The first line of [Treglow's] acknowledgments states: 'This is a study of John Hersey’s career, not a full biography.' I imagine all the manuscripts, royalty statements and editorial back-and-forths on offer at Yale led him to that decision, but it generated a torque that seems to have directed him to library stalls and away from the wider world, to the detriment of the book ... It’s annoying when reviewers say authors should have written a different book from the one they produced. But I can’t resist saying that if Mr. Treglown wasn’t going to do a full-scale biography he might have been better off writing a critical study of Hersey. His close readings of the author’s work are credible and smart, and he’s especially insightful on the way they reflect the author’s character.
Treglown covers it all as he parses Hersey’s ability to write blazingly forthright and incisive accounts of the physical and psychological damage caused by violence and other abuses of power. Treglown’s meticulous, richly interpretative reevaluation revitalizes our appreciation for the intensity, volume, variety, daring, and “moral imagination” of Hersey’s work, and for how essential and transformative writing can be when it’s strong, brave, conscientious.
Describing Hersey’s books in detail, Treglown shows how his experiences meshed with his work; he discusses his childhood and his relationship with his parents as well as with several of his friends and editors ... Treglown, however, says little about Hersey’s first marriage and divorce and his second marriage to Barbara Day. He also says little about Hersey’s five children ... would have been enlivened by including more information about the Hersey family. In the early part of the book, for example, Treglown shows readers that Hersey was very close to his mother, especially after his father’s death. Yet Treglown says next to nothing about his mother’s death ... thoughtful.
Treglown’s focus is squarely on Hersey’s work, not his personal life, but the portrait that emerges of a deeply principled artist is all the clearer for it ... This scrupulously researched study not only reveals much about the man behind the work, it reminds media-wary readers of what constitutes good journalism and why it is essential.
...Treglown’s careful study of Hersey’s life and work helps shed light on a time as distant and mythic to us today as the Wild West was to Hersey. Mr. Straight Arrow stands out in Treglown’s biography as a writer of empathy and curiosity, a writer whose plain style conveyed the desperate struggle for survival and dignity in the face of oppression, violence, and political chaos. ... Treglown’s engaging biography brings to life crucial decades of the 'American Century' in all their fraught complexity, decades that we must reexamine in order to understand how we’ve gotten where we are today ... Close attention to the specific details of complex global events is a wedge that can be driven into the seemingly inevitable progression of the past, and might also help us perceive turning points in the present. Such careful attention was a hallmark of Hersey’s writing, as it is of Treglown’s. It is an example worth following.
A lucid, thoughtfully told look at the life of the American journalist and novelist John Hersey ... Sympathetic and circumstantial—a readable literary biography that is likely to be the last word on the subject.