I had no difficulty picking my favorite of the 1955 bestsellers. Something of Value by Robert Ruark is head and shoulders above the rest.
Marjorie Morningstar would be my number two choice of the best of 1955 bestsellers. Herman Wouk’s exploration of a start-struck girl’s growing up won’t ever go out of date, but it’s too personal to have the impact that Ruark’s broad canvas achieves.
Not only is Something of Value well-plotted and peopled with believable fictional characters, but it is written with a reporters eye for telling detail.
With Africa’s rise as a center of influence, the background Ruark presents in an accessible fashion presents a timely introduction to one of its most rapidly developing nations: Kenya.
In the foreword written in 1954, Ruark says
This is considerably more than a book about the Mau Mau terror which has claimed constant attention on the front pages of the world for the last two years. A great deal has been written about the Mau Mau. A great deal of foolishness has been committed in the failure of the British to recognize that what they saw happening to themselves in Kenya was not, as they first thought, a local brush fire but a symptomatic ulcer of the evil and unrest which currently afflict the world.
This might be possibly a true story of Kenya and of the events over the last fifty years which lead to the present tragedy of the Mau Mau uprising, with all its sadistic murder and counter-murder. The book is completely true in reporting that its early skeletal structure rests on stony fact, which may be found in reference as fact. Some of these facts have been altered and condensed to comply with novel form, a it always customary But they remain facts. The characters in this book are entirely fictitious.
There is much blood in the book. There is much killing. But the life of Africa was washed earlier by blood, and its ground was, and skill is fertilized by the blood of its people and its animals. This is not a pretty book….And it certainly is not a political book.
A North Carolina native, Ruark served in the navy during World War II. Afterward, he became a newspaperman. achieving national prominenance as a syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard newspaper chain.
Ruark’s love of hunting, fishing, and the outdoors in general led him to Africa. That in turn inspired him to abandon the security of New York and a regular paycheck for the uncertainty of freelance writing.
Ruark said , “Without the African experience, there would have been no topics for the scores of articles and stories and the two books which have combined to make me financially secure…”
He had published five nonfiction books and 500 magazine articles before Something of Value. In all, Ruark published 12 novels, including the 1959 bestseller Poor No More. A list of his novels are on the Robert Ruark Society website.
On his death in 1965 at age 49, Ruark left all his letters (including one containing the quote above), manuscripts, and published work to the The University of North Carolina.
© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni