Easterbrook, Gregg 1953-
EASTERBROOK, Gregg 1953-
PERSONAL: Born March 2, 1953, in Buffalo, NY; son of George (a dentist) and Vimy (a teacher; maiden name, Hoover) Easterbrook; married Nan Kennelly (a diplomat), January 1, 1988; children: Grant, Mara Rose. Education: Colorado College, B.A., 1976; Northwestern University, M.S.J., 1977. Religion: Christian.
CAREER: Journalist, author, 1977—. New Republic, Washington, DC, senior editor; Beliefnet.com. cofounder and senior editor. Brookings Institution fellow.
AWARDS, HONORS: Honorary doctorate, Colorado College, 1992; Fulbright Foundation fellow; two awards, Investigative Reporters and Editors.
This Magic Moment: A Love Story for People Who Want the World to Make Sense (novel), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1987.
Surgeon Koop, Whittle Direct Books (Knoxville, TN), 1991.
A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
Beside Still Waters: Searching for Meaning in an Age of Doubt, William Morrow (New York), 1998.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback: Haiku and Other Whimsical Observations to Help You Understand the Modern Game, Universe (New York, NY), 2001.
The Here and Now (novel), Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributing editor to Washington Monthly, Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report; commentator for ESPN; writer of column "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" for NFL.com; contributor to periodicals, including Time, Slate, Wired, Science, and the New York Times.
SIDELIGHTS: Gregg Easterbrook is the author of This Magic Moment: A Love Story for People Who Want the World to Make Sense, a novel about a well-meaning civil engineer who suffers a crisis of conscience when a dam that he helped design collapses and kills a worker. The engineer, Warren Gifford, a man with a strict moral code, is disdainful of those who shirk life's responsibilities. Through his travels in the business world, Gifford has met many people seeking fame while dodging accountability, and he has determined that those who do not face the minimum responsibility that life requires do not deserve that life.
He then sets out to determine whether he is culpable for the dam accident—and if so to end his own life—or if he is being set up as a scapegoat. To complicate matters, Gifford has fallen in love with Nora Jocelyn, and while Nora and Gifford are wildly passionate in their mutual love, there also arises a moral dilemma. Nora is married. As Gifford dejectedly wanders a museum, contemplating his sad affairs, he comes across a fifteenth-century portrait that resembles Nora and, right next to it, a piece from the same era that resembles him. In the coming days, Gifford receives mysterious newsletters from a New Age collective and eventually discovers that he and Nora were lovers in a previous life. As the novel reaches its conclusion, the lovers, their moral problems, themes of reincarnation and destiny, and the flawed perfection of God and the universe intertwine and resolve.
This Magic Moment received positive appraisals, including one from Florence King in Washington Post Book World. "To call this novel refreshing is an understatement," King declared, adding that "it is downright thrilling to find a so-called 'Love Story for the 80s' built upon the theme of honor." Gregory Blake Smith, writing in the New York Times Book Review, noted that This Magic Moment contains "more ideas per page than any piece of fiction in recent memory," and he noted Easterbrook's "witty, agile mind." Carolyn See called Easterbrook's novel "wonderful" and affirmed in the Los Angeles Times that "if this book were a man or a woman . . . you'd fall in love with it."
Easterbrook, who has commented extensively on environmental issues, wrote A Moment on Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism, a large volume in which he claims that the damage done to the environment by humans is different and less than the greater damage nature does to itself. He also writes that most dire environmental predictions are unjustified and that not enough attention is paid to the progress that has been made in solving environmental problems. New Republic reviewer Alan Brinkley wrote that "Easterbrook's ultimate aim is larger than displaying the flaws of contemporary environmentalism. His book is suffused with an almost evangelical optimism about the importance of the 'good news' that he is bringing."
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) challenged Easterbrook's findings in an extensive article written by Michael Oppenheimer, David S. Wilcove, and Michael J. Bean, and published in its entirety in Environmental Law. In their conclusion, the authors wrote that Easterbrook "attempts to contrast his own supposedly 'eco-realistic' views with the views of those he labels environmental 'doomsayers.' Yet what the book really does is set Mr. Easterbrook's own opinions against the weight of scientific evidence. . . . He impugns the intelligence, judgment, and impartiality of some of the most esteemed scientists of our time, including Rachel Carson, James Anderson, and Edward O. Wilson. Moreover, he repeatedly criticizes scientists whose dire predictions have not come to pass, without fully acknowledging that their forecasts catalyzed changes in laws and politics that forestalled the predictions themselves."
In an Environmental Action review, Tom Athanasiou noted that while Easterbrook was on tour with this book in Berkeley, he acknowledged that he would have written it differently if he had "seen what was coming" in the Republican-controlled Congress. Easterbrook was also still on tour when the first installment of the EDF review was published. Athanasiou wrote that "ironically, it was the Environmental Defense Fund that most clearly saw the need to debunk Easterbrook. EDF, with its strident and generally unreflective advocacy of pollution trading and the other mechanisms of market environmentalism, has done more than any other single organization to push the American environmental movement onto the treacherous slopes of cost-analyzed, corporate-biased realpolitik."
"Today, the world's worst air-pollution problems are certainly not found in the United States," noted Jeffrey Marsh in Commentary, "but in the underdeveloped third world, where millions of children die every year from respiratory diseases linked to the ubiquitous use of dung as a cooking fuel, and where all sorts of other all-too-real environmental horrors abound. The environmental movement, of course, has tended to ignore such real problems, concentrating its fire instead on remote and hypothetical dangers to the earth. As this skewed perspective suggests—and as Easterbrook's book convincingly documents—environmentalism's deepest problem is not intellectual but moral."
In Beside Still Waters: Searching for Meaning in an Age of Doubt Easterbrook asks, "Can a person look the problems of faith directly in the eye and come away believing?" Philip Zaleski wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Easterbrook's answer is "yes, with a catch that will give pause to many readers: one must accept an attenuated God, neither omniscient nor omnipotent, a morally imperfect God subject to natural law." National Review's Patrick Glynn noted that Easterbrook "concludes this engaging book with an eloquent chapter on the Christian ethic of love and a plea for an end to tribalism, religious sectarianism, and hate."
The Here and Now is Easterbrook's novel about attorney Carter Morris, who is transported back and forth from the present to a time when he was an idealist—the 1950s of his childhood and 1960s of his activism. William Ferguson noted in the New York Times Book Review that although this is a standard story about corporate greed, "the description of the lawyer is still moving, in part because Carter's basic suppositions are so fragile."
The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse was called a "gem of a book" by Christianity Today's Stephen L. Carter. Easterbrook contends that as a society, we do not accept good news well, a trait he considers a spiritual failure. In spite of frequent media reminders that the middle class is losing ground, Easterbrook points out that the standard of living for all but the poorest of our citizens has greatly expanded to give Americans worldly goods and comforts enjoyed only by the rich just a few generations ago. He notes that most children and teens have their own rooms, average families own from one to three cars, most Americans are well-fed, and the hours of work necessary to buy each one hundred square feet of home have decreased. Business Week reviewer Christopher Farrell remarked that Easterbrook "is well aware of poverty and the stresses of everyday life. But as far as he is concerned, the vast majority of Americans have never had it so good."
Easterbrook's "Easterblogg" ran for just a short time in late 2003 on the National Review Web site before it was pulled over a comment Easterbrook had included in a critique of the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill. He wrote of his disgust with the violence in the film and was particularly upset by the fact that the film was released by Miramar, a division of the Walt Disney Company. Easterbrook noted that Disney CEO, Michael Eisner, and Miramax head, Harvey Weinstein, are Jewish. He said that Jewish Hollywood executives are not alone in worshipping money, "promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice."
It was not the first time Easterbrook had spoken out against violence. In the wake of the Columbine killings, he condemned films like Scream, and he had wondered, in his blog, if Mel Gibson's The Passion was "a crass attempt to commercialize Jesus's death via exaggerated gore." New Republic editor Peter Beinart expressed his concern over the piece, and Easterbrook acknowledged that it might be offensive to some, but they decided not to edit it.
Douglas McCollam, who interviewed Easterbrook for the Columbia Journalism Review, wrote that "after he's been pilloried in the pages of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and in dozens of other newspapers, magazines, and Web sites; after he'd been denounced by the Anti-Defamation League as a bigot and fired from a lucrative job writing for ESPN.com; and when it seemed possible, briefly, that Michael Eisner, one of the most powerful men in media, might be out to destroy his career, Easterbrook had a simple thought about that Wednesday afternoon conversation with Beinart: 'If we'd just pressed the delete key, all this never would have happened.'" McCollam noted that the way in which Easterbrook's career became at risk in just minutes, "is a strange and sad tale of the Internet age, in which writers can broadcast ideas to the world almost as fast as they can type."
The Kill Bill controversy is directly related to Easterbrook's religious writings, which he also contributes to BeliefNet.com as its senior editor. Easterbrook believes that everyone, including the powerful, should ponder whether their religious beliefs and values should carry over into their professional lives. "It's a potentially troubling argument, he admits," wrote McCollam, "and one that he badly mangled in his references to Eisner and Weinstein (and perhaps irrelevant, given that Jewish ethnicity is not necessarily an indication of faith). But it is undeniably an Easter-brookian idea, one that recurs in his writing."
