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At a time when print media reigned supreme and newspapers were legion, Dorothy Thompson, John Gunther, Vincent Sheean, and Rayna Raphaelson Prohme impulsively left their homes to reinvent themselves as international journalists and adopt the power of the press as their own. In Fighting Words, acclaimed historian Nancy F. Cott follows these four largely unknown young Americans to reveal how foreign journalism shaped America’s sense of its place in the world.

Dorothy, John, Vincent, and Rayna serve as a counter to the devil-may-care jazz babies of the 1920s who scandalized their elders to no purpose beyond frivolity. Instead, the four directly confronted major political challenges that still reverberate today- democracy versus authoritarianism, global responsibility versus isolationism, press objectivity versus propaganda. They revealed the political instability that circled most of the globe as a legacy of the redrawing of world order after World War I. By the early 1930s, unlike Americans at home fixated on the Depression and New Deal, they were in the antifascist vanguard, well aware of Hitler’s impending menace. At the same time, they were actively rethinking relationships between men and women. All four navigated sexual affairs and frictions, marriages and divorces. Their experiences traced the development not only of international journalism but also the making of the modern self at a time when the value of sexual freedom grated against traditional morality.

A group biography of four extraordinary Americans abroad, and a paean to a golden age of journalism, Fighting Words shows how these young cosmopolitans reshaped America’s sense of its own place in the world.