Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Born in 1932 and a graduate of the University of Warsaw in 1952, Ryszard Kapuciski has since pursued a highly successful career in journalism in his native Poland. He was on the staff of Sztandar mlodych (banner of youth) from 1951 to 1958; of Polityka (politics) from 1959 to 1961; and of Kultura (culture), of which he was deputy editor in chief from 1974 to 1981. He has also worked as a free-lance writer: from 1972 to 1974, and again since 1981. Of particular significance for his development as a journalist, however, and as the catalyst for his reputation as a writer outside Poland, was his service with the Polish Press Agency in Africa, Asia, and Latin America between 1962 and 1972, which sowed the seeds of an abiding interest in the Third World and its problems, on which this highly perceptive Polish observer, citizen of a country without traditions of overseas imperialism and a centuries-old victim of Great Power rivalries, has uniquely incisive insights. In his study of the corruption and decrepitude of the government of Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat, published in 1983 in a translation by William R. Brand and Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand (originally published in Polish as Cesarz in 1978), Kapuciski artfully constructed, through a sequence of commentaries by palace officials and employees, an insider’s picture of the rottenness at the core of the Ethiopian empire. Very different in...

(The entire section is 535 words.)