Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916) is a name little recognized anymore. In his time, though, Davis was one of the world’s most famous and widely read journalists. His dashing persona coupled with his dispatches from the Spanish-American War, the Second Boer War and World War I made him a celebrity. It isn’t hyperbole to say that his unique writing style, which combined high adventure, sensationalism and a very personalized view of the world around him, helped pave the way for the more literary-minded journalists of the 1930s and the New Journalists of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Davis’s legacy is not without controversy, and as a result, some of his work has been criticized for romanticizing war criminals, politicians (Theodore Roosevelt chief among them) and foreign policy blunders. Worse, some historians have argued that Davis’s melodramatic and often times jingoistic stories about the plight of the Cuban people suffering under Spanish rule helped to push the United States towards a war that ultimately created American colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific.
Still, Davis’s journalism, novels and plays remain immanently readable today. Recently, much of Davis’s oeuvre was put online for free, and below is a list of the five very best books ever penned by the man.