Cover image for Havel : a life
Havel : a life
Žantovský, Michael, 1949- , author.
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [2014]
Physical Description:
xiv, 543 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates ; 24 cm
Examines the life of a man who rose from being an outcast and prisoner during Communist rule to becoming the last president of Czechoslovakia, the first president of the newly democratic Czech Republic and a human-rights activist.
Prologue -- 18 December 2011, a dark cold day -- Born with a silver spoon -- Portrait of the artist as a very young man -- The silver wind -- Good soldier Havel -- Olga -- The apprentice -- The garden party -- The sixties -- A private school of politics -- The memorandum -- The gathering storm -- Scoundrel times -- Mountain hotel -- Roll out the barrels -- The beggar's opera -- It's only rock 'n' roll -- The charter -- The mistake -- The greengrocer revolt -- The empire strikes back -- The trial -- Dear Olga -- Free at last -- The praise of folly -- The battle for Wenceslas Square -- That velvet thing -- The fog of revolution -- The road to the castle -- The bag of fleas -- The president of rock 'n' roll -- First we take Manhattan -- The we'll take the Kremlin -- The innocents abroad -- Making the fish -- The end of Czechoslovakia -- Waiting as a state of hope -- The bonfire of scruples -- In search of allies -- Back to Europe -- The yin and the yang -- Between life and death -- The ugly mood -- Farewell to arms -- Paroled -- Leaving.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DB2241.H38 Z36 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
DB2241.H38 Z36 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

On Order



Václav Havel was one of the most prominent figures of the twentieth century: iconoclast and intellectual, renowned playwright turned political dissident, president of a united then divided nation, and dedicated human rights activist. Written by Michael Zantovsky--Havel's former press secretary, advisor, and longtime friend-- Havel: A Life presents a revelatory portrait of this giant among men and the turbulent times through which he prevailed.

Havel's lifelong perspective as an outsider began with his privileged childhood in Prague and his family's blacklisted status following the Communist coup of 1948. This feeling of being outcast fueled his career as an essayist and dramatist, writing absurdist plays as social commentary. His involvement during the Prague Spring and his leadership of Charter 77, his unflagging belief in the power of the powerless, and his galvanizing personality catapulted Havel into a pivotal roleas the leader of the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Although Havel was a courageous visionary, he was also a man of great contradictions, wracked with doubt and self-criticism. But he always remained true to himself. Over the next thirteen years, he continued to break through international barriers as the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic.

Author Notes

Michael Zantovsky is the current Czech ambassador to the Court of St. James and president of the Aspen Institute Prague. He was among the founding members of the movement that coordinated the overthrow of the Communist regime. In January 1990 he became the spokesman, press secretary, and advisor to President Václav Havel. He was the later the Czech ambassador to Washington and Tel Aviv. He combined a career in politics and the foreign service with work as author and translator into Czech many contemporary British and American writers.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Biographers of Václav Havel do not have it easy. The Czech dissident playwright turned president's many sides and larger-than-life persona have variously inspired and confounded even those who knew him best. But antovský enjoys several advantages. One is proximity: as Havel's press secretary, advisor, and longtime friend, antovský enjoyed broad access to his subject during Havel's years in politics. An accomplished literary translator, antovský is also well positioned to comment upon the content of Havel's plays and other literary works. Perhaps most significant, however, is the author's training as a psychologist interested in theories of motivation and sexual behavior. antovský narrates the events of Havel's life, from his privileged upbringing to his participation in the Charter 77 dissident circle to his variously triumphant and troubled presidency, and does so thoroughly and engagingly. But the core of this biography is an abiding fascination with the deep duality of Havel's personality as expressed through often contradictory impulses: his need for public adulation but also his longing for solitude; his consistent adoration for his wife, Olga, but his equally consistent appetite for other women; his need to write but his inability to completely give himself over to his craft. The result is a rare biographical success: affectionate but balanced, comprehensive but also uncommonly intimate.--Driscoll, Brendan Copyright 2010 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Vaclav Havel's onetime press secretary and longtime friend delivers a vivid and intimate biography of the playwright-turned-statesman who came to embody the soul of the Czech nation. Though Antovsky claims to have relied on his "dispassionate notes" and training as a clinical psychologist while writing, the unfettered access he enjoyed to Havel during his presidency's most eventful years undoubtedly accounts for much of the book's insight into his personality-equal parts self-doubt, stubbornness, and vision. After covering Havel's riches-to-rags childhood (his family lost its wealth in the 1948 Communist takeover, when Havel was 12 years old) the book focuses on his achievements as a dissident, highlighting the qualities that made him the ideal person to peacefully negotiate an end to Communist rule during the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Antovsky evokes the heady excitement of Havel's early days as Czechoslovakia's first popularly elected president, assembling a government of fellow artists and philosophers and pursuing a "continent-wide" agenda to bring his country back into Western Europe. Antovsky lends a more impartial eye to Havel's subsequent 10-year term as president of the newly formed Czech Republic, when he was no longer at Havel's side, and to the travails of his last years. This moving, perceptive chronicle succeeds in showing the many dimensions of a towering 20th-century figure. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.