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CROSSING THE BORDER



Before Herodotus sets out on his travels, ascending rocky paths, sailing a ship over the seas, riding on horseback through the wilds of Asia; before he happens upon the mistrustful Scythians, discovers the wonders of Babylon, and plumbs the mysteries of the Nile; before he experiences a hundred different places and sees a thousand inconceivable things, he will appear for a moment in a lecture on ancient Greece, which Professor Biezunska-Malowist delivers twice weekly to the first-year students in Warsaw University's department of history.

He will appear and just as quickly vanish.

He will disappear so completely that now, years later, when I look through my notes from those classes, I do not find his name. There are Aeschylus and Pericles, Sappho and Socrates, Heraclitus and Plato; but no Herodotus. And yet we took such careful notes. They were our only source of information. The war had ended six years earlier, and the city lay in ruins. Libraries had gone up in flames, we had no textbooks, no books at all to speak of.

The professor has a calm, soft, even voice. Her dark, attentive eyes regard us through thick lenses with marked curiosity. Sitting at a high lectern, she has before her a hundred young people the majority of whom have no idea that Solon was great, do not know the cause of Antigone's despair, and could not explain how Themistocles lured the Persians into a trap.

If truth be told, we didn't even quite know where Greece was or, for that matter, that a contemporary country by that name had a past so remarkable and extraordinary as to merit studying at university. We were children of war. High schools were closed during the war years, and although in the larger cities clandestine classes were occasionally convened, here, in this lecture hall, sat mostly girls and boys from remote villages and small towns, ill read, undereducated. It was 1951. University admissions were granted without entrance examinations, family provenance mattering most--in the communist state the children of workers and peasants had the best chances of getting in.

The benches were long, meant for several students, but they were still too few and so we sat crowded together. To my left was Z.--a taciturn peasant from a village near Radomsko, the kind of place where, as he once told me, a household would keep a piece of dried kielbasa as medicine: if an infant fell ill, it would be given the kielbasa to suck. "Did that help?" I asked, skeptically. "Of course," he replied with conviction and fell into gloomy silence again. To my right sat skinny W., with his emaciated, pockmarked face. He moaned with pain whenever the weather changed; he said he had taken a bullet in the knee during a forest battle. But who was fighting against whom, and exactly who shot him, this he would not say. There were also several students from better families among us. They were neatly attired, had nicer clothes, and the girls wore high heels. Yet they were striking exceptions, rare occurrences--the poor, uncouth countryside predominated: wrinkled coats from army surplus, patched sweaters, percale dresses.

The professor showed us photographs of antique sculptures and of Greek figures painted on brown vases--beautiful, statuesque bodies, noble, elongated faces with fine features. They belonged to some unknown, mythic universe, a world of sun and silver, warm and full of light, populated by slender heroes and dancing nymphs. We didn't know what to make of it. Looking at the photographs, Z. was morosely silent and W. contorted himself to massage his aching knee. Others looked on, attentive yet indifferent. Before those future prophets proclaiming the clash of civilizations, the collision was taking place long ago, twice a week, in the lecture hall where I learned that there once lived a Greek named Herodotus.

I knew nothing as yet of his life, or about the fact that he left us a famous book. We would in any event have been unable to read The Histories, because at that moment its Polish translation was locked away in a closet. In the mid-1940s The Histories had been translated by Professor Seweryn Hammer, who deposited his manuscript in the Czytelnik publishing house. I was unable to ascertain the details because all the documentation disappeared, but it happens that Hammer's text was sent by the publisher to the typesetter in the fall of 1951. Barring any complications, the book should have appeared in 1952, in time to find its way into our hands while we were still studying ancient history. But that's not what happened, because the printing was suddenly halted. Who gave the order? Probably the censor, but it's impossible to know for certain. Suffice it to say that the book finally did not go to press until three years later, at the end of 1954, arriving in the bookstores in 1955.

One can speculate about the delay in the publication of The Histories. It coincides with the period preceding the death of Stalin and the time immediately following it. The Herodotus manuscript arrived at the press just as Western radio stations began speaking of Stalin's serious illness. The details were murky, but people were afraid of a new wave of terror and preferred to lie low, to risk nothing, to give no one any pretext, to wait things out. The atmosphere was tense. The censors redoubled their vigilance.

