Ryszard Kapuscinski was a legendary Polish journalist who chronicled various wars, coups and revolutions that rocked Latin America and Africa during the ’60s and ’70s. His books transcend traditional journalism into the realm of literature, resulting in him being labeled a “mythographer,” able to capture the zeitgeist of great change.
Years ago, I enjoyed reading THE EMPEROR, in which Kapuscinski talked to former palace officials after the tall of the Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, that country’s last ruler in a dynasty going back 3,000 years–legend has it to King Solomon. These conversations reconstructed life under the Emperor, particularly in the palace. In my view, it provided a remarkable look inside a bloated, decaying and capricious regime incompatible with the modern world.
More recently, I read SHAH OF SHAHS, in which Kapuscinski chronicles the brutality and fall of the Shah of Iran. The result is a compelling document of ordinary Iranians talking about life under the Shah and the hopes of the revolution that toppled him.
Kapuscinski’s books are long on zeitgeist and short on breadth and facts, providing a deep, emotional and literary take on history, and often cutting to the bone about the primary movers in great world events. SHAH OF SHAHS is a fascinating study of tyranny and revolution through the lens of Iranian culture.
Check out Kapuscinski’s work if you’re interested in a different way of looking a history.