I wanted to write something about Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski when he died in January this year. But, on the one hand, I had never read anything from him and he was introduced to me only very recently, on the other. But, as I flipped through the pages of The Economist, I found a moving review of his book Travels with Herodotus. I am reproducing the following extract from the review with due apology; I hope I will not be accused of plagiarism.
When Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Polish writer and journalist who died last January, set off on his career in the early 1950s, he felt like a foreign particle released into wholly unfamiliar world. Fortunately, thanks to the timely gift of a book, he found a companion who helped to sustain him, personally and professionally, throughout his life. This unusually companionable companion, who died 25,000 years before Kapuscinski himself was born, was a Greek historian, Herodotus, author of "Histories", a momentous account of a first great clash of civilization: that between the despotic Asia of Persia and the democratic Europe of Greece.
Most of Kapuscinski's writings were tightly focused: his best-known work, "The Emperor", is an account of the dying days of Haile Selassie's regime in Ethiopia. "Travels with Herodotus" is, by contrast, much more wayward, more serendipitous. It begins in the 1950s, but then starts flitting about as Kapuscinski himself flitted from continent to continent, learning the journalistic trade of which he finally proved to be such a master.
How did the first historian of ancient Greece help a journalist from post-war Poland to get handle on the slippery world? In many ways, it turns out. Herodotus taught Kapuscinski certain human and reporting skills which no amount of technology could have offered. Among these were tenacity, humility and the simple art of having first asked, to ask it again of another and compare the answers. It sounds almost disarmingly simple: to wander, to talk, to look, to listen. Herodotus also taught Kapuscinski the valus of self-doubt and–the two go hand in hand–rabid, insatiable curiosity.
The life of a journalist such as Kapuscinski consists of untold fruitful deflections. One month he is in India. Then, at the drop of a hat, China is assigned as his next patch. He is equally ignorant in both places. But any good journalist, like Herodotus himself, is driven by an awareness of hi sown shocking ignorance. And, it is that overwhelming need to dispel those clouds of ignorance, to find out meaning and pattern amid the world's tumult, that drives the serious reporter.