But Herodotus? A book written two and a half thousand years ago? Well, yes: because all our thinking, our looking and reading, was governed during those years by an obsession with allusion. Each word brought another one to mind; each had a double meaning, a false bottom, a hidden significance; each contained something secretly encoded, cunningly concealed. Nothing was ever plain, literal, unambiguous--from behind every gesture and word peered some referential sign, gazed a meaningfully winking eye. The man who wrote had difficulty communicating with the man who read, not only because the censor could confiscate the text en route, but also because, when the text finally reached him, the latter read something utterly different from what was clearly written, constantly asking himself: What did this author really want to tell me?

And so a person consumed, obsessively tormented by allusion reaches for Herodotus. How many allusions he will find there! The Histories consists of nine books, and each one is allusions heaped upon allusions. Let us say he opens, quite by accident, Book Five. He opens it, reads, and learns that in Corinth, after thirty years of bloodthirsty rule, the tyrant called Cypselus died and was succeeded by his son, Periander, who would in time turn out to be even more bloodthirsty than his father. This Periander, when he was still a dictator-in-training, wanted to learn how to stay in power, and so sent a messenger to the dictator of Miletus, old Thrasybulus, asking him for advice on how best to keep a people in slavish fear and subjugation.

Thrasybulus, writes Herodotus, took the man sent by Periander out of the city and into a field where there were crops growing. As he walked through the grain, he kept questioning the messenger and getting him to repeat over and over again what he had come from Corinth to ask. Meanwhile, every time he saw an ear of grain standing higher than the rest, he broke it off and threw it away, and he went on doing this until he had destroyed the choicest, tallest stems in the crop. After this walk across the field, Thrasybulus sent Periander's man back home, without having offered him any advice. When the man got back to Corinth, Periander was eager to hear Thrasybulus' recommendations, but the agent said that he had not made any at all. In fact, he said, he was surprised that Periander had sent him to a man of that kind--a lunatic who destroyed his own property--and he described what he had seen Thrasybulus doing.

Periander, however, understood Thrasybulus' actions. He realized that he had been advising him to kill outstanding citizens, and from then on he treated his people with unremitting brutality. If Cypselus had left anything undone during his spell of slaughter and persecution, Periander finished the job.

And gloomy, maniacally suspicious Cambyses? How many allusions, analogies, and parallels in this figure! Cambyses was the king of a great contemporary power, Persia. He ruled between 529 and 522 B.C.E.

Everything goes to make me certain that Cambyses was completely mad . . . His first atrocity was to do away with his brother Smerdis . . . and the second was to do away with his sister, who had come with him to Egypt. She was also his wife, as well as being his full sister . . . [and] on another occasion he found twelve of the highest-ranking Persians guilty of a paltry misdemeanour and buried them alive up to their necks in the ground. . . . These are a few examples of the insanity of his behaviour towards the Persians and his allies. During his time in Memphis he even opened some ancient tombs and examined the corpses.

Cambyses . . . set out to attack the Ethiopians, without having requisitioned supplies or considered the fact that he was intending to make an expedition to the ends of the earth . . . so enraged and insane that he just set off with all his land forces . . . However, they completely ran out of food before they had got a fifth of the way there, and then they ran out of yoke-animals as well, because they were all eaten up. Had Cambyses changed his mind when he saw what was happening, and turned back, he would have redeemed his original mistake by acting wisely; in fact, however, he paid no attention to the situation and continued to press on. As long as there were plants to scavenge, his men could stay alive by eating grass, but then they reached the sandy desert. At that point some of them did something dreadful: they cast lots to choose one in every ten men among them--and ate him. When Cambyses heard about this, fear of cannibalism made him abandon his expedition to Ethiopia and turn his men back.

As I mentioned, Herodotus's opus appeared in the bookstores in 1955. Two years had passed since Stalin's death. The atmosphere became more relaxed, people breathed more freely. Ilya Ehrenburg's novel The Thaw had just appeared, its title lending itself to the new epoch just beginning. Literature seemed to be everything then. People looked to it for the strength to live, for guidance, for revelation.

I completed my studies and began working at a newspaper. It was called Sztandar Mtodych (The Banner of Youth). I was a novice reporter and my beat was to follow the trail of letters sent to the editor back to their points of origin. The writers complained about injustice and poverty, about the fact that the state took their last cow or that their village was still without electricity. Censorship abated and one could write, for example, that in the village of Chodow there is a store but that its shelves are always bare and there is never anything to buy. Progress consisted of the fact that while Stalin was alive, one could not write that a store was empty--all of them had to be excellently stocked, bursting with wares. I rattled along from village to village, from town to town, in a hay cart or a rickety bus, for private cars were a rarity and even a bicycle wasn't easily to be had.

My route sometimes took me to villages along the border. But this happened infrequently. For the closer one got to a border, the emptier grew the land and the fewer people one encountered. This emptiness increased the mystery of these regions. I was struck, too, by how silent the border zone was. This mystery and quiet attracted and intrigued me. I was tempted to see what lay beyond, on the other side. I wondered what one experiences when one crosses the border. What does one feel? What does one think? It must be a moment of great emotion, agitation, tension. What is it like, on the other side? It must certainly be--different. But what does "different" mean? What does it look like? What does it resemble? Maybe it resembles nothing that I know, and thus is inconceivable, unimaginable? And so my greatest desire, which gave me no peace, which tormented and tantalized me, was actually quite modest: I wanted one thing only--the moment, the act, the simple fact of crossing the border. To cross it and come right back--that, I thought, would be entirely sufficient, would satisfy my quite inexplicable yet acute psychological hunger.

But how to do this? None of my friends from school or university had ever been abroad. Anyone with a contact in another country generally preferred not to advertise it. I was even cross with myself for this bizarre yen; still, it didn't abate for a moment.

One day I encountered my editor in chief in the hallway. Irena Tarlowska was a strapping, handsome woman with thick blond hair parted to one side. She said something about my recent stories, and then asked me about my plans for the near future. I named various villages to which I would be going, the issues that awaited me there, and then summoned my courage and said: "One day, I would very much like to go abroad."

"Abroad?" she said, surprised and slightly frightened, because in those days going abroad was no ordinary matter. "Where? What for?" she asked.

"I was thinking about Czechoslovakia," I answered. I wouldn't have dared to say something like Paris or London, and frankly they didn't really interest me; I couldn't even imagine them. This was only about crossing the border--somewhere. It made no difference which one, because what was important was not the destination, the goal, the end, but the almost mystical and transcendent act. Crossing the border.

A year passed following that conversation. The telephone rang in our newsroom. The editor in chief was summoning me to her office. "You know," she said, as I stood before her desk, "we are sending you. You'll go to India."

My first reaction was astonishment. And right after that, panic: I knew nothing about India. I feverishly searched my thoughts for some associations, images, names. Nothing. Zero. (The idea of an Indian trip originated in the fact that several months earlier Jawaharlal Nehru had visited Poland, the first premier of a non-Soviet-bloc country to do so. The first contacts were being established. My stories were to bring that distant land closer.)

At the end of our conversation, during which I learned that I would indeed be going forth into the world, Tarlowska reached into a cabinet, took out a book, and handing it to me said: "Here, a present, for the road." --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.

Revue de presse

“Kapucinski fashions an elegant homage to his literary ancestor, whom he helps us to see as the original foreign correspondent . . . Does an excellent job of bringing these ancient stories to life. Educated by the atrocities of his own time, he refuses to let Herodotus’s ancient atrocities become distant and abstract . . . Sheds light on his whole achievement as a writer . . . His books continue to live.”
–Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun

“Kapucinski’s rapture is contagious . . . In this dramatic telling by one of modernity’s ablest chroniclers, Herodotus stands for democracy, openness, and tolerance. The same can be said of the equally enigmatic, and certain to be missed, author.”
–Lawrence Osborne, Men’s Vogue

“Kapucinski saw more, and more clearly, . . . than nearly any writer one can think to name. Few have written more beautifully of unspeakable things. Few have had his courage, almost none his talent. His books changed the way many of us think about nonfiction . . . A nameless energy gathers as one reads deeper into Travels With Herodotus, and one begins to realize that, in many ways, Kapucinski’s previous books, however brilliant, were somewhat impersonal. Here, finally, we experience the early tremors Kapucinski underwent for the privilege to write them. Not all of it is painful; much of it, in fact, is delightful . . . When the last page of this book is turned, note how much smaller and colder the world now seems with Kapucinski gone.”
–Tom Bissell, New York Times Book Review

“A final gift, a call to wander widely and see deeply.”
–Patrick Symmes, Outside

“An apt concluding chapter to Kapucinski’s corpus, an attempt by a consummate observer to account for the route traced by his own life via the great Greek traveler and proto-historian. The two men, separated by 2 ? millenniums, shared a compulsive, openhearted curiosity . . . Who better to write about a man who could not sit still than a man who could not get still?”
–Ben Ehrenreich, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Personally revealing . . . Kapucinski is not often didactic and never triumphalist. His luminous narratives are filled with odd juxtapositions and the ambiguities of real experience . . . Like Herodotus, Ryszard Kapucinski was a reporter, a historian, an adventurer and, truly, an artist.”
–Matthew Kaminski, The Wall Street Journal

“Extraordinary . . . Punctuated by wonder.”
–Elizabeth Speller, Financial Times --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.


