Elsner, Alan 1954–

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Elsner, Alan 1954–


Born February 7, 1954.


Home— Washington, DC. E-mail— [email protected]


Writer, journalist. Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem, Israel, reporter, 1978-80; Reuters news agency, Jerusalem reporter, 1980-85, correspondent, London, England, 1985-87, chief correspondent for Nordic countries, 1987-89, State Department correspondent, 1989-94, chief political correspondent, 1994-2000, national correspondent, 2001-06. Instructor in journalism at colleges and universities around the world.


Knight International Press Fellowship, 2006.


Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America's Prisons, FT Prentice Hall (Upper Saddle River, NJ), 2004.

Guarded by Angels: How My Father and Uncle Survived Hitler and Cheated Stalin, Yad Vashem (New York, NY), 2005.

The Nazi Hunter(novel), Arcade Publishing (New York, NY), 2007.


American journalist Alan Elsner has reported from over forty countries and all fifty states in the years since he first became a reporter in the late 1970s. He has covered numerous Middle East crises, the final days of the Cold War, the Bill Clinton State Department, the turbulent 2000 U.S. presidential election, and the September 11, 2001, attacks. He has also written nonfiction books on topics from the penal system in the United States to a family memoir of how his Jewish father managed to survive World War II in Europe, though his grandparents were killed in the concentration camps. With his 2007 work,The Nazi Hunter, Elsner debuted as a novelist. Speaking with Bridget Johnson on the About.com: Journalism Web site, Elsner noted that his own sense of Jewish identity "has been fundamental to who I am as a person,… and the kind of work I've tried to do." Elsner further told Johnson: "I like to think that a passion for justice and the rights of the weak and powerless in the world has motivated me as a journalist and it continues to do so now as a novelist."

Elsner debuted as a book author with his 2005 expose,Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America's Prisons, "an eye-opening, gut wrenching reality check for any citizen of this country," according to C.R. Schultz writing on the Helium Web site. Elsner details failures and worse in the nation's prisons, from cells in one prison which had temperatures of 130 degrees, to ones overflowing with sewage. The nation's prison industry, costing almost fifty billion dollars annually, was shown to be in a desperate state by Elsner's reportage.

In Guarded by Angels: How My Father and Uncle Survived Hitler and Cheated Stalin, Elsner presents a memoir of survival. Here he tells the story of how his father managed to cheat both the Nazi death camps and the Soviet gulag. With The Nazi Hunter, he turned to fiction. This thriller features Marek Cain, a member of the U.S. Justice Department whose specialty is tracking down Nazis. When a woman offers to give him some documents involving the notorious concentration camp of Belzec in Poland, Cain is very interested. Not only did half a million Jews lose their lives there, but that was also where his own grandparents died. The next day, however, this mysterious informant is found dead and the trail leads to Argentina and to a famous baritone. En route to uncovering this old Nazi, Cain must also deal with a neo-Nazi bombing plot in what a Publishers Weekly critic termed a "gripping debut thriller." A Kirkus Reviews contributor was less enthusiastic, citing "workaday prose" and "an embarrassing romantic subplot." However, the same reviewer felt that Elsner makes up for such shortcomings by an "intriguing protagonist, terrifying historical lessons and a well-orchestrated, pulse-pounding conclusion." Similarly, Marty Dodge, writing for the Blogcritics Web site, found The Nazi Hunter "a nice pacey thriller," while Curled Up with a Good Book Web site contributor Camden Alexander termed it "a brilliant novel that mixes imagination based on the neo-Nazi hate and gut-wrenching facts about the original Nazi monsters."

Speaking with Johnson, Elsner explained some of the difficulties and differences in shifting from journalism to fiction: "I do believe in good, tight, terse, taut writing in any genre but I had to learn how to pace myself in fiction, how not to give away too much information all at once but to dole it out bit by bit as the story developed.… In fiction, I learned the power of suggestion, of allusion, of revealing things slowly. It's been a very rewarding experience and I see my future more and more as a novelist."

Elsner told CA: "I have been writing since childhood. I began a daily journal in 1969 and kept it up for years. I have also been an avid reader since childhood and I guess I have always been passionate about journalism. Initially, I became a journalist hoping to have the chance to cover major events, meet some of the key personalities of our times, and be an eyewitness to history. Later, I started writing fiction as a way of distilling some of the lessons I have learned in life and highlighting themes that have become important to me.

"My family history and Jewish identity are particularly important to my writing and my sense of history. I am interested in how individuals in extreme situations, facing oppression or totalitarianism, manage to retain their humanity and find ways to resist and assert their freedom. Another important theme in my work is historical justice.

"I tend to write in short bursts of an hour or two and then reflect on what I've written for the next several hours. I go back and polish again and again. I aim for clear prose, simple sentences, and active, punchy English.

"The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer is that I have the ability to move people—I wasn't sure I could.

"I hope my books will entertain, move, educate, and leave the readers feeling that they have taken a worthwhile journey that has left them a little wiser than when they began."



Elsner, Alan,Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America's Prisons, FT Prentice Hall (Upper Saddle River, NJ), 2004.


City Limits, July 1, 2004, review of Gates of Injustice, p. 36.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2007, review of The Nazi Hunter.

Publishers Weekly, May 7, 2007, review of The Nazi Hunter, p. 44.

Washington Lawyer, September, 2004, Barton S. Aronson, review of Gates of Injustice, p. 38.


About.com: Journalism,http://journalism.about.com/ (November 6, 2007), Bridget Johnson, "Q & A: Alan Elsner."

Alan Elsner Home Page,http://www.alanelsner.com (November 6, 2007).

Blogcritics,http://www.blogcritics.org/ (October 12, 2007), Marty Dodge, review of The Nazi Hunter.

Curled Up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (November 6, 2007), Camden Alexander, review of The Nazi Hunter.

Helium,http://www.helium.com/ (November 6, 2007), C.R. Schultz, review of Gates of Injustice.