Married; wife is a federal prosecutor; children: two. Education: Columbia University, M.F.A., c. 1989.
Home—Brooklyn, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 19 Union Square W., New York, NY 10001.
Freelance journalist and writer.
Award for international reporting, Overseas Press Club, and Best Book award, Los Angeles Times, both 2003, and third prize, Lettre Ulysses award for reportage, 2004, all for In the Land of Magic Soldiers: A Story of White and Black in West Africa.
Moments of Favor (novel), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1991.
God of the Rodeo: The Search for Hope, Faith, and a Six-Second Ride in Louisiana's Angola Prison, Crown (New York, NY), 1998, published as God of the Rodeo: The Quest for Redemption in Louisiana's Angola Prison, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1999.
In the Land of Magic Soldiers: A Story of White and Black in West Africa, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2003, published as Soldiers of Light, Allen Lane (London, England), 2004.
Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Mother Jones, Harper's, Talk, New York Times Magazine, and New York Times.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
A book about Afghanistan.
Freelance journalist Daniel Bergner is probably best known for his nonfiction works, but his first published book was a novel. Moments of Favor follows Peter Bram, a struggling singer-songwriter, as he slips into the "greed is good" lifestyle of New York in the mid-1980s. Peter enjoys vicarious fame through his friendship with Michael Marr, son of a famous politician, and gives up his art to attend law school and pursue wealth. Publishers Weekly reviewer Sybil Steinberg called Bergner "a promising writer" based on this book, and declared his writing "polished."
In his second book, God of the Rodeo: The Search for Hope, Faith, and a Six-Second Ride in Louisiana's Angola Prison, Bergner chronicles the year he spent studying the five thousand prisoners, most serving life sentences, assigned to Angola. The prison is unusual for the rodeo it holds every year in October. For the four Sundays of the rodeo, the inmates have unparalleled opportunities to interact with and be recognized by the outside world. Those who participate in the rodeo get to hear the cheers of the massive crowds who come to see the event, and other prisoners are permitted to sell various arts and crafts they have fashioned to the public. Even inmates who do neither get a chance to sit in the stands and cheer alongside the rest of the crowds. According to Bergner, the prisoners seem to enjoy the experience, but many prisoners' rights advocates have been appalled by the brutality and poor safety record of the rodeo; participants have little experience or training and are frequently gored during events.
In God of the Rodeo, Bergner focuses on seven inmates, including one, Littell Harris, who is released from prison during the year and makes a life for himself on the outside. These prisoners get to speak to Bergner's readers in their own words, often making observations that surprise for their sophistication. "Bergner's book is a much needed corrective" to the tendency of Americans to assume the worst about inmates, Kristin Eliasberg noted in Nation, "giving a voice to those not often heard, showing the humanity of the demonized." A second narrative focuses on the battles between Bergner and the prison's warden, Burl Cain. Midway through Bergner's year of research, Cain demanded that Bergner pay him if he wanted to keep visiting the prison, and also demanded that Bergner give him editorial control over the final manuscript. Bergner fought Cain's ultimatum in court and won, but in the process became disillusioned about the image he had accepted from the media of Cain as a courageous, innovative prison reformer who truly cares about saving the souls of his inmates. "Had Bergner been a less scrupulous journalist and glossed over the rupture in the center of his account, it might have made a better narrative," thought a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "But it would not have been so honest."
Bergner's second nonfiction book, In the Land of Magic Soldiers: A Story of White and Black in West Africa, is an award-winning narrative of his trips to Sierra Leone. The country was wracked by a brutal, decade-long civil war—the chopping off of hands was a common technique of terror used by the rebels, many of whom were children—for many years. A tentative peace was brought about by a British intervention in 2000, and Bergner's tale chronicles the years since, as Sierra Leoneans attempted to make lives for themselves out of the chaos. Few seem to succeed, Bergner writes; a generation of children have been scarred after being forced into the fighting, and some adults to whom Bergner talked openly wish for Britain to re-colonize the country, seeing their former masters as their only hope for peace and development. Bergner's "sharply drawn profiles" of these people, as Tom Masland wrote in Newsweek International, "ultimately foretell the limits of the ongoing [United Nations] … rescue mission." A Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded, "Bergner delivers a memorable, scarifying portrait of a country in terminal turmoil."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Bar Association Journal, November, 1998, Richard Brust, review of God of the Rodeo: The Search for Hope, Faith, and a Six-Second Ride in Louisiana's Angola Prison, p. 88.
Booklist, September 1, 1998, Wes Lukowsky, review of God of the Rodeo, p. 39; September 1, 2003, Vernon Ford, review of In the Land of Magic Soldiers: A Story of White and Black in West Africa, p. 48.
Corrections Compendium, July, 2002, Leanne Fiftal Alarid, review of God of the Rodeo, p. 21.
Criminal Law Bulletin, January-February, 2000, Fred Cohen, review of God of the Rodeo, pp. 79-82.
Economist, August 30, 2003, review of In the Land of Magic Soldiers, p. 62.
Foreign Affairs, January-February, 2004, Gail M. Gerhart, review of In the Land of Magic Soldiers.
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, Volume 7, number 2, 2000, Bryant Simon, review of God of the Rodeo, pp. 99-101.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2003, review of In the Land of Magic Soldiers, p. 945.
Library Journal, September 1, 1998, Frances O. Sandiford, review of God of the Rodeo, p. 199.
Nation, December 28, 1998, Kristin Eliasberg, review of God of the Rodeo, p. 41.
Newsweek International, October 6, 2003, Tom Masland, review of In the Land of Magic Soldiers, p. 62.
New York Times, November 13, 1998, Michiko Kakutani, review of God of the Rodeo, p. E48.
New York Times Book Review, October 18, 1998, Peter Applebome, review of God of the Rodeo, p. 9; January 4, 2004, Adam Hochschild, review of In the Land of Magic Soldiers, p. 13.
Prison Journal, June, 2000, Mary K. Stohr, review of God of the Rodeo, p. 225.
Publishers Weekly, April 26, 1991, Sybil Steinberg, review of Moments of Favor, p. 46; August 31, 1998, review of God of the Rodeo, p. 55; July 7, 2003, review of In the Land of Magic Soldiers, p. 60.
Social Justice, spring, 1999, Anthony M. Platt, review of God of the Rodeo, p. 237.
Spectator, March 27, 2004, David Caute, review of Soldiers of Light, p. 53.
UU World, May-June, 1999, Michelle Huneven, review of God of the Rodeo.
Weekly Wire, December 14, 1998, Gregory McNamee, review of God of the Rodeo.
BookPage.come,http://www.bookpage.com/ (October 2, 2004), Amos Wilson, review of God of the Rodeo: The Search for Hope, Faith, and a Six-Second Ride in Louisiana's Angola Prison.
Columbia University School of the Arts Web site, http://126.96.36.199/ (October 2, 2004), Alice Reagan, review of In the Land of Magic Soldiers: A Story of White and Black in West Africa.
Lettre Ulysses Award Web site,http://www.lettre-ulysses-award.org/ (October 4, 2004), "Daniel Bergner, USA."
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (October 14, 1998), Emily Gordon, review of God of the Rodeo.*