Gabriella Coleman, Nadya Tolokonnikova, Shlomo Sand, Walter Benjamin and Slavoj Žižek.


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  • 'Where does journalism end and literature begin?' Artur Domosławski at the Frontline Club

    In the ideology of the state at that time, a journalist was supposed to be a soldier on the ideological frontline-- Artur Domosławski 

    For the many people who were unable to attend last night's fully booked Kapuściński event at the Frontline Club with author Artur Domosławski, the entire conversation and Q&A is now available online.

    Chaired by Victoria Brittain, former associate foreign editor at the Guardian and unapologetic Kapuściński fan, the event was both a celebration of Domosławski's book and Kapuściński's life and writing. But the question was also proposed at the start of the evening of the often blurry relationship between journalism and literature, and whether Kapuściński’s style was reminiscent of reportage rather than journalism. 

    Kapuściński's life, like his writing, was rich and enigmatic.  On the publication of The Emperor in the 1980s, it was read by many as an allegory of the 'court' of the Communist Party in Poland during the 1970s. “The Emperor is the best Polish novel of the twentieth century" was what one of Kapuściński's friends was reported to have said. Domosławski tends to believe that Kapuściński would not disagree.

    Domosławski and Brittain were also joined by John Ryle, the writer and specialist in Eastern Africa, a topic of much of Kapuściński's writing, as well as Antonia Lloyd-Jones, the English translator of Ryszard Kapuściński: A Life.

  • Ryszard Kapuscinski: A Life reviewed by Financial Times, Daily Telegraph and Irish Times

    Peter Englund, writing in the Financial Times emphasizes Domosławksi’s revelations about Kapuściński’s affiliation with the communist party in Poland- an aspect of his life that Kapuściński never addressed publicly, "instead choosing to gloss over his background. It didn’t fit the image of that brave teller of uncomfortable truths …"


    "Domosławksi provides perspective both on Kapuściński’s enduring membership of the communist party and his much more fleeting engagements for Polish Intelligence, and he leaves you with a sense of what went on in the head of this man."


Moving on to one of the other revelations of the book, Englund draws out Kapuściński’s emphasis on the importance of the ‘essence’ of the story, as opposed to the objective truth, noting that Domosławksi even regards, "the well-known figure of Ryszard Kapuściński’ as one of Kapuściński’s literary achievements."  On the subject of literary achievements, Englund reveals that:

"Kapuściński was often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature – and, as a member of the body that awards it, I can say he came very close indeed."

    Finally, though, he emphasises the achievements of his biographer:

    “This insightful book reminds us that we reveal ourselves too in our evasions and confabulations and indeed, that the distortions of reality are an important part of the image of reality."

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