Easterbrook was supported by Beinart and New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier, and he wrote an apology to his readers, for what he still felt was a misunderstanding, but that did not end it. Easterbrook was fired by John Skipper, executive vice president of ESPN, a Disney company, and his "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" articles were removed from its archives. Beinart and Easterbrook fielded calls from irate readers, but articles condemning Easterbrook continued to be published. He did learn that Eisner had not had a hand in his firing, and the New Republic published its own apology, which was accepted by the Anti-Defamation League. Easterbrook also thanked those who had supported and defended him. McCollam noted that "the crisis probably officially ended on Friday, October 24, when Charles Krauthammer, a stalwart champion of Israel and Jewish affairs, wrote a piece in the Washington Post, calling Easterbrook's Kill Bill blog 'clumsy and stupid,' but saying enough was enough: 'the idea of destroying someone's reputation and career over a single slip of this type is not just ridiculous, but vindictive.'"
"Easterblogg" was continued into spring of 2004, and Easterbrook continued to write regularly for the New Republic. "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" was picked up by the official Web site of the National Football League, NFL.com.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Spectator, September, 1995, David Andrew Price, review of A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism, p. 68.
Americas' Intelligence Wire, December 29, 2003, Tony Snow, "Unresolved Problem: Interview with Gregg Easterbrook."
Amicus Journal, spring, 1995, Peter H. Raven, review of A Moment on the Earth, p. 42.
Audubon, July-August, 1995, T. H. Watkins, review of A Moment on Earth, p. 104.
Business Week, December 29, 2003, Christopher Farrell, review of The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, p. 25.
Christian Century, November 22, 1995, Calvin B. DeWitt, review of A Moment on the Earth, p. 1116.
Christianity Today, March, 2004, Stephen L. Carter, review of The Progress Paradox, p. 74.
Columbia Journalism Review, January-February, 2004, Douglas McCollam, "A fall from grace: a slip into stereotype, and a writer learns the fragility of reputation," p. 37.
Commentary, August, 1995, Jeffrey Marsh, review of A Moment on the Earth, p. 55; December, 2003, Kay S. Hymowitz, review of Progress Paradox, p. 69.
Ecologist, March-April, 1997, Tom Athanasiou, review of A Moment on the Earth, p. 77.
Environmental Action, fall, 1995, Tom Athanasiou, review of A Moment on the Earth, p. 26.
Environmental Law, fall, 1995, Michael Oppenheimer, David S. Wilcove, Michael J. Bean, review of A Moment on the Earth, pp. 1293-1325.
Issues in Science and Technology, summer, 1995, T. H. Watkins, review of A Moment on the Earth, p. 80.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, review of The Here and Now, p. 1334.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, April 20, 2004, Tim Madigan, "Experts look for happiness in a buy-and-sell world," p. K0554.
Los Angeles Times, February 2, 1987, Carolyn See, review of This Magic Moment: A Love Story for People Who Want the World to Make Sense.
Nation, May 1, 1995, Tom Athanasiou, review of A Moment on the Earth, p. 603.
National Review, May 29, 1995, Ronald Bailey, review of A Moment on the Earth, p. 59; December 31, 1998, Patrick Glynn, review of Beside Still Waters: Searching for Meaning in an Age of Doubt, p. 45.
Natural History, August, 1995, Jack C. Schultz, review of A Moment on the Earth, p. 64.
New Republic, October 2, 1995, Alan Brinkley, review of A Moment on the Earth, p. 50.
New Statesman, September 6, 1996, Vicky Hutchings, review of A Moment on the Earth, p. 45.
New York Times Book Review, January 25, 1987, Gregory Blake Smith, review of This Magic Moment, p. 12; October 11, 1998, Philip Zaleski, review of Beside Still Waters, p. 7; January 12, 2003, William Ferguson, review of The Here and Now, p. 19; February 8, 2004, John Leland, review of The Progress Paradox, p. 13.
Progressive, September, 1995, Erik Ness, review of A Moment on the Earth, p. 41.
Publishers Weekly, October 21, 2002, review of The Here and Now, p. 54; September 22, 2003, review of The Progress Paradox, p. 91.
Reason, July, 1995, Alexander Volokh, review of A Moment on Earth, p. 67.
Scientific American, winter, 1995, Thomas E. Lovejoy, review of A Moment on the Earth, p. 127.
Washington Post Book World, January 18, 1987, Florence King, review of This Magic Moment, p. 6.*
National Review Online, http://www.nationalreview.com (c. 2003), Gregg Easterbrook, "Easterblogg."