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Too Close to the Sun: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  553 Ratings  ·  84 Reviews
Denys Finch Hatton was adored by women and idolized by men. A champion of Africa, legendary for his good looks, his charm, and his prowess as a soldier, lover, and hunter, Finch Hatton inspired Karen Blixen to write the unforgettable stories in Out of Africa. Now esteemed British biographer Sara Wheeler tells the truth about this extraordinarily charismatic adventurer.

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Published April 24th 2007 by Random House (first published March 2nd 2006)
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Jan 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Denys Finch Hatton is best-known in the U.S. as Karen Blixen's lover in the movie "Out of Africa". Some know him too as Beryl Markham's lover from the autobiography of the aviatrix, "West With the Night". I'd put off reading Wheeler's book for a couple of years thinking, "What depth can there be to a book about an aristocratic hunter-playboy?"

But Sara Wheeler does a fine job of putting his life in context with colonial development in East Africa; the decline of the landed aristocracry in England
Sep 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: edwardian-era
Read this at the same time as reading 'Isak Dinesen, the Life of a Storyteller' by Judith Thurman, and 'West With the Night' by Beryl Markham for a wonderful 'Out of Africa' experience. The Felicity character in the film 'Out of Africa' was intended by the screenwriting team to represent some of the independent characteristics of Beryl Markham.
It was everything I ever wanted to know about Denys Finch Hatton - let's just say that. It was a MUCH more complete picture of the man than was sketched out in "Out of Africa" and MORE. More British History, more British Africa Infomation than I ever would have wanted, more characters than Ms. Diesen wrote about and More about her. It was slow going and hard to get into at first, but the depth of information was overwhelming at times. I was forced more than once to look up words, so I have to ad ...more
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this. I'd read Out of Africa years ago and have seen the film a couple of times, but knew Denys Finch Hatton solely through them. It was nice to get a more complete picture of him. He was certainly well-loved by his friends and acquaintances. He was a person who seemed destined to die fairly young--in many ways, he never really grew up.
“This is an ordinary story of big guns and small planes, princes from England and sultans from Zanzibar, roulette, a famous divorce case, a Welsh castle and a Gilbertine priority, marauding lions, syphilis, bankruptcy, self-destruction, and the tragedy of the human heart.”

Ok so the reason for reading this book?

Sara Wheeler.

I’ve been wanting to read something by Sara Wheeler again (and have probably waited too long to do so!), since I read – and loved - Terra Incognita.

So I went about this in a r
Carl Rollyson
Sep 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Denys Finch Hatton (1887-1931) may evoke for millions the visage of Robert Redford, who plays this quintessential British adventurer with an American accent in "Out of Africa." Finch Hatton, the original, had sherry-colored hair and "topsoil brown eyes," Sara Wheeler reports in "Too Close to the Sun: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton" (Random House, 320 pages, $27.95). His aristocratic ancestors gambled their money away, and Denys was confronted with two choices: become a decade ...more
just picked this up from the library!


A fascinating portrait of a man who became famous despite not accomplishing much of anything. A portrait in how charisma and charm can create a legend.

I think what disturbed me most about this book is the obvioius bias the author has against Karen Blixen, otherwise known as Isak Dinesen. In the introduction, the author refers to her as a "monster", yet little, at least in what is presented, seems to back this up. Whether this is due to the a
Mixed bag. The author's big challenge is that there is very little historical record on Denys Finch Hatton, making it difficult to write a compelling biography. What succeeds well are the descriptions and background information on England and British East Africa / Kenya during Denys's time. Understandably not quite as successful are the descriptions of Denys himself. The writing is also occasionally disjointed. Particularly some of the footnotes, the author's own experiences, do not seem relevan ...more
Tia Gonzales
Dennis Finch Hatten was an interesting man but he was not that exceptional in his time....he did what privileged white men with too much money did in those days, looked for a piece of the Empire to call his far the most interesting parts of his life story are his relationships with Karen Blixen and Beryl Markham and being a fan of both, this is why I read the book. They were truly extraordinary, albeit also privileged, loved their Kenya and their Dennis and led spectacular lives....I ...more
Trudy Jaskela
Apr 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After reading Markham's West with the Night and twice visiting Kenya, I became very interested in early 1900's Kenya. Both Markham and Blixen were smitten with Finch Hatton. Had the read the book. It was interesting because it painted a fairly detailed story of Finch Hatton's travels and endeavor's, not just his relationships.
Gail Richmond
Wheeler is an amazing researcher. Given that she had to scour primary sources, particularly letters and others' journals and private writings for information on Denys Finch Hatton, this is a voluminous amount of detailed text. I was interested in reading this because I had recently read Paula McLean's fictional text on Beryl Markham, Circling the Sun. In the past I had read West With the Night, Markham's memoir, and then I happened to watch the film Out of Africa. All conspired to more than prep ...more
Sep 09, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Denys Finch Hatton. Charming like no other. Accomplished? Not really. A wealthy background until his family lost their wealth. Looking for what in East Africa in the 1900's? Denys, a rebel and happiest when on-the-go. Most interesting were his relationships with Karen Blixen and Beryl Markham. He and Beryl were much alike but Karen Blixen was his acknowledged love. Denys died as abruptly as all the books on this trio, end. Of all the books on Denys, Karen and Beryl, I still enjoyed Too Close to ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
Jan 23, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jennifer (JC-S) by: ACT Library
Shelves: librarybooks
‘He had seen what men with imagination cannot help seeing in a dream country like Africa.’

