Arthur Ransome was, from 1930 to the early 1960s, what J.K. Rowling is today: author of a series of children's books which shaped the imagination of a generation. Rooted in the heyday of the British Empire, Swallows and Amazons and its sequels described a nostalgic Utopia.
Yet before that, Arthur Ransome, famous for different reasons. Between 1917 and 1924, as Russian correspondent for the Daily News and Manchester Guardian, he was an uncritical apologist for the Bolshevik regime, with unique access to the revolutionary leaders. As the Red Army engaged with an Allied invasion of Russia, Ransome was conducting a love affair with Evgenia Shelepina, private secretary to Leon Trotsky, then Soviet Commissar for War. As the intimate friend of Karl Radek, the Bolshevik Chief of Propaganda, he denied the Red Terror and compared Lenin to Oliver Cromwell. No English journalist was considered more controversial, or more damaging to British security. At Whitehall, he was accused of being the paid agent of a hostile power and only narrowly escaped prosecution for treason. This is a fascinating, often chilling revision of an English icon through the most formative decade of the twentieth century.