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Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 288 pages
  • Editeur : Penguin (1 mai 2008)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0141021144
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141021140
  • Dimensions du produit: 12,9 x 1,7 x 19,8 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 112.759 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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Another great book by the polish journalist Kapuscinski, a travel through time and space.
You will find it great, wether you like classic Greek literature or adventure books!
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Amazon.com: 56 commentaires
116 internautes sur 120 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Dispatches From Dangerous Places 4 juillet 2007
Par Izaak VanGaalen - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
As a young reporter in Poland in the 1950's, Ryszard Kapuscinski wondered what it would be like to cross the border. For someone living in a totalitarian society this would be a privelege. His goals were modest: he simply wanted to cross the border and come right back. He asked his editor at the Polish News Agency for permission to go to Czechoslavakia, instead they sent him to India with a clothbound copy of " The Histories" by Herodotus. The book fired his imagination and became a standard for his own travels. Although Herodotus live 2,500 years earlier, they shared many passions, the central one being an insatiable curiousity about foreign lands and peoples. During the course of his life and travels, Kapuscinski would experience 27 coups and revolutions, and be sentenced to death 4 times.

Kapuscinski has written some remarkable books, most of which have been translated into English. He reported from Tehran after the fall of the Shah, he chronicled the life of Haile Selassie, and he was in Angola when Portuguese colonists pulled up stakes and left the country, beautifully described in "Another Day of Life."

"Travels with Herodotus" is more personal and introspective than his earlier works. Some critics have questioned his purported use of Herodotus as a lifelong guide when he was never mentioned before in his 30 year career as a journalist. Jack Shafer of "Slate" has written an essay entitled "The Lies of Ryszard Kapuscinski," arguing that a sharp line must be drawn between journalism and fiction. In Kapuscinski's reporting the line is never clearcut. Many of his admirers claim that he has earned his poetic license and is therefore entitled to embellish a little. It is as if Kapucinski anticipated this criticism in advance by choosing Herodotus as his role model in his final book. Herodotus famously tended to fabricate when facts were not available.

Since Kapuscinski's death other damaging information has come to light. It has been revealed from Polish state archives that he was a communist collaborator. How else could he have been allowed to travel abroad all those years? And how else could he have known so well the nature of totalitarian regimes and how they coopted their citizens?

The truth here is never straight forward, it is not journalism as Jack Shafer would define it. Nevertheless, the work under review is a beautifully written memoir from which it is easy to see why Kapuscinski was one of the world's most highly regarded literary journalists. The truth that shines through is reminiscent of the magical realism of Latin American writers, but it would not pass muster in a journalism class.

I would recommend this book so one can decide for oneself whether Kapuscinski is more like Herodotus the "father of history" or Herodotus the "father of lies."
26 internautes sur 27 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A poet and a true journalist 31 juillet 2007
Par M. Drudzinski - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
I've read most of Kapuscinski's books and I have to say that this is among the best, simply because this text gives readers even more insights into the man. Kapuscinski had an erudition you rarely find in reportage and what's more, he had what so many journalists these days lack: limitless curiosity.

In our age of 24/7/365 media coverage of everything under the sun, most journalists are simply out there looking to create stories where there really aren't any or follow what other agencies are reporting on. Kapuscinski, on the other hand, follows his own instincts and digs beyond surface appearances around him -- whether at home, in Africa or in the Far East -- to give his readers details that are at the heart of cultures other than his own.

Kapuscinski, perhaps because of his youth spent in post-War eastern Europe, had a great eye for irony and the tendency for history to repeat itself, often with devastating effects. But in spite of his witnessing of the absurb, the violent and the wasteful, Kapuscinski never stops digging for truth, never stops pushing himself beyond the familiar, just as his forebearer Herodotus did centuries before.
25 internautes sur 27 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Beautiful, Moving Final Book from Kapuscinski 28 juin 2007
Par Occam's Toothbrush - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Kapuscinski's final book is equal parts travel diary and meditation on Herodotus' Histories, apt because the Herodotus RK celebrates shares much the same virtues as RK: an unmistakable humanity and literacy that shines through in their reportage. Having received a copy of Herodotus' great work from an editor as a suggested travel companion early in his career, RK came back to the work again and again during his own travels, and this book is the story of how his love for Herodotus illumined his own travels.