This biography is about Denys George Finch Hatton (24 April 1887 – 14 May 1931). Finch Hatton was one of the British settlers of East Africa early in the 20th century, was a big-game hunter, and also the lover of Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), who wrote about him in ‘Out of Africa’ (first published in 1937). And, while it’s the ‘Out of Africa’ connection which led me to read this book, it’s the history of the
Jun 20, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Out of Africa fans; Those who've been to Kenya
"An eternal wanderer on a perpetual quest for knowledge and experience."
Too Close to the Sun, The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton is as much a detailed history of British East Africa--the country known today as Kenya--as it is the story of Denys Finch Hatton's life. In other words, the focus is keener on the times than on the life.

Finch Hatton, a notorious and romantic character portrayed in Out of Africa, the book of stories by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) and the in the film play
Mar 14, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was about the life of Denys Finch Hatton, who is well known for his relationship with Karen Blixen (out of africa fame ) I have never seen the film so i did not get a picture of Robert Redford in my mind !!. He seemed like a man who cast a spell over women and men alike i image him as a Nigel havers type character so utterly charming and British, there is not much to go on as he died in 1931, and all the people who knew him obviously have passed away , it seems no papers or letters wri ...more
TR Ryan
In general I liked this book and during much of the read my score was probably closer to a 4. The two main problems: The author must really like the history of and the writing about World War I. Wheeler would go on for pages and pages talking about war campaigns without ever even mentioning Finch-Hatton. And secondly, the ending was inexcusable. The book ends as suddenly as Finch-Hatton's life. He dies, he's buried and then period, end of story. We are left wondering what happened to his family, ...more
From the moment I first saw the movie Out of Africa, I've been mildly obsessed with British East Africa in the early 1900's thru 1940's. Of course, this place is now a little place called Kenya.

Last year, when I read a biography called "The Bolter," I became even more intrigued by all the characters that made up a little circle of mostly aristocrat pervs who liked nothing more than to hunt animals, do coke, smoke opium, and swing with whatever was mobile (however mobility was never required).

May 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The movie Out of Africa has always intriqued me. I've read the book of the same title and recently read West with the Night trying to get a better understanding of the characters involved. Both of the books written by Karen Blixen and Beryl Markham are evocative of Africa and their adventures but fall short of the facts, even reality. This book not only provides vivid descriptions of Africa but also the details of the lives of the main characters in Out of Africa: Karen, Blix, Denys, Farrah, Col ...more
Sep 20, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I started this 250 or so page book in May. I finished it in August. That should say all you need to know.

The author, early on, asks a good question: why is it great men are only recognized as great if they do great deeds? The answer becomes clear: because otherwise they didn't really do anything. Denys Finch Hatton inspired a longtime lover to write about him in her great memoir Out of Africa. He himself kept no journals or diaries, so what we have here is a guy who had oodles of charisma and a
Kathy Schwartz
Oct 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it for anyone who is familiar with the people in the Out of Africa movie. I've read "West with the Night" by Beryl Markham, "Out of Africa" by Karen Blixen, and "Circling the Sun" an historical fiction about Beryl Markham. While "West with the Night" was my favorite book to read of these listed, I found "Too Close to the Sun" to be the most complete as to facts. The author only included information that she could verify. This book centers around th ...more
Jun 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Denys Finch Hatton certainly lived a fascinating life, and it is well told here. He reminded me a great deal of my stepbrother, Frank Morgan. They share a passion for adventure, a taste for the exotic, a brilliant mind, enough charm for a dozen people, and a seemingly constitutional inability to be tied down to one woman. His romance with Karen Blixen (as told by her in the book and movie Out of Africa) is an important thread in the story. He was her only real love, but she was not his, a situat ...more
Sep 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
This is an excellent biography, but also an exceptional look at British Society (the aristocracy) and British conquest of BEA (British East Africa) and the difficulties of the Colonists. History of World War I in Africa (which I knew little about)and the beginning tension between settlers and African natives is an integral part of the book. Denys Finch-Hatton was portrayed by Robert Redford in "Out of Africa". Two other books I like came out of this era. "African Queen" and "West With the Night" ...more
Julie Ferguson
Mar 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had just come back from S. Africa when a friend of mine recommended this book. Not so much for the subject of the biography, Denys Finch Hatton, as for my interest in Africa and WWI.
Hatton was Karen Blixen's lover and she wrote "Out of Africa."

