Fallows, James M. 1949- (James Fallows, James Mackenzie Fallows, Jim Fallows)
Fallows, James M. 1949- (James Fallows, James Mackenzie Fallows, Jim Fallows)
Born August 2, 1949, in Philadelphia, PA; son of James Albert (a physician) and Jean Fallows; married Deborah Jean Zerad, June 22, 1971; children: Thomas Mackenzie, Tad Andrew. Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1970; Queen's College, Oxford, diploma in economic development, 1972.
Office—The Atlantic Monthly, The Watergate, 600 NH Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20037.
Writer, editor, journalist, and columnist. Harvard Crimson, Cambridge, MA, president, 1969; Washington Monthly, Washington, DC, editor, 1972-74; Texas Monthly, Austin, TX, associate editor, 1974-76; chief speech writer for President Jimmy Carter, Washington, DC, 1977-79; Atlantic Monthly, Boston, MA, Washington editor, 1979-86, Asian correspondent, 1986-90, Washington, DC, editor, 1990-96, national correspondent, 1998—; U.S. News & World Report, Washington, DC, editor, 1996-98. National commentator, National Public Radio, 1987—. Worked as a software designer for Microsoft. New America Foundation, chairman of the board.
National Book Critics Circle Award for general nonfiction finalist, 1982, and National Book Award in general nonfiction, 1983, both for Na-tional Defense; National Magazine Award, for article "The Fifty First State" and four-time finalist; American Book Award; Rhodes Scholar.
The Water Lords, Grossman (New York, NY), 1971.
(With Mark J. Green and David Zwick) Who Runs Congress?, Bantam (New York, NY), 1972.
(Editor, with Charles Peters) The System, Praeger (New York, NY), 1976.
(Editor, with Charles Peters) Inside the System, Praeger (New York, NY), 1976.
An Old Capital and a New President, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1979.
National Defense, Random House (New York, NY), 1981.
Human Capital: The Cultural Sources of America's Economic Decline—and Rebirth, Random House (New York, NY), 1988.
More like Us: Making America Great Again, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1989.
Japanese Education: What Can It Teach American Schools?, Educational Research Service (Arlington, VA), 1990.
Looking at the Sun: The Rise of the New East Asian Economic and Political System, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1994.
Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1996.
Free Flight: From Airline Hell to a New Age of Travel, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 2001, published as Free Flight: Inventing the Future of Travel, BBS PublicAffairs (New York, NY), 2002.
Blind into Baghdad: America's War in Iraq, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Author of "Techno-Files" column, New York Times; author of technology column, Atlantic Monthly; chief columnist, Industry Standard. Author of the blog James Fallows Web Log.
James M. Fallows, an editor at the Atlantic Monthly and a speech writer for President Jimmy Carter, is known for his insightful analysis of sociopolitical issues. Fallows has served as Washington, DC, editor, Asian correspondent, and national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, and many of his book-length works began as articles for that publication. While uniquely positioned to be a "Washington insider," he has been a staunch advocate of journalism in the public interest as opposed to following the cult of celebrity that motivates many in the modern media. New Leader contributor Douglas A. Irwin called Fallows "one of this country's most thoughtful journalists."
Fallows's first book, a report of the findings that Ralph Nader's study group disclosed on an environmental crisis in Savannah, Georgia, titled The Water Lords, earned critical praise for its objectivity and thorough research. In a Library Journal review, H.T. Armistead called the book "a well-researched account of corporate indifference and cynicism towards the considerable filth discharged into water, land, and air." Since publication of The Water Lords in 1971, Fallows has continued to explore both social and political issues in his works, achieving critical praise due to his fluid prose and balanced perspective.
Fallows received a great deal of attention for his timely analysis of U.S. government defense spending in National Defense. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote in the New York Times: "I wish everyone who knows the alphabet would read James Fallows's National Defense, a succinct analysis of the United States' present military status." The critic praised Fallows for having "pitched an emotional subject on such an unusually commonsensical level." Fallows argues that the issue of national defense in the U.S. revolves around how much is spent, rather than the quality and effectiveness of the weapons purchased. It could well be the case, asserts Fallows, that spending less might produce a stronger arsenal if defense dollars were allocated along more practical, and less theoretical, lines. Fallows explains his conclusions in terms of the checkered histories of two U.S. weapons systems—the M-16 rifle and the F-16 fighter plane.
