Hersey has gone back through his critically acclaimed magazine articles on various personages—those important both in his own life and in the lives of people throughout the world over fifty years—and chosen those individuals who most represent what he has described in his own writing career. Hersey unfolds the human condition by capturing the essence of people either moved by or involved in moving the forces that have dominated twentieth century history.
Hersey’s biographical style follows the rigors of journalism and remains factually correct, yet he goes beyond the physical facts to reveal the inner struggles behind them. For example, instead of concluding his biography of Agee with the factual how, what, where, when, and why, Hersey sums up the inner man:In low times through his life, self-loathing and suicide had hung at the edge of his mind. In the end, as it turned out, he jumped to his death by indirection; he was defenestrated from the upper stories of life, as if in slow motion, by alcohol, nicotine, insomnia, overwork, misused sex, searing guilt, and—above all, we can guess—by his anger and want and despair at finding that with all his wild talent he had never been able to write the whole of the universe down on the head of a pin.
By entering into these inner struggles, Hersey reveals his own conscience, and within it his great love for humans and their noble desires to stand up to the challenges of fate and the hardships...
(The entire section is 548 words.)