13 writers who lived like action heroes
The Nerd-Jock Dichotomy Is False
A bias for action and a thoughtful mind need not be incompatible.
Here are thirteen men who became war heroes, super spies, and more - while also achieving literary greatness.
(Complete list of the books with Amazon links is at the end)
1. Ian Fleming
In 1939, the future creator of James Bond was a personal assistant to the director of British Naval Intelligence.
At this job, Fleming produced a list called the “Trout Memo.”
It was a list of 54 suggestions on how to deceive the enemy in wartime to gain a strategic edge.
The 28th suggestion was particularly interesting: Plant false information about (non-existent) battle plans on dead soldiers and purposefully place them where they’ll be found by the enemy.
The enemy will prepare for these plans - then strike them elsewhere when they’re totally unprepared.
This suggestion became Operation Mincemeat, and it was a success. After its execution, PM Churchill received a message:
"Mincemeat swallowed rod, line and sinker."
Chateaubriand nearly died defending the Monarchy in the French Revolution.
He was embraced by Napoleon only to be exiled.
His books were so influential that a young Victor Hugo said: “I will be Chateaubriand or nothing.”
Chateaubriand described the rich texture of his life in an unforgettable quote:
“I have been party to peace and war: I have signed treaties, protocols, and along the way published numerous works. I have been made privy to party secrets, of court and state: I have viewed closely the rarest disasters, the greatest good fortune, the highest reputations. I have been present at sieges, congresses, conclaves, at the restoration and demolition of thrones. I have made history, and been able to write it...Within and alongside my age, perhaps without wishing or seeking to, I have exerted upon it a triple influence, religious, political and literary.”
3. William Hope Hodgson
In 1890, Hodgson was a thirteen year old boy who ran away from school to become a sailor.
But even in adulthood he remained a small-ish man, and older seamen bullied him.
He started a personal training regimen that made him, according to historian Sam Moskowitz, “one of the most powerful men, pound for pound, in all England.”
After his sailing career, Hodgson opened a gym. For marketing, he performed stunts on the streets of London.
He also started producing short stories and Sci-Fi novels.
H.P. Lovecraft called his novel The Night Land “one of the most potent pieces of macabre imagination ever written.”
In WWI, he received a serious head injury after a horse threw him off.
He recovered and enlisted again. He didn’t want to sit on the sidelines while a war raged on.
On 19th April 1918, he led other soldiers to safety under a hail of bullets, and was killed by an artillery shell.
4. Ernst Jünger
Jünger was 19 when WWI broke out.
Saw intense action at the frontlines
Led his unit to impossible victories
Was wounded 7 times
Read Nietzsche in his spare time
And self-published the great war classic Storm of Steel in 1920
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5. Lawrence Of Arabia
T.E. Lawrence was always a man possessed.
At 19, he cycled 3,500 km+ and walked 1,600+ km solo to study castles and architecture.
As an extremely young officer, he became one of the Allied leaders of the Arab Revolt during WWI.
Later he became a seaplane expert.
He also wrote the best-selling Seven Pillars Of Wisdom. His ambition? To match and exceed the literary quality of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov and Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra.
He died in a mysterious bike crash at 46.
6. Julius Caesar
Perhaps the greatest king in history, Julius Caesar’s very name became synonymous with absolute authority:
He wrote many poems & tragedies that don't survive.
His book on the Gaul campaigns and the Civil War do - and have a unique muscular style.
7. Roald Dahl
Shot down more than five enemy planes in WWII
Climbed out of the wreckage of a plane crash
Recovered his vision
Became a spy
Seduced famous women to gather intelligence secrets
Wrote Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox and other classics
Highest earning dead man of 2021 according to Forbes
What a legend.
8. Charles Lindbergh
Charles Lindbergh was the first man ever to fly nonstop from NYC to Paris. He caused the global aviation boom, which was literally dubbed the Lindbergh Boom. His flight tripled the number of pilot applications. He was Time's first ever Man Of The Year. Later in life he invented the perfusion pump which makes organ transplants possible today. And he wrote one of the best-selling books of 1927 - WE. It’s an autobiographical account of his historical transatlantic flight.
Fought atleast 3 major battles in the Peloponnesian War
Notably protected two of his fellow soldiers from the enemy when they were injured
Fought till he was 50 years old with men half his age
Became the most famous philosopher in history (without ever documenting his thoughts or writing any book)
Wittgenstein was one of the richest men in the world in 1914 and qualified for a medical exemption in WWI. He refused to take it, went to the frontlines, always took the most dangerous positions, won the highest honors, and became one of the most interesting thinkers of the 20th century. His book Philosophical Investigations is considered a masterpiece of modern philosophy.
Aeschylus invented the Genre of Tragedy, invented the convention of Trilogies, and won multiple awards at Dionysia - the Intellectual Olympics of Ancient Athens.
And yet he was so much prouder of his military victories that on his tombstone, only his war career is mentioned.
12. André Malraux
Rediscovered lost cities
Launched archeological expeditions for exotic temples
Became a Prisoner Of War in WWII
Got freed and led a brigade to victory
Became France's first Culture Minister under De Gaulle
His novel Man's Fate won France's highest literary award
13. Dennis Wheatley
Dennis Wheatley was expelled from college, fell prey to chemical warfare in WWI, and saw his wine business shut down in the Great Depression. But then he became the world's best-selling author and a pivotal member of the British Information Warfare team in WWII.
Thanks for reading.
Here’s the full list:
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
Memoirs from Beyond the Grave by Chateaubriand
The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson
Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger
Seven Pillars Of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence
The Gallic Wars by Julius Caesar
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
WE by Charles Lindbergh
Socrates didn't write a book; Plato's Symposium records his ideas
Philosophical Investigations by Wittgenstein
Agamemnon by Aeschylus
Man's Fate by Malraux
The Satanist by Dennis Wheatley
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May I submit Henry de Monfreid (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_de_Monfreid)?
Failed small businesses in France, left for Djibouti then Ethiopia, turned smuggler on the Red Sea, trafficked in pearls, haschich, morphine, spied for France during world war I in the area, started businesses in Ethiopia, became press corespondant, friend with Joseph Kessel, later supported the Italians in Ethiopia and flew with their armed forces.
Not a giant of litterature, but he did write about his own life and several novels which had a lot of success in the 1930s, and apparently he narrowly missed entry to the Académie Française.