I was fascinated by the era, the events, and the country as told by Sara Wheeler, the author. Very little about the WWI campaign in East Africa has been written, and I knew little about the history of Kenya and Tanzania. "Too Close to the Sun" has it al
Jul 25, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: jay, lauren, rachel
If you remember the character that Robert Redford played in the movie, Out of Africa, this is the real story of Denys Finch-Hatton, an upper class English Renaissance Man whose relationship with Isak Dinasen was only part of his story. Accomplished, handsome, brave, and intelligent, he epitomized a part of British society that was on its way out as World War I approached. He took part in the British colonial occupation of East Africa and came to loath Britain's behavior there as he learned to ap ...more
Oct 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rather remarkable book, given that the subject left so little behind in terms of referencing material. Another commitmentphobic man and the woman who loved him...and the people who loved him. When I read these stories, I wish the injuried parties could be shown, up front, what they will never have, and why, and be spared the pain of holding on, trying to receive what they want, and never succeeding. One also has to wonder, had he lived, if he wouldn't have fallen into that cliche of aging man fi ...more
Johanna C.
Jun 22, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
I think my love of Denys Finch Hatton (DFH) is what kept me reading. The writing was alright, the organization a bit off, the ending awful and abrupt - I really wanted MORE. HOWEVER DFH is a mystery....he left no journals, few letters so Wheeler really had a difficult job. Considering this, she did a good job. I really wish I could find good biography of DFH, because he is in my opinion, one of the most amazing people that ever lived, but I think the closest I am going to come to are the bits an ...more
Jan 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The was the life story of Denys Finch Hatton, of Out of Africa fame. I wasn't expecting to like this book as much as I did, but the writing was excellent and extremely evocative. Denys was the typical English nobleman who ended up living quite a non-conventional life. The fact that he really didn't get a focus/occupation until his late 30's/early 40's was a comforting one. The descriptions of Africa reminded me of my Dad's stories, and the white hunter that took him on his first trip in 1957 kne ...more
Rigatoni Baloney
This was slow reading; I had to renew from the library three times! But it was worth it for the historical facts. Wheeler's painstaking research sheds a lot of light on the early days of life in Africa, which gives me better perspective when I read all the biographies about Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Early on I formed the opinion that Hatton was a spoiled indulgent playboy. Nevertheless, he didn't marry, have children (although he had plenty of unsafe sex) or otherwise make committments he couldn't keep ...more
Jul 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Terrific biography and an even better historical look at Britain and colonial Africa in the transition from the Victorian to the Edwardian era. Wheeler is a terrific story teller. She captures not only the many characters who were part of Denys Finch Hatton's life (and they were quite a crew), but also the essence of place - whether it's the colleges of Oxford or the Ngong Hills of Kenya. She also detailed parts of world history I knew little about, including World War I on the African front - w ...more
I was prepared to love this. I've read a lot about British East Africa during ths period, am familiar with the history and the cast of characters, and Denys Finch Hatton was one about whom I knew little, so this seemed like a good choice to help me fill in the blanks. But, Sara Wheeler managed to bore me. I mean, really bore me. I found her Africa very sterile, and the people fairly flat. I learned a few interesting tidbits, mostly in footnotes. I just don't think this book does the raw material ...more
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Sara Wheeler was brought up in Bristol and studied Classics and Modern Languages at Brasenose College, University of Oxford. After writing about her travels on the Greek island of Euboea and in Chile, she was accepted by the US National Science Foundation as their first female writer-in-residence at the South Pole, and spent seven months in Antarctica.

In her resultant book Terra Incognita: Travels
More about Sara Wheeler...