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Publisher's Summary

A visionary exploration of the life and times of Joseph Conrad, his turbulent age of globalization, and our own, from one of the most exciting young historians writing today

Migration, terrorism, the tensions between global capitalism and nationalism, and a communications revolution: These forces shaped Joseph Conrad's destiny at the dawn of the 20th century. In this brilliant new interpretation of one of the great voices in modern literature, Maya Jasanoff reveals Conrad as a prophet of globalization. As an immigrant from Poland to England, and in travels from Malaya to Congo to the Caribbean, Conrad navigated an interconnected world and captured it in a literary oeuvre of extraordinary depth. His life story delivers a history of globalization from the inside out and reflects powerfully on the aspirations and challenges of the modern world.

Joseph Conrad was born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857, to Polish parents in the Russian Empire. At 16 he left the landlocked heart of Europe to become a sailor and for the next 20 years travelled the world's oceans before settling permanently in England as an author. He saw the surging, competitive "new imperialism" that planted a flag in almost every populated part of the globe. He got a close look, too, at the places "beyond the end of telegraph cables and mail-boat lines", and the hypocrisy of the West's most cherished ideals.

In a compelling blend of history, biography, and travelogue, Maya Jasanoff follows Conrad's routes and the stories of his four greatest works - The Secret Agent, Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, and Nostromo. Genre-bending, intellectually thrilling, and deeply humane, The Dawn Watch embarks on a spellbinding expedition into the dark heart of Conrad's world - and through it to our own.

©2017 Maya Jasanoff (P)2017 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"Enlightening, compassionate, superb." (John Le Carré)

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 01-13-18

History is like therapy for the present

"History is like therapy for the present: it makes it talk about its parents."
- Maya Jasanoff, The Dawn Watch

I should admit I was attracted to the book, while browsing at Las Vegas' fantastic bookstore Writers Block by four things: 1. the art (done by the Bill Bragg), 2. the le Carré blurb (if you don't know, late le Carré has a heavy Conrad flavor, 3. Conrad himself. I've read about 2/3 of what he has produced and love him more with every word, 4. the concept of Conrad as the dawn watch of globalization, and perhaps even modernity. The book was brisk, interesting, and filled with enough Conrad prose to almost dance. Jasanoff's writing is meant more for the New York Times Magazine crowd than the academic crowd, but if you enjoy Conrad this book will not disappoint. It isn't brilliant history or biography, but she manages to blend the edges of history, biography, and literary analysis and keep all three balls afloat. No easy feat. She is also able to thread the needle between cutting Conrad too much slack and too little for his views. Also, no easy feat.

For me Conrad is one of the great writers of the late 19th, early 20th century. He enchants and haunts at the same time. He is a fascinating character, but more than that, he is a damn fine complicated writer. Jasanoff explores Conrad's world, and in this exploration, she attempts to show us another way to view our own. "In all his writing", says Jasanoff, "Conrad grappled with the ramifications of living in a global world: the moral and material impact of dislocation, the tension and opportunity of multiethnic societies, the disruption wrought by technological change." Conrad understood us before there really was an us. Conrad saw us before the sun had even risen on the 20th and 21st centuries.

11 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • D2
  • USA
  • 12-28-17

Eyeopening biography of interest to Conradians and history lovers

Starts off a bit slow, but when the author leaves the first person pronouns behind and turns to Conrad the book quickly picks up steam (a bad metaphor for those who have read the book). The links that the author establishes between Conrad’s major works and the source material from which he drew were mostly new to me, and I will reread Nostromo, Heart of Darkness, The Secret Agent, and Lord Jim with a new appreciation. Well done, indeed. Great job by the reader, too.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Poor Narration Mars Excellent Book

What made the experience of listening to The Dawn Watch the most enjoyable?

Excellent biography of fascinating subject.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Conrad himself, of course.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Laurel Lekfow?

Many narrators would have been better than Laurel Lekfow. She is amateurish and not suited to the subject, and her reading is marred by mispronunciation of words such as "executor" and "ensign."

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. The failings of the narrator actually made it painful to listen to.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Mixup

Is this a retrospective political criticism of “capitalism” (which apparently refers to all dishonesty and theft, by any and all) or a literary study of JC? All this Panama Canal expose. I suspect a lot of wishful thinking in the phrase “Conrad thought.”
“Every Colombian knew ....”
Come on!

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Disappointing account of JC's ties to history

If you know nothing about the origins of the Panama Canal, the Belgian Congo or other leading events of the late 19th- early 20th century -- you may find this book fascinating. Author's account of Conrad's early life in Poland and England are also worth reading. But too much of The Dawn Watch is a predictable rehash of familiar historical patterns of a century ago. Narration is also lackluster; often failing to slow down or emphasize key points. Lefkow also butchers Spanish language words in Latin American chapters. Would it hurt to use narrators who know, at least, how to pronounce key foreign words in these books?

0 of 2 people found this review helpful