In this day and age of the cable television news networks and the internet editions of newspapers__ the age of Dan Rather, Tim Brokaw and Christian Amanpour__ not many, besides the community of journalists, and even only some among them, are aware of the phenomena called John Gunther. In the age of radio and print media, as television was in its nascent stage, Americans learned about the rest of the world through the radio broadcasts and articles of John Gunther.
Born in Chicago in 1901, he grew up to one of the finest foreign correspondents that America has ever produced. He wanted to be a great novelist and his novel “The Red Pavilion” published in 1926, earned him a spot on the literary critic’s list of the most promising young novelist of the 20’s , Earnest Hemingway also from Chicago was the other name on the list.
But it did not take him long to realize that he was not good at writing fiction, instead non-fiction was his forte. So, he diverted his time and energies to reporting for, now out of print, Chicago Daily News.
As a requisite, being the European correspondent of the Chicago Daily News, he traveled extensively on the European continent. John Gunther, unlike most of the journalists of his day and even today, was never on the lookout for a scoop that would land him a headline story on the front page of the newspaper. His passion was to write in-depth investigative stories about international current affairs, leaving for his readers to sift the truth from the hearsay.
Because of his phenomenal writing skills and unbiased reporting, he was able to earn the respect of both the public he wrote for and the dignitaries/celebrities he wrote about. Because of his courage and veracity, John in a relatively short span of time, became friends and was on the first-name basis with, President of Egypt Jamal Abdul Nasser, the first Prime Minister of independent India Jawaharlal Nehru (father of Indra Gandhi), King George II of Greece and many other dignitaries and celebrities of his age. At the height of his professional career, his New York apartment was a favorite joint for politicians, sportsmen, scholars, Hollywood stars and even mafia bosses.
His masterpiece,” Inside Asia”__ one of a series of his books by the same title, “Inside America”, “Inside Australia”, ” Inside Africa” etc.__ is recorded by his biographers, to be on President Truman’s oval office desk , as he broadcast his V-J Day speech in 1945. Vice President Nixon carried his book, “Inside Russia” with him as a reference source, when he visited Moscow in 1958 to meet the Russian leaders.
“Inside Europe”, by John Gunther, broke all previous sales records for a best selling book and in addition created sensation on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. It was termed as one of the greatest book of our times by Sir Winston Churchill, while Hitler issued orders to the SS to shoot him on sight for writing this book.
Another of his masterpiece,” Death Be Not Proud”, still in print today, after a lapse of half a century, is the true story of his son’s fight and eventual death at the hands of brain tumor.
His books were translated into ninety languages, and during the times when the sale of 100,000 copies of a book was considered phenomenal, his books sold 4.5 million copies.
This is a short account of the phenomena called John Gunther, who died at the age of sixty nine of lung cancer__ he was a chain smoker__ on June 2, 1970, in New York. John Gunther the phenomena, was a charismatic product of individualistic journalism that was in vogue during the 1920’s to around 1940’s in America.
Written By: Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada.