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Václav Havel was one of the most prominent figures of the twentieth century: iconoclast and intellectual, renowned artist turned political dissident, president of a united and then divided nation, and dedicated human rights activist. Written by Michael ZantovskyHavel’s former press secretary, advisor, and longtime friendHavel: A Life chronicles his extraordinary journey from the theatrical stage to the world stage.
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. In his youth, this feeling of being isolated and outcast fueled his poetry and then later his career as an essayist and dramatist, writing absurdist plays as social commentary. His outspoken involvement during the Prague Spring led to the harsh censorship of his work, and his human rights activities earned him five years in prison.
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. His leadership of Charter 77, his unflagging belief in the power of the powerless, and his galvanizing personality catapulted Havel into a pivotal role as the leader of the Velvet Revolution in 1989. 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.
Zantovsky was one of Havel’s closest friends, having met in the democratic opposition under Communism. During Havel’s early years in office Zantovsky was his press secretary, advisor, and political director, and their friendship endured until Havel’s death in 2011. A rare witness to this most extraordinary life, Zantovsky presents a revelatory portraitup close and personalof this giant among men and the turbulent times through which he prevailed.
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.