lundi 11 août 2014

Hell Before Breakfast by Robert H Patton


The Gilded Age. A time of advancing technology that gave rise to the modern world we know. Thanks to the creation of the electric telegraph and the transatlantic cable, for the first time it was possible for foreign correspondents to share their dispatches with the general public days and sometimes even hours after the events. Out of this came the first war correspondents, Americans sent to cover twenty years of conflict in Europe and Central Asia. Pushed by bitter competition but brought together by a brotherhood born of common experience, these men drove public opinion and fuelled passions that would not come to rest until World War I. Hell Before Breakfast tells their story, through the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the Russian conflicts in Central Asia and through to the sinking of the Titanic.

I have a thing about history books set in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, so Hell Before Breakfast was right up my alley. As such it jumped out at me from the Amazon Monthly Editors’ Choices and went straight on to my TBR list as a book I was definitely looking forward to getting to. In the end, the book was an enjoyable read, though not as much as I had been expecting. After all, a non-fiction book dealing with journalism at a time when the profession was truly a cut-throat one, could only be exciting, right? Well, yes and no. While the book has its moments, especially when the correspondents become directly involved in battles, there is also a lack of flow in the narrative – you sometimes get the feeling that the book would have worked better with a different chapter concentrating on each correspondent or newspaper, rather than on a simple linear story. The journalists themselves, though, are truly the stars of the book: every single one of them comes across as a real character, complete with extravagant foibles and – for some of them – extremely dramatic lives (and deaths!). The theme that remains omnipresent throughout is the fact that these men were responsible for providing us with an important glimpse of the world of the time, putting everything on the line in order to do so. Overall, I enjoyed Hell Before Breakfast, though I can see ways in which it could have been improved. 

I gave Hell Before Breakfast 3 stars.

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