Havel: A Life by Michael Zantovsky - review by David Pryce-Jones

David Pryce-Jones

Leader of the Freed World

Havel: A Life


Atlantic Books 543pp £25 order from our bookshop

The Sixties threw up a lot of people asking questions of the world, and Václav Havel was one of them. Had he lived in Western Europe he most probably would have been a cult playwright, doing his thing in the John Lennon mode by spouting arty stuff to groupies. But he grew up behind the Iron Curtain in communist Czechoslovakia, where the Party bosses expected him to do what they ordered. Putting his talents instead to being his own man, he stood out as a dissident. In general terms, he held the simple belief that every human being owes it to others to live by a moral code. Everyone knows instinctively what is right and just to do it would be enough to bring power to the powerless, to refer to the title of one of his most widely read essays. Nobody imagined that he was on course to become president of a suddenly independent and democratic state.

Michael Zantovsky, himself an ex-dissident, was one of Havel’s closest friends and for a couple of years his official spokesman (today he is the Czech ambassador in London). At the outset, he reveals that he trained as a clinical psychologist, which may explain why this huge book is a labour

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