National Defense garnered praise from a wide range of reviewers, many of whom complimented Fallows on having re-shaped the terms of the defense-spending debate. Following the 1981 publication, the work won a National Book Award for general nonfiction in 1983. In the Nation, Thomas Powers commented: "Fallows has managed to transcend the standard alternatives in debate on military matters—more, bigger and better to keep the Russians at bay; or universal disarmament, the abolition of war and the brotherhood of man." Powers called the book "sane, sensible, thoroughly balanced and profoundly original."
Fallows moved his family to Japan to witness the economic success of that country, and he also visited Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indochina in order to gain several different perspectives on Japanese culture before writing More like Us: Making America Great Again. He believes that Americans should not imitate Japan, as many economists and other experts have suggested, but should instead reinforce native cultural strengths like rugged individualism and a commitment to democratic ideals. To support this claim, Fallows tells three uniquely American success stories in which individuals triumph through personal effort and perseverance. A reviewer in the Los Angeles Times Book Review summed up Fallows's argument this way: "We should not try to become more like the Japanese, … more orderly and self-denying. We should become more like ourselves—hence, the title—more free-swinging, democratic and risky."
Although reviewers tended to find the discussion of the problem persuasive, several faulted the conclusions that Fallows draws. Fallows argues against the privileging of I.Q. tests and grades, which, he believes, create an educational meritocracy that erodes the sense of possibility among U.S. students. Many of his ideas have political counterparts or consequences. For example, Fallows proposes that the draft should be restored so that minorities and the poor will no longer have to fight wars like Vietnam, while the more affluent and educated members of their generation obtain draft deferments. Robert B. Reich described More like Us as "a provocative, puzzling, and faintly jingoistic book" in his New Republic review. According to Reich, Fallows begins with a strong argument for the mobility and opportunity of American culture, only to backtrack when he examines the class barriers and educational problems that plague this country.
The Los Angeles Times reviewer reached a similar conclusion, noting that while Fallows probes "good, even radical questions," his remedies are hollow and commonplace. Reviewing More like Us in Chicago Tribune Books, William Neikirk sympathized with Fallows's argument, but he ultimately found it naive. He wrote, "While Fallows' call for a renewal of American culture and a return to America's individualistic roots is touching, I am not sure it suffices as a real solution to the nation's economic problems."
Similar debate arose with the publication of Looking at the Sun: The Rise of the New East Asian Economic and Political System. Fallows again traveled extensively through Asia to conduct his research on economic growth in the Far East, and he wrote his book in order to illustrate how capitalism in Japan differs from capitalism in the West. New Leader correspondent Douglas A. Irwin explained that Fallows "has written a provocative book on the politics and economics of East Asia, particularly Japan. Americans, he contends, are unable to accept that the more an Asian nation has rejected Western ideals concerning individual rights and free markets, the greater has been its growth and development. His message, finally, is that unless we come to terms with the true sources of Asia's prosperity, our own worldwide political and economic leadership will erode." Fallows blends economic theory with history and anecdote to prove that the Japanese in particular will continue to prosper—perhaps at the expense of American interests.
Looking at the Sun was widely reviewed, and some critics felt that Fallows's arguments were simplistic. In Fortune, for example, Lee Smith argued: "From [a] shaky premise, [Fallows] takes a series of giant leaps." Richard Hornick, writing in Time, suggested that the author "mars an otherwise impressive array of facts and anecdotes by omitting materials that could dilute his arguments." Nevertheless, Hornick contended that the book offers "something far more authentic than clichés about geishas and salarymen." Other reviewers noted that Americans would be well served to heed Fallows's observations. Nation essayist James North called the book "an act of intellectual courage in which [Fallows] uses his experience in Asia to break convincingly with the neoliberal orthodoxy about economic development. He has gracefully written an ambitious, massively researched and reported survey…. Fallows's main argument will be hard to refute. His greatest strength is that he is first of all a reporter who trooped all over Asia…. Instead of sitting in an editorial office and using classical textbooks to deduce how Asians behave, he went to steel mills, government offices, and banks, asking questions and listening to answers." In the Washington Monthly, Michael Crichton concluded: "It is increasingly clear that the West has failed to understand what the Asian economies are doing, and why they have succeeded so spectacularly for so long. And it is increasingly agreed—if only in private—that traditional Western economic thinking cannot adequately explain the Asian success…. In Looking at the Sun, James Fallows has given a clear, elegantly stated contribution to that new and emerging debate. It is … an exceptional effort, and a great gift."
