Who would disagree? It’s better not to admire a fantasy. But in focusing on a single metric—factuality—in assessing Kapuscinski’s life and work, the biographer has reduced his subject unfairly. Passages of Shah of Shahs and The Soccer War deserve to be read for how they enlarged readers’ awareness of and empathy for the world. Kapuscinski crossed the globe in search of oppressed people demanding a better way to live. He sought new ways to make revolution intelligible, to explain to those of us who might not have seen it ourselves how the future opens up when the oppressed reach a point when they can submit no longer. In Shah of Shahs, he wrote,

All books about all revolutions begin with a chapter that describes the decay of tottering authority or the misery and sufferings of the people. They should begin with a psychological chapter, one that shows how a harassed, terrified man suddenly breaks his terror, stops being afraid.

Domoslawski cites it as an example of Kapuscinski foretelling the rebellion of Polish shipyard workers. But to me it’s a through-line for Kapuscinski’s best work. He wanted to hear those cries and amplify them. To do that, he worked out a new language for reportage. Newcomers should appreciate the asterisk that’s now attached: Warning! Contents may be embellished! But then, I hope, they’ll read Kapuscinski anyway.


Ted Conover is a distinguished writer-in-residence at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. His latest book is The Routes of Man, about roads.