Havel: A Life

Havel: A Life

4.35 (550 ratings by Goodreads)
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Vaclav Havel was one of the most prominent figures of the twentieth century: iconoclast and intellectual, renowned playwright turned political dissident, president of a united then divided nation, and dedicated human rights activist. Written by Michael Zantovsky--Havel's former press secretary, advisor, and longtime friend--Havel: A Life presents a revelatory portrait of this giant among men and the turbulent times through which he prevailed.
Havel's lifelong perspective as an outsider began with his privileged childhood in Prague and his family's blacklisted status following the Communist coup of 1948. This feeling of being outcast fueled his career as an essayist and dramatist, writing absurdist plays as social commentary. His involvement during the Prague Spring and his leadership of Charter 77, his unflagging belief in the power of the powerless, and his galvanizing personality catapulted Havel into a pivotal role as the leader of the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Although Havel was a courageous visionary, he was also a man of great contradictions, wracked with doubt and self-criticism. But he always remained true to himself. Over the next thirteen years, he continued to break through international barriers as the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 512 pages
  • 165 x 231 x 48mm | 816g
  • United States
  • English
  • Illustrations, unspecified
  • 0802123155
  • 9780802123152
  • 562,605

Review quote

"[An] intimate new biography . . . a splendid remembrance of Havel." --"Wall Street Journal"
"Zantovsky revives the revolutionary Havel." --"Vanity Fair"
"Deeply sympathetic . . . an enthralling, sometimes thrilling, portrait of an infinitely varied character, a man of deep contradictions nurtured by equally deep convictions. . . . The biography of the year." --"Observer" (a Book of the Year)
"[Zantovsky] tells the story with a great flair for detail, almost as though he had stood at Havel's shoulder, taking notes. . . . Thanks to Zantovsky's truthfulness, Havel emerges from this account as a great national leader whose greatness was inseparable from real humility and grace." --Roger Scruton, "Times" (UK)
"A superb biography. . . . The volume not only brings Havel to life with unparalleled vividness. It also lays out the heart-breaking history of Czechoslovakia. . . . [Zantovsky] has managed to bring Havel alive in language that has the intimacy of a memoir yet is fully grounded in facts. . . . What this magisterial biography does so well is give us an even-handed portrait of a remarkable, flawed man." --Roberta Silman, ArtsFuse
"Zantovsky narrates the events of Havel's life, from his privileged upbringing to his participation in the Charter 77 dissident circle to his variously triumphant and troubled presidency, and does so thoroughly and engagingly. . . . A rare biographical success: affectionate but balanced, comprehensive but also uncommonly intimate." --"Booklist" (starred)
"Vivid and intimate . . . This moving, perceptive chronicle succeeds in showing the many dimensions of a towering 20th-century figure." --"Publishers Weekly"
"A balanced, candid portrait . . . Zantovsky brings an intimate perspective to this impressive biography of a man and history of a beleaguered nation." --"Kirkus Reviews"
"This lively biography will reintroduce a major figure in modern history and letters to a new generation." --"Spectator"
"Havel was one of the most important intellectual-troublemaking statesmen of his time--a nonconformist, determined to live in truth, who questioned the system, his countrymen and himself constantly. No one is better suited than Michael Zantovsky to describe, interpret, and analyze this moral giant. While providing us with a brilliantly informed intellectual and political history, Zantovsky's own background as a psychiatrist, journalist, participant in the Velvet Revolution, key advisor and friend allows him to present the fullest picture of this great and complicated man. Zantovsky's masterful biography of Havel is written with great understanding, candor, and love--and provides us with expert analysis of not only politics but also Havel's plays to boot." --Madeleine Albright
"Vaclav Havel is one of the paramount moral and political leaders of our time, and Michael Zantovsky has produced his definitive biography. Smart and exciting, it captures his greatness. Based on a long and close relationship, access to private letters, and many interviews, this deeply personal tale is both inspiring and filled with lessons for our time." --Walter Isaacson
"Michael Zantovsky's biography of Vaclav Havel is a joy and an inspiration. Warm, wry, witty, it tells the life story of one of the most significant thinkers, writers, and politicians of our time. . . . Zantovsky has paid his friend the ultimate compliment of writing not a hagiography but a superbly nuanced biography which will never be equaled." --William Shawcross
"Michael Zantovsky has written an intimate and penetrating story of the man who symbolizes the end of the Cold War and the building of freedom and reconciliation in Europe. Inspirational, moral, fun loving, theatrical, indecisive, conflicted and ultimately tragic, Havel had been the architect of the Velvet Revolution and was Czechoslovakia's first post-cold war President. As Havel's close friend and collaborator for nearly 30 years, Zantovsky helps us admire and understand this philosopher king whose summons 'Power of the Powerless' gave courage and hope to people around the globe." --William H. Luers (U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia 1983-1986)
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About Michael Zantovsky

Michael Zantovsky is the current Czech ambassador to the Court of St. James and president of the Aspen Institute Prague. He was among the founding members of the movement that coordinated the overthrow of the Communist regime. In January 1990 he became the spokesman, press secretary, and advisor to President Vaclav Havel. He was the later the Czech ambassador to Washington and Tel Aviv. He combined a career in politics and the foreign service with work as author and translator into Czech many contemporary British and American writers.
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Rating details

550 ratings
4.35 out of 5 stars
5 52% (284)
4 35% (190)
3 12% (65)
2 1% (8)
1 1% (3)
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