Lindsey Hilsum’s In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin is an extraordinary account of one reporter’s fearless and ultimately fatal dedication ... Piecing together Colvin’s exuberantly messy life through more than a hundred interviews with ex-husbands, former lovers, family members, friends and colleagues, Hilsum draws an empathetic portrait of a woman whose courage often crossed into recklessness, both in combat zones and outside them ... Hilsum unpacks one terrifying story after another to illustrate how far Colvin was willing to go to expose the truth ... Colvin never slowed down long enough to write a memoir. Now, thanks to Hilsum’s deeply reported and passionately written book, she has the full accounting that she deserves.
In this magnificent and moving biography, In Extremis, Lindsey Hilsum, international editor for Channel 4 News in Britain, captures the clashing extremes of Colvin’s life: a disciplined journalist who often missed deadlines; a woman of extraordinary courage tortured by personal insecurity; a role model for aspiring journalists who, when the assignment was over, often drank herself into a stupor. This is not a hagiography ... Reading this book is painful. I thought about her and about other war correspondents with whom I’ve worked. At the end of my brief assignments, I always went home. For them, something in that chaos, and pain, and horror, kept pulling them back. I still don’t understand, not really. But Colvin saw it clearly...
Here [Hilsum] marshals not just empathy for her subject, who was also a friend, but investigative and critical skills and damn fine storytelling ... Colvin’s 300 journals, her articles and Hilsum’s interviews with friends, family and other witnesses draw us into the drama, and inside her head. Hilsum’s understanding of the background to each conflict, and the reality of life as a correspondent in the field, is one of the great strengths of the book ... In chronicling this unravelling, the book does a wider service, portraying the price paid by many war correspondents, including Colvin, in alcoholism, PTSD and broken relationships. While her friendships lasted all her life, her love life, the second storyline here, was often chaotic and heartbreaking. Hilsum doesn’t hold back on the subject of the Sunday Times, and its branding of Colvin as a risk-taking adventurer ...
In Extremis rescues Marie Colvin from the rubble of Bab Amr, and brings her tragically, and tenderly, to life.
Journalists will devour Hilsum’s book, but will others? They should: with Marie’s story, Hilsum opens doors through which many would not otherwise peep. But the book also revels in 'the Yale celebrity set Marie moved in' and soirées in London lambent with 'aristocrats, artists, filmmakers, politicians, poets.' People tend to distrust reporters, and Marie’s social whirl might give the wrong impression, suggesting that we inhabit high society and are devoid of friends who earn bad pay for jobs they dislike ... Something within herself had to be defeated, as Hilsum’s subtle portrait makes clear. No need to pretend it was all virtue and 'bearing witness': 'take it to the limit' was Marie’s nature, and it worked, until it didn’t.
Colvin’s life has been memorably chronicled by Hilsum ... it is Hilsum’s biography, written by a woman who both knew Colvin and had access to her unpublished reporting notes and private diaries—a trove of some three hundred notebooks—that seems to most closely capture her spirit ... Indeed, some of the most startlingly humorous episodes in In Extremis have to do with Colvin’s interactions with [Yasir Arafat and Muammar Qaddafi] ... Hilsum has been a sensitive curator with these [letters and private e-mails], but some extracts still make for uncomfortably intimate reading.
Hilsum is diligent—the earlier and less eventful stages of Colvin’s life are given too much space and described in a fairly pedestrian fashion ... As Colvin’s life becomes more exciting, so does Hilsum’s writing ... despite the odd misstep Hilsum avoids hagiography and the Colvin introduced to the wider world in these pages is a woman her friends will recognize ... Hilsum pulls no punches in her description of the final stage of Colvin’s life in Syria ... Reporters cannot do their job in war without the risk of dying; Colvin, who always made her own rules anyway, knew and accepted this. The more complex truth, which Hilsum suggests, is that the American who died in the rubble in Baba Amr felt more at one with the internal peace she found in wars than with the conflicts she found in peace.
Resisting the all-too-easy impulse to slip into hagiography, Hilsum nevertheless hints that Colvin is something of a martyr ... What ultimately emerges from In Extremis is a generous, complicated, brave, vivacious, fully alive woman, consummately committed to her work ... [Being passionate and getting involved in what one believes in] is something this book commands us all to do, no matter the risk.
For many reasons, In Extremis is the best biography I’ve read in what seems like ages ... Hilsum brilliantly synthesizes it all, separating wheat from chaff and building a portrait of a remarkable and somewhat troubled woman ... In Extremis seems fresh.
In the preface to her excellent biography, Hilsum sums up the enigma of Colvin: 'Marie knew where the story was, and would stop at nothing to get it.' The biography’s aim is to illuminate that fact ... Absorbing and meticulously researched, In Extremis documents Marie Colvin’s quest to bear witness to the atrocities perpetrated by oppressive forces throughout the world—a calling she ultimately paid for with her life.
With the help of Colvin’s diaries, Ms Hilsum deftly explores her complex motives [to report on wars] ... Ms Hilsum’s portrait is greatly enhanced by its frankness. Colvin could be reckless ... Ms Hilsum unflinchingly depicts Colvin’s alcohol abuse, the breakdown she suffered and her tumultuous relationships.
There are times when the book risks becoming a hagiography, but Hilsum avoids this by combining storytelling with asking important questions about what kind of service war correspondents perform and what ethical codes they should adhere to. It becomes clear that the entwined motives to get the best story and to change the world don’t always inspire the same action ... Hilsum tells the story of her final week masterfully in a way that makes the end seem both inevitable and unnecessary.
Snippets of Colvin's reporting woven throughout the text provide an appreciation for her sparse, moving prose ... This unputdownable account will inspire future journalists, especially women, and should find wide audiences among those interested in global crises and international affairs.
This is riveting personal and professional history, told with skill and sincerity ... Drawing on Colvin’s meticulous diaries and articles, and her own conversations with Colvin’s family and friends, Hilsum has created something truly worthy of her subject, a biography that reads like high adventure, a masterwork that will draw well-deserved attention to a heroic witness.
Compiling information from Colvin’s personal journals and interviews with colleagues, the book traces Colvin’s path as a correspondent ... The book is rich in historical context, concisely summarizing international conflicts using excerpts from Colvin’s reporting ... This intense biography is highly recommended for everyone, including journalism junkies, history buffs, and casual readers.
Though some readers may pity Colvin for the life she chose...most will view her life with great admiration ... Hilsum skillfully explains the politics, economics, ethnic hatreds, and additional context of the nations where Colvin reported, with emphases on Libya, Chechnya, Zimbabwe, Kosovo, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and Syria. Mixed in with the globe-trotting, Colvin lived a complicated day-to-day life in both England and the United States, intervals explained with admirable detail and subtlety by the author, who draws on face-to-face interviews as well as the papers left behind by Colvin. A rip-roaring life rendered extremely well.