Wednesday, July 18, 2007


I don't usually mention any of the non-fiction books that I read, but on this occasion I will make an exception.

The Great Escape, subtitled Nine Jews who fled Hitler and changed the world, by author Kati Marton is the tale of nine men who grew up in Budapest's brief Golden Age, and were driven from Hungary by anti-Semitism.

By surviving the Nazis, and making new lives for themselves mostly in the USA they certainly send down a message across the years to us in the present day.

Among the nine were four scientists, who helped usher in the nuclear age and the computer,

Edward Teller, John von Neumann, Leo Szilard, and Eugene Wigner;

two great movie myth-makers, Michael Curtiz, director of Casablanca, and Alexander Korda;

two immortal photographers, Robert Capa and Andre Kerstesz;

and one seminal writer Arthur Koestler, author of Darkness at Noon.

An epilogue relates the journey into exile of three members of the next generation of Budapest exiles, financier George Soros, Intel founder Andy Grove, and 2002 Nobel laureate in literature Imre Kertesz.
We are taken from Budapest's cultured cafe society, to the battlefields of the Great War, to Spain, Normandy and Indo-China; from Weimar Germany in a brief period of scientific primacy, and to Soviet Russia during the famine and purges. Their journey continues from the film studios of England and Hollywood, to the research facilities of Princeton, Los Alamos and on to Trinity.
While those they have left behind in Hungary make a train journey to Auschwitz, and the Nazi barbarism is replaced by Soviet inhumanity.
This is a harrowing and inspiring book, which is brilliantly researched with an incredibly comprehensive bibliography. While it is a bit difficult to follow the different threads at times, it is well worth the effort, as the story contains the much of the essence of 20th century history.

Wigner saw a blessing in old age and the failure of memory. "I am amazed," he wrote," that sometimes even the name Adolf Hitler escapes me."


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