Junger, Sebastian 1962–
Junger, Sebastian 1962–
PERSONAL: Born January 17, 1962, in Boston, MA; son of Miguel (a physicist) and Ellen (an artist; maiden name, Sinclair) Junger. Education: Concord Academy, graduated 1980; Wesleyan University, B.A., 1984. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Atheist.
CAREER: Freelance writer.
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea, Norton (New York, NY), 1997.
Frontline Diaries: Into the Forbidden Zone (documentary film), National Geographic Channel, 2001.
Fire, Norton (New York, NY), 2001.
A Death in Belmont, Norton (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including Men's Journal, Outside, American Heritage, and New York Times Magazine.
ADAPTATIONS: The Perfect Storm was produced as an audiobook (read by Stanley Tucci) and released by Random House Audio, 1997; The Perfect Storm was also adapted for film and released by Warner Brothers, 2000; Fire was produced as an audiobook, 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: With his first book, The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger quickly established himself as a best-selling writer of literary nonfiction, combining the journalist's clarity and eye for detail with the novelist's sense of narrative and drama. The Perfect Storm tells the story of a commercial swordfishing boat caught in the grip of a killer storm. The Andrea Gail, out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, was fishing the Great Banks of the North Atlantic in October, 1991, when the convergence of three storms from north, south, and west created a tempest of unmatched severity—in meteorological terms, a "perfect storm." Buffeted by one-hundred-foot waves and winds in excess of eighty-five m.p.h., the seventy-two-foot vessel was destroyed and her crew drowned. Drawing on interviews, radio dialogues, court depositions, and various other sources, Junger depicts a New England fishing community and the dangerous lives of the fishermen with gritty realism, and even recreates what the final harrowing hours of the Andrea Gail must have been like. The author also recounts tales of the storm's survivors, including Air National Guard rescue workers forced to abandon their helicopter and ride out the storm at sea.
In addition to exploring the human interest of the events surrounding the sinking of the Andrea Gail, Junger offers a great deal of historical and technical information on such topics as the commercial swordfishing industry, the formation of storms, fluid mechanics, naval architecture, and the experience of drowning. Junger's method of fusing large bodies of factual material with the elements of high drama left him open to criticism from a number of perspectives. New York Observer critic Warren St. John pointed to what he considered to be errors and omissions in The Perfect Storm, accusing the author of distorting the record to make a better story. Junger himself, on the other hand, feared the book would hold little interest for readers more concerned with plot and action than historical accuracy. "I didn't want to invent dialogue or fictionalize or do any of the stuff that readers love," he explained in an interview with Ellen Barry in the Boston Phoenix."I was sure I was condemned to write a journalistically interesting book that just wouldn't fly. It would be too heavy. The topic is too weird and idiosyncratic. It's all the things that kill books."
Nonetheless, The Perfect Storm became a best- seller, with movie and paperback rights selling for hefty sums. Junger's desire to write about the fishermen's fate stemmed from having witnessed the 1991 storm firsthand and from having prior experience working a dangerous job, as a high-climber for tree-removal companies. The same love of adventure drew him to a writing career. "I write because it thrills me," he once told CA. "I write journalism—not fiction—because it thrusts me out there into the world and I'm so awed by what I find." Junger, who credits Barry Lopez, Joan Didion, Pete Matthiessen, Norman Maclean, and Michael Herr as his primary literary influences, continues to work as a freelance contributor to magazines. "I sit down in the morning with a cup of coffee, edit what I wrote the day before, start in on the next section, stop writing, go running and have lunch, take a nap on the floor (so I don't sleep too long), get up and write for another couple of hours and then go out to a bar and play pool or sit there and just think about what I wrote that day. If it went well I'll have a cigarette, too."
After the publication of A Perfect Storm, Junger traveled with Iranian photographer, Reza, into Afghanistan in order to meet Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Taliban resistance leader. The result of their journey was a documentary entitled Frontline Diaries: Into the Forbidden Zone. "I'd always wanted to make the pilgrimage into [his] territory to do a profile of him," Junger stated in a NationalGeographic online article by Ted Chamberlain. Both journalists spent a month in Afghanistan as guests of the Northern Alliance leader, Massoud, and "visited a refugee camp inhabited by thousands of Afghans who had fled the Taliban regime." Los Angeles Times writer Hugh Hart commented that "surreal touches abound" in Frontline Diaries, a documentary which "offers sobering footage detailing the hazards of war, Afghan-style." Hollywood Reporter contributor Marilyn Moss called it a "fascinating, well-documented and well-mounted look" at the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan. She also noted the "first-rate journalism"that permeates the documentary.