A very fitting final word from, without a doubt, the finest journalist of the 20th century, and a very beautiful book, befitting the best of RK.
17 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Much Ado about Little 1 mai 2009
Par R. M. Peterson - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
TRAVELS WITH HERODOTUS has two aspects: first, a reader's guide to Herodotus and "The Histories", and second, a sort of memoir, which, by virtue of the fact that Kapuscinski made his career as a global journalist, is basically a travel memoir. The book has been very favorably received by Amazon reviewers, but I don't understand what all the hullabaloo is about. TRAVELS WITH HERODOTUS pales in comparison with the one other book of Kapuscinski's that I have read, "The Shadow of the Sun." Maybe people are more favorably inclined towards the book because it was published posthumously, after Kapuscinski succumbed to a fast and virulent cancer, but the truth of the matter is that it is at best an average book. (The childhood tale of the emperor's new clothes comes to mind.)

My biggest problem with TRAVELS WITH HERODOTUS is Kapuscinski's style. Basically, he talks down to his readers; it's as if the book were written for his grandchildren or adolescent schoolchildren. There are isolated passages that approach the "literate reportage" that Kapuscinski is noted for from his other works, but there is far too much drivel, such as the following two examples:

"Herodotus is silent on this subject, but it is an important moment to consider--one cannot live in the desert without water; deprived of it, a human being succumbs quickly to dehydration."

"What sort of child is Herodotus? Does he smile at everyone and willingly extend his hand, or does he sulk and hide in the folds of his mother's garments? Is he an eternal crybaby and whiner, giving his tormented mother at times to sigh: Gods, why did I give birth to such a child! Or is he cheerful, spreading joy all around? Is he obedient and polite, or does he torture everyone with questions: Where does the sun come from? Why is it so high up that no one can reach it? Why does it hide beneath the sea? Isn't it afraid of drowning?"

If you like extended paragraphs of exclusively, or predominantly, speculative and rhetorical questions such as these, you may like this book better than I do, because it contains dozens of such paragraphs.

As the two examples also typify, much of TRAVELS WITH HERODOTUS consists of "Kapuscinski on Herodotus and The Histories: A Reader's Guide." Kapuscinski was introduced to Herodotus just out of college, as a fledgling reporter, after a Polish translation of "The Histories" was belatedly published in the wake of Stalin's death. Kapuscinski took "The Histories" with him around the world on his journalistic travels and, apparently, read it multiple times. Herodotus was his muse, and no doubt he at times fancied himself a modern-day Herodotus. So he shares with us some of his obsession with Herodotus, including not only speculation about biographical matters, but also pages of paraphrase, exegesis, and conjecture about "The Histories," including about 30 pages (cumulatively) of direct quotations from the 1998 English translation by Robin Waterfield. It is almost as if Kapuscinski owned the sole copy of "The Histories" (maybe back in the Poland of the Stalin years) and is benignantly sharing it with his deprived fellow humans, whereas of course in at least the English-speaking world "The Histories" is widely available in many editions. Me, I would rather read and speculate about Herodotus and his work directly from one of those editions.

As for the portion of TRAVELS WITH HERODOTUS that is sort of travel memoir, that, unfortunately, is too skimpy. We are given snippets of Kapuscinski's experiences and impressions from trips to India, China, Africa, and Iran, but those extracts comprise only about half the book, and within that half, the percentage of trenchant observation or commentary is much lower than it was in "The Shadow of the Sun." Still, there are enough incisive observations -- such as the one about all dictatorships taking advantage of the "idle magma" of "superfluous people" to be their unpaid eyes and ears (in effect, an ad hoc secret police) -- that I can give the book, despite its major weaknesses, three stars.
22 internautes sur 26 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Searching the World 22 juin 2007
Par Christian Schlect - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
A book for all aspiring foreign correspondents. The author interweaves tales from his early career as a journalist, assigned by his Polish employer to cover various third-world countries, with the ancient historian Herodotus' similar restless quest for information on the other.

A very polished literary effort by a wise person, now sadly dead.
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