Northwestern Events Calendar


GLOBAL LUNCHBOX | A conversation with historian Deborah Cohen about her book Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War

When: Friday, May 6, 2022
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: Free

Contact: Danny Postel  


Category: Global & Civic Engagement, Academic, Lectures & Meetings


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The Global Lunchbox is a weekly forum convened by the Weinberg College Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern University featuring conversations with scholars in the social sciences and humanities about their current research on a range of critical global issues.

This week we will be joined by Deborah Cohen, Richard W. Leopold Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History at Northwestern University, for a conversation about her new book, Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War.

About the book

They were an astonishing group: glamorous, gutsy, and irreverent to the bone. As cub reporters in the 1920s, they roamed across a war-ravaged world, sometimes perched atop mules on wooden saddles, sometimes gliding through countries in the splendor of a first-class sleeper car. While empires collapsed and fledgling democracies faltered, they chased deposed empresses, international financiers, and Balkan gun-runners, and then knocked back doubles late into the night.

Last Call at the Hotel Imperial is the extraordinary story of John Gunther, H. R. Knickerbocker, Vincent Sheean, and Dorothy Thompson. In those tumultuous years, they landed exclusive interviews with Hitler and Mussolini, Nehru and Gandhi, and helped shape what Americans knew about the world. Alongside these backstage glimpses into the halls of power, they left another equally incredible set of records. Living in the heady afterglow of Freud, they subjected themselves to frank, critical scrutiny and argued about love, war, sex, death, and everything in between.

Plunged into successive global crises, Gunther, Knickerbocker, Sheean, and Thompson could no longer separate themselves from the turmoil that surrounded them. To tell that story, they broke long-standing taboos. From their circle came not just the first modern account of illness in Gunther’s Death Be Not Proud—a memoir about his son’s death from cancer—but the first no-holds-barred chronicle of a marriage: Sheean’s Dorothy and Red, about Thompson’s fractious relationship with Sinclair Lewis.

Told with the immediacy of a conversation overheard, this revelatory book captures how the global upheavals of the twentieth century felt up close.

About the author

Deborah Cohen is the Richard W. Leopold Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at Northwestern University. Her interests run the methodological gamut, from social science-inspired comparative history to biography. Trained as a modern Europeanist (with specialties in Germany and Great Britain) she has recently published on Anglo-Argentines and the history of family capitalism and on American foreign correspondents. Although her subjects have varied, a few thematic interests run through: state and society, the public histories of private lives, and material culture.

Cohen's first book, The War Come Home: Disabled Veterans in Britain and Germany, 1914-1939, was published in 2001 and awarded the Social Science History Association's Allan Sharlin Prize. Her second book, Household Gods: The British and their Possessions, was published in 2006; it won the American Historical Association's Forkosch Prize for the best book on Britain after 1485 and was the co-winner of the North American Conference on British Studies' Albion prize for the best book on Britain after 1800. Her third book, Family Secrets, was published in 2013; it was awarded the American Historical Association's Forkosch Prize for the best book on Britain after 1485 and the North American Conference on British Studies' Stansky prize for the best book on Britain after 1800.

Cohen has held fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the National Humanities Center, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, the American Council of Learned Societies (Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars) and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. She was awarded the Clarence ver Steeg Faculty Award by Northwestern for her work with graduate students and the Charles Deering McCormick Professorship (2015-2018) for excellence in teaching. Cohen writes regularly for the Atlantic on subjects ranging from war photography to punk rock and has reviewed for the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and the Wall Street Journal. She serves on the editorial board of Past & Present and with Margot Finn and Peter Mandler, co-edits Cambridge University Press' series Modern British Histories.

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