Cornelius Ryan was a Dublin man, educated by the Christian Brothers in Portobello. He went on to spend the war years working as a correspondent for the Daily Telegraph: afterwards migrating to the US where he began work on his magnum opus, The Longest Day. Michael Shapiro recalls his relationship with the book, and gives us his reckoning of what it means to the development of modern journalism:
I had not opened the book in many years. And yet the story, or rather the many small stories that filled the narrative, had stayed with me. I had seen the movie from time to time over the years. It is a remarkably faithful adaptation—Ryan had worked on the screenplay. But was it the film or my early memories of the book that drew me back?
Or was it something else entirely: my growing realization that the qualities that made the book endure—the precise details, the way each of Ryan’s many set pieces unfolded so quickly, even as the sentences were packed with multiple facts—could come only through an approach to reporting that I had long considered secondary to the words themselves?
Here’s a great example of Ryan’s ‘efficient accumulation of fact’ from the book:
In the ground-floor room he used as an office, Rommel was alone. He sat behind a massive Renaissance desk, working by the light of a single desk lamp. The room was large and high-ceilinged. Along one wall stretched a faded Gobelin tapestry. On another the haughty face of Duke Francois de la Rochefoucauld—a seventeenth-century writer of maxims and an ancestor of the present Duke—looked down out of a heavy gold frame. There were a few chairs casually placed on the highly polished parquet floor and thick draperies at the windows, but little else.