2. Ten Days that Shook the World by John Reed
Reed, a reporter for the Masses, lived in extraordinary times. He was in Russia during the October Revolution of 1917, and his access to the Bolshevik leaders was unsurpassable. The ultimate fly on the wall. Sadly, he died very soon after the book was finished and is the only US citizen buried in the Kremlin.
3. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
Orwell was determined to portray the truth as he saw it, and his experiences as a young soldier during the Spanish civil war on the Aragon front from 1936 allowed him to depict all the boredom, discomfort and misery of war. An insider’s view of the mentality of romantic revolutionaries and political literature at its finest.
4. Hiroshima by John Hersey
And here is where compassion lies. All the brutality and horror of war down to the most base level, told by six survivors. On par with Heart of Darkness. I was 15 when I read it, and it changed my life.
5. The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn
I don’t think Gellhorn would have been a generous or kind reporter in the field. But her narrative and her beady eye for detail are wonderful. She hated being linked with Hemingway but she did some memorable work when they travelled together.
This is a novel, but I always shelve it with my reportage books, about a platoon of US soldiers in Vietnam, based on his own experiences in the 23rd Infantry Division. It is devastating, and it was my Vietnam primer, along with Frances “Frankie” Fitzgerald’s The Fire in the Lake.
7. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West
Between the two world wars, the feminist essayist took a journey to Yugoslavia. Like me, she found herself under the magical Balkan spell – and her portrayal of the country before it cracked into a million pieces is often hard going, but well worth the time and energy put into it. A masterpiece.
8. The Hidden War: A Russian Journalist’s Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan by Artyom Borovik
Another book I have carried with me – this time to Chechnya – and read over and over. A beautiful, poetic writer who grasped the ultimate sadness of war – and how the dead come back and haunt you long after you leave the battlefield. He died mysteriously in a Russian plane crash. A man who knew and wrote and told too much.
9. The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh
In 1995, 20 years after the fall of Saigon, I arrived in a bleak Hanoi housing project to meet this gifted, wasted writer. He had been among the child soldiers during the Vietnam war. By its end, most of them were dead.
I was haunted by his lyricism, his stirring passion, his quiet and desperate sadness. I never forgot the image of him when I left his squalid flat – slightly drunk at 11 in the morning, laughing at nothing and no one, deeply nostalgic and horribly and irrevocably maimed by the things war does inside your head.
10. The Last Time I Saw Paris by Elliot Paul
This American reporter lived in Paris in the time before the wars on the Rue de la Huchette, and recorded the everyday life of everyday people – the iceman, the prostitutes, the butcher, the baker. He stayed until shortly before they were either sent away, one by one (many were Jews). He returned, postwar, to see this ghost of a neighbourhood. It’s a forgotten jewel of a book, a wonderful reminder of how war causes things to fade and disappear – and never return to what they once were.