The Last Englishman has already received reviews from the Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly. From Publishers Weekly:
Chambers says that his interest in writing a biography of Ransome was sparked by the British National Archives’s 2003 release of documents revealing the journalist’s involvement with MI6 during the Russian Revolution. “This was surprising and controversial,” he explains. “If Ransome was known at all for his work for the Revolution, it was as an apologist for the Bolsheviks. But these documents proved that he was betraying them all along to the British secret service. That was enough to get me looking into the history of it all. I discovered that his story was much more complicated than I expected because of his involvement with Evgenia Shelepina, Trotsky’s private secretary. He was genuinely in love with her and genuinely sympathetic to the Bolsheviks, but on the other hand considered himself a British patriot doing his best to broker a kind of understanding between the British and the revolutionists at a time when their interests were radically different.”
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Though Ransome’s personas as children’s book author and double-sided political operative may seem at odds, Chambers views the author’s two lives as less inconsistent. “The Swallows and Amazons books are really all about doubleness,” he says. “The young characters are constantly fighting, drafting secret treaties, and making peace. It’s all there, though in a benign world – Ransome had drawn the poison from it all. I think that’s why his books were so successful in England. If you look at Britain as an empire, it has a history of doubleness. There’s the Englishman at home sipping tea in front of the fire, and there’s the high-seas adventuring Englishman in the colonies creating an empire. The two are contradictory in a way, but they do live side by side as part of the culture – and as part of Ransome himself.”