The Economist reviews a biography of the much-travelled, sharp-eyed Ryszard Kapuscinski, author of that amazing account of Haile Selassie’s last days, “The Emperor”. He saw a lot, but how reliable was he?
Kapuscinski was not a typical foreign correspondent: he went on his first trip, to India, speaking no English. Unlike his glitzy Western counterparts, he travelled by bus and lived in cheap hotels. Covering wars, he sometimes carried a gun, and used it. He wrote regular confidential reports for the authorities and personally briefed the party’s central committee. He sometimes sat on, or slanted, stories vital to the communist cause, such as Cuban involvement in the wars of southern Africa. He helped the Polish spy agency—not much, fans say, and no worse, perhaps, than Western journalists did on their side. But it all stains his reputation.