Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa

Alex Kershaw

Publisher: Thomas Dunne

“It does seem to me that Capa has proved beyond all doubt that the camera need not be a cold mechanical device,” John Steinbeck wrote of photojournalist Robert Capa in a quote that launches this well-written, exhaustively researched biography. “Like the pen, it is as good as the man who uses it. It can be the extension of mind and heart.” That’s quite a compliment coming from an author like Steinbeck, but then Capa won the respect and friendship of some of the brightest talents of his generation; other admirers and poker buddies included Ernest Hemingway and John Huston, and among his many loves was actress Ingrid Bergman. Capa won fame slogging through the blood and grime to capture vivid images of five different wars, from the Spanish Civil War (where he wasn’t above staging some of his photographs), through the landings at Omaha Beach on D-Day (which he chronicled for Life magazine as the only journalist to wade ashore with the first wave of G.I.s), to the early days of the Vietnam conflict (where he was killed in action at the age of 41 while covering the French army, soon to be replaced with disastrous results by the Americans). Born a Hungarian Jew named André Friedmann, another great writer, John Hersey, famously dubbed the swarthy chain-smoking photographer “the Man Who Invented Himself,” and author Alex Kershaw contends that one of his greatest achievements was the legend that he created for himself. A California journalist who contributes to The Guardian and The Sunday Times Magazine, among others, Kershaw brings Capa and his times to life with bright, vivid writing and telling anecdotes, using a fascinating personal odyssey to put the man’s professional accomplishments in perspective. “Capa was the first photographer to make photojournalism appear glamorous and sexy,” he writes. Of course, that distinction and all others take a back seat to the photos themselves, and this book’s only shortcoming is that it does not include any examples of the great man’s work.-Jim DeRogatis

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