"Junger is an excellent storyteller … [and] observer," said Justin Marozzi in a London Sunday Telegraph review of Fire, Junger's second book, which is a compilation of previously published magazine articles. Only the first two pieces are actually devoted to firefighting and the personalities engaged in controlling a forceful blaze in the canyons of Idaho. Other articles feature Kashmir terrorists, the war in Kosovo, the last person who harpoons whales by hand, and Ahmed Shah Mas-soud, the Afghan resistance fighter—and subject of the documentary, Frontline Diaries—who was assassinated in September, 2001.
"The essays are short, punchy, full of fascinating factual research and altogether very readable," remarked New Republic contributor David Thomson. Thomson's chief criticism of the work was what he viewed as a quality of over-simplification present in Junger's work. Book reviewer Chris Barsanti noted that the stories in Fire "are marked with a generous humanity and sharpness of eye." Iain Finlayson of the London Timeswrote that the author's work "is frontline reporting of the highest order from the dangerous, blade-sharp edge of things." "[Junger's] stories … hold our interest" even when they are no longer present in the daily news, stated Anthony Brandt in National Geographic Adventure. "The jewel [of the book] is the profile of Mas-soud," wrote a Business Week reviewer. In a Booklist article, Joanne Wilkinson commented that the book's "topics are compelling." Library Journalcontributor Rachel Collins observed the author's "unfailing eye for detail" and for the fact that Junger tries to write his articles in such a way that he includes as many different perspectives as he possibly can. "The prose is clean and hard," said Guardianreviewer Steven Poole. London Sunday Telegraph critic Marozzi praised Junger's writing style in these words: "He understands, as too many of his colleagues do not, that his surroundings … are of more interest to the reader than his reactions to them."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, December 1, 1999, review of audiobook version of The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea, p. 718; November-December 2001, Chris Barsanti, review of Fire, p. 70.
Booklist, September 1, 2001, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Fire, p. 22; March 15, 2002, review of audio-book version of Fire, p. 1270.
BookPage, October, 2001, review of Fire, p. 2.
Business Week, October 22, 2001, review of Fire, p. 22E4.
Detroit Free Press, November 4, 2001, review of Fire, p. 4E.
Entertainment Weekly, July 14, 2000, Owen Gleiber-man, review of the movie version of The Perfect Storm, p. 51; September 28, 2001, review of Fire, p. 68.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 13, 2001, review of Fire, p. D12.
Guardian (London, England), October 19, 2002, Steven Poole, review of Fire,p. 30.
Harper's, November, 2001, review of Fire, p. 73.
Hollywood Reporter, September 25, 2001, Marilyn Moss, review of Frontline Diaries: Into the Forbidden Zone, p. 15.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2001, review of Fire, p. 1092.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, May, 1999, review of The Perfect Storm, p. 68.
Library Journal, September 1, 2001, Rachel Collins, review of Fire, p. 220; April 1, 2002, Mark Pumphrey, review of audiobook version of Fire, p. 160.
Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2001, Hugh Hart, review of Frontline Diaries, p. F-11.
National Geographic Adventure, November-December, 2001, Anthony Brandt, review of Fire, p. 59.
New Republic, November 5, 2001, David Thomson, review of Fire, p. 35.
New Yorker, August 11, 1997, p. 79.
New York Observer, August, 1997.
New York Review of Books, December 20, 2001, William McNeill, review of Fire, p. 86.
New York Times, October 6, 2001, Caryn James, review of Frontline Diaries,p. A13; October 17, 2001, Michiko Kakutani, review of Fire.
New York Times Book Review, June 18, 1997, p. 8; September 29, 2002, Scott Veale, review of Fire, p. 32; October 14, 2001, Paula Friedman, review of Fire, p. 28.
People, November 5, 2001, review of Fire, p. 52.
Publishers Weekly, April 7, 1997, p. 83; September 24, 2001, review of Fire,p. 79; September 24, 2001, interview with Sebastian Junger, p. 80.
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), November 11, 2001, Justin Marozzi, review of Fire.
Time, July 3, 2000, Richard Corliss, review of the movie version of The Perfect Storm, p. 56.
Times (London, England), November 14, 2001, Iain Finlayson, review of Fire,p. 12.
Times Literary Supplement, July 18, 1997, p. 8.
Underwater Naturalist, January, 1999, review of The Perfect Storm, p. 46.
Us Weekly, July 24, 2000, Oliver Jones, p. 54.
Washington Post, October 12, 2001, Carolyn See, review of Fire, p. C04.
Yankee, September, 2000, Robert Pushkar, review of The Perfect Storm, pp.66-75.
Boston Phoenix Online, http://www.bostonphoenix.com/ (October 11, 2001), Tamara Wieder, interview with Sebastian Junger.
Literati Web site, http://literati.net/ (May 12, 2003), reviews of Fire and The Perfect Storm.
National Geographic Web site, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ (May 12, 2003), Ted Chamberlain, review of Frontline Diaries.