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Review: 'The Correspondents,' by Judith Mackrell

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"The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II," by Judith Mackrell.

"The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II," by Judith Mackrell. (Doubleday/TNS)

Women writers fought bureaucracy and stereotypes to report from the front lines of World War II.

"The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II" by Judith Mackrell; Doubleday (496 pages, $30)

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Occasionally, I wonder what it would be like to cover something other than books, perhaps a beat with a tinge of danger beyond paper cuts.

However, after reading Judith Mackrell's "The Correspondents," about a group of female writers who covered World War II from the front lines, I've decided to stay in my lane. I'm just not woman enough.

In addition to the dangers inherent in war coverage, the journalists had to fight stereotypes: They can't handle blood and gore, they'll create sexual tension. The military didn't want them on the front lines and many editors were reluctant to send them there.

But these women (and others who came later) "were all driven by a basic hunger for action," a fearlessness and the inability to take no for an answer, Mackrell writes.

None more so than Sigrid Schultz, an American working as Berlin bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune.

Schultz scored scoop after scoop reporting on the rise of the Nazis, withstanding "surveillance, interrogation and death threats" to get her stories.All this was complicated by the fear that the Nazis would discover she was Jewish.

Virginia Cowles began her career as a society columnist but through grit landed an interview with Mussolini in Italy and then went to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War for the Sunday Times of London.

There she met Martha Gellhorn, who covered the war for Colliers magazine and continued her war coverage throughout Europe, "up to the gates of Dachau."When she learned she would not be permitted to cover the Normandy invasion, Gellhorn stowed away on a hospital ship, impersonated a stretcher bearer and became the only woman to land on the beach.

Clare Hollingworth, working as a stringer for the Daily Telegraph, scooped the world when she reported German tanks amassed on the Polish border and again the next day when she reported the start of the invasion.

Helen Kirkpatrick's coverage of the Blitz for the Chicago Daily News so impressed Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower that he OK'd her getting the same access as men in war zones, the first woman to be allowed.

Lee Miller had the most unusual career path. She was a well-known fashion model turned fashion photographer.Living in England during the Blitz, her photos of the devastation were published by Vogue, for whom she soon covered the war throughout much of Europe.

Mackrell, the highly regarded author of "The Unfinished Palazzo" and dance critic for the Guardian, has done a superb job of researching, writing and organizing these often complicated stories and keeping all the balls in the air in an informative and entertaining fashion.

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Curt Schleier is a book critic in New Jersey.

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