In the 1990s, Fallows became increasingly disillusioned with the changes in news reporting in America. His work Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy finds fault with the fourth estate on a variety of issues, from the celebrity status of newscasters and political pundits to the salacious coverage of scandals that have no pertinence to wider public interest. While the thoughts presented in Breaking the News are not unique to that book, the volume was hailed as a serious statement because Fallows is such a respected journalist. According to Raymond A. Schroth in Commonweal, the work "has become a media phenomenon itself. Widely reviewed and debated, Fallows's thesis that the media now fail to fulfill their basic function in a democratic society has provoked a year-long stir among his colleagues and adversaries." Folio contributor Lorraine Calvacca likewise noted the "barrage of vociferous reviews" that Breaking the News received. In Nieman Reports, Lorie Hearn wrote: "If it's a journalist's job to afflict the comfortable, James Fallows has succeeded…. The irony is the comfortable people he's afflicting are journalists."
Many of the journalists who reviewed Breaking the News welcomed its insights. American Journalism Review contributor Carl Sessions Stepp deemed it an "important, well-timed book that should give a shove to the gathering momentum toward press reform." Stepp added that Fallows "writes with crystalline clarity and immense insight, and perceptively lays out the issues. It significantly escalates the debate for a mainstream journalist of his stature to turn on his own culture, reject the shopworn apologies for its failings and demand change." Quill correspondent Chris Petrakos called Breaking the News "the best in a long line of recent books that have attempted to diagnose and offer a prescription for what ails the contemporary media…. What Fallows brings to the table, much more so than previous observers, is a genuine sense of crisis." In National Civic Review Ron King described Fallows as "an erudite reporter" and Breaking the News as "required reading for anyone tracking the quiet revolt that seems to be bubbling up in modern journalism." The critic concluded: "Rarely has such a studious, analytical, and prominent reporter offered such a heartfelt mea culpa on behalf of his profession." Whether or not an individual reviewer agreed with his conclusions, many have acknowledged that Fallows makes a clear and provocative case for his views.
In Free Flight: From Airline Hell to a New Age of Travel, Fallows "argues with grace, passion, and thorough reporting that we are at the dawn of a new era in aviation," in the words of James R. Gaines, writing for the New York Times Book Review. In this book, Fallows envisions a future of personal airplanes and a national air taxi fleet. Gaines saw these ideas as "purely fanciful," but other reviewers thought differently. A reviewer for the Economist thought the book "delightful," and Washington Monthly reviewer Alan Ehrenhalt called it "intriguing" and wrote that he hoped Fallows's ideas would come into being.
Blind into Baghdad: America's War in Iraq, contains a series of five essays by Fallows, collected from pieces he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly, that look carefully at the Bush administration's planning for, and execution of, the war in Iraq. Working closely with inside sources and drawing heavily from declassified documents, Fallows "systematically chronicle[s] the mendacity, insularity, and incompetence of the Bush administration while developing and implementing its Iraq policy," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. He clearly shows that pre-war intelligence was sufficient to discourage the war or, at worst, ameliorate some of the worst effects of the war. For example, tenuous theories of connections between Iraq and the September eleventh attacks, as well as unreliable reports of huge stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction—long since thoroughly discredited—were flimsy excuses for war. Fallows also wonders how the administration could have overlooked other information about internal strife within Iraq that would make occupation by outsiders problematic. However, he notes that all of this vital information was ignored by upper members of the administration, including secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, who also ordered his subordinates to disregard these important facts. Fallows also discusses the effects the Iraq war have had on operations in Afghanistan, where foreign enemies who have actually struck the United States are reportedly hiding. The lack of development of an Iraqi army in the aftermath of the American occupation of that country is also a matter of concern to Fallows. He looks back at anticipated results and expected outcomes of the Iraq war with "uncanny accuracy, which raises even more questions about the administration's inability to foresee the difficulties of occupying Iraq," remarked Booklist reviewer Vanessa Bush.
"Fallows's articles are marvels of clarity and careful thinking," remarked Claire Rosser, writing in Kliatt. "By virtue of cautious, patient reporting, Fallows anticipated some of the Iraq war's missteps," arriving at his conclusions "before the journalistic pack," stated Mick Sussman in the New York Times Book Review.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, November 12, 1994, Bernadette Lanciaux, review of Looking at the Sun: The Rise of the New East Asian Economic and Political System, p. 25.
American Journalism Review, March, 1996, Carl Sessions Stepp, review of Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy, p. 46; November, 1996, Alicia C. Shepard, "Walking the Walk," p. 40.
Argumentation and Advocacy, fall, 1996, Craig A. Dudczak, review of Breaking the News, p. 105.
Atlantic Monthly, January, 1995, Chalmers Johnson, review of Looking at the Sun, p. 99.
Booklist, September 15, 2006, Vanessa Bush, review of Blind into Baghdad: America's War in Iraq, p. 18.
Business Week, August 13, 2001, "Air Taxis: More than a Flight of Fancy," p. 16.
Columbia Journalism Review, March-April, 1996, Ellen Hume, review of Breaking the News, p. 49.
Commonweal, October 11, 1996, Raymond A. Schroth, review of Breaking the News, p. 27.
Economist, July 21, 2001, "The Way We Fly Now: Air Travel."
Editor & Publisher, February 24, 1996, Hiley Ward, review of Breaking the News, p. 24.
Folio, May 15, 1996, Lorraine Calvacca, "The State of the Fourth Estate," p. 18.
Foreign Affairs, September-October, 1994, Michael M. Mochizuki, review of Looking at the Sun, p. 126.
Fortune, June 13, 1994, Lee Smith, review of Looking at the Sun, p. 148.
Insight on the News, February 19, 1996, Alan Tonelson, review of Breaking the News, p. 30.
International Affairs, April, 1997, Mark Urban, review of Breaking the News, p. 363.
Kliatt, November, 2006, Claire Rosser, review of Blind into Baghdad, p. 38.
Library Journal, October 15, 1971, H.T. Armistead, review of The Water Lords.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 26, 1989, review of More like Us: Making America Great Again.
Nation, June 6, 1981, Thomas Powers, review of National Defense; June 13, 1994, James North, review of Looking at the Sun, p. 841; February 5, 1996, Jay Rosen, review of Breaking the News, p. 25.
National Civic Review, winter-spring, 1996, Ron King, review of Breaking the News, p. 43.
National Interest, summer, 1994, Eric Jones, review of Looking at the Sun, p. 95.
New Leader, October 10, 1994, Douglas A. Irwin, review of Looking at the Sun, p. 17.
New Republic, April 3, 1989, Robert B. Reich, review of More like Us; April 18, 1994, Ian Buruma, review of Looking at the Sun, p. 32.
New Yorker, July 13, 1981; August 13, 2001, review of Free Flight: From Airline Hell to a New Age of Travel, p. 81.
New York Times, June 9, 1981, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of National Defense.
New York Times Book Review, July 15, 2001, James R. Gaines, "Airports for Everybody," p. 7; December 24, 2006, Mick Sussman, "Nonfiction Chronicle," review of Blind into Baghdad, p. 16.
Nieman Reports, spring, 1996, Lorie Hearn, review of Breaking the News, p. 85.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, fall, 1997, Mark J. Rozell, review of Breaking the News, p. 858.
Public Interest, spring, 1994, Ira Carnahan, review of Looking at the Sun, p. 116.
Publishers Weekly, January 15, 1996, Nathalie Op de Beeck, "James Fallows: Critiquing His Own Profession," p. 438; July 10, 2006, review of Blind Into Baghdad, p. 64.
Quill, March, 1996, Chris Petrakos, review of Breaking the News, p. 36.
Technology Review, October, 1994, Eamonn Fingleton, review of Looking at the Sun, p. 67.
Time, June 6, 1994, Richard Hornik, review of Looking at the Sun, p. 68; January 22, 1996, Walter Isaacson, review of Breaking the News, p. 68.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), March 26, 1989, William Neikirk, review of More like Us.
USA Today, March, 1997, Raymond L. Fischer, review of Breaking the News, p. 96.
Washington Monthly, April, 1994, Michael Crichton, review of Looking at the Sun, p. 54; January-February, 1996, Amy Waldman, review of Breaking the News, p. 43; September, 2001, Alan Ehrenhalt, review of Free Flight, p. 55.
Atlantic Online,http://www.theatlantic.com/ (April 10, 2007), biography of James M. Fallows.
James Fallows Home Page,http://www.jamesfallows.com (April 10, 2007).