Feiler, Bruce 1964-
Feiler, Bruce 1964-
Born October 25, 1964, in Savannah, GA; son of Edwin J. Jr. (a developer) and Jane (a small business owner) Feiler; married; children: more than one. Education: Attended Kansai Gaidai University, 1986, and University of Oslo, 1989; Yale University, B.A. (cum laude), 1987; Clare College, Cambridge, M.Phil., 1991.
Taught English and American culture at a junior high school in Sano, Japan, 1987-88; Kyodo News Service, Tokyo, Japan, reporter, 1988-89; writer, 1991—; worked as a clown for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, 1993. Correspondent for All Things Considered on National Public Radio.
Authors Guild, Authors League of America, PEN.
ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for Excellence in Music Journalism; Culinary Professionals Award for Excellence in Food Journalism; three James Beard Awards for food and restaurant writing; Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan was named one of the best books of 1991 by the New York Public Library; Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths was named a best book of the year by the Christian Science Monitor, Publishers Weekly, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble book sellers.
Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1991, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Looking for Class: Seeking Wisdom and Romance at Oxford and Cambridge, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.
Under the Big Top: A Season with the Circus, Scribner (New York, NY), 1995.
Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses, Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.
Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, Morrow (New York, NY), 2002.
Walking the Bible: An Illustrated Journey for Kids Through the Greatest Stories Ever Told, illustrated by Sasha Meret, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Walking the Bible: A Photographic Journey, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2005.
Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including the Washington Post, Gourmet, New York Times, New Republic, and USA Today. Contributing editor, Gourmet magazine. Walking the Bible has been translated into fifteen languages.
Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths and Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land through the Five Books of Moses were both adapted as television documentary miniseries in 2005; Feiler served as coproducer for both series.
Bruce Feiler is a journalist with a wide range of interests and a sense of adventure. His books document his experiences in such varied venues as a middle school in Japan and the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. He has also examined the country music industry and the connection between Old Testament stories and their historical sites in the Middle East. According to Richard Bernstein in the New York Times, Feiler "proves to be an excellent guide and a worthy wrestler." Feiler's books fall into two categories: those that document his experiences abroad and those that chronicle his travels in America. All of his books seek to explore certain cultures, from the music industry in Nashville to the rarified environment of Cambridge University.
The Yale-educated Feiler ventured first to Japan as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching program sponsored by that country's Ministry of Education. He was sent to a rural town outside Tokyo, whose fifty thousand residents had little previous contact with Westerners. Feiler's year as a teacher at the junior high school in Sano is detailed in Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan. The author describes the insights that he gained into Japanese culture from his experiences with both his students and his new friends. Feiler writes of his difficult adjustment to life in Japan as well as his relationships with teachers at the school and with other Japanese. Such anecdotes, wrote Washington Post Book World contributor Robert A. Rosenstone, "exemplify the high accomplishment of Learning to Bow, one of those rare books that shows the Japanese as fully rounded human beings, and their nation and social system as no fuller of contradictions than our own."
Feiler next ventured into one of the world's most prestigious university systems and wrote of the experience in Looking for Class: Seeking Wisdom and Romance at Oxford and Cambridge. He relates his experiences upon entering Clare College at Cambridge University to study international relations. At the eight-hundred-year-old institution, Feiler encountered a unique enclave steeped in tradition and maintaining a precise code of social conduct. He writes of the tea breaks, formal dances, rowing, and debaucheries involving sex and alcohol that are common facets of Cambridge and Oxford collegiate life.
As with Learning to Bow, the author recounts his difficulty in adjusting to a foreign culture, a period fraught with exasperating incidents and humorous revelations, and also chronicles his experience with British English. In addition, Feiler was able to experience Oxford University through a romantic involvement with a Canadian student. Looking for Class concludes with Feiler comparing what he learned at Cambridge and Oxford with his experiences in Japan. Simon Sebag Montefiore, writing in the New York Times Book Review, expressed some disappointment with Looking for Class, noting that Feiler "serves up a feast of clichés that underestimates both the complexity of British society and the sophistication of American readers."
After spending so many years abroad, Feiler returned to America and, in 1993, accepted a job as a clown for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. If he originally thought a position with the circus would enable him to see the country and work with exotic people, Feiler soon discovered that he was laboring long hours amongst a staff of coworkers with problems common to average Americans. Nevertheless, Under the Big Top: A Season with the Circus details the circus subculture, with its routines and occasional tragedies. Entertainment Weekly contributor Erica K. Cardozo found the book to be "a colorful, sometimes unsettling, pageant of circus life." In Publishers Weekly, a reviewer concluded: "This warm and affectionate memoir is pleasantly entertaining."
Having grown up in the South, Feiler holds great affection for country music. His 1998 title, Dreaming out Loud: Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd, Wade Hayes, and the Changing Face of Nashville, examines the music industry in Nashville and uncovers both its merits and its defects. Using the artists in the subtitle as examples of the varied aspects of the business, Feiler "takes us beyond obvious excesses and limitations, and develops a durable snapshot of country music as situated in American popular culture," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. On the Salon.com Web site, Stephanie Zacharek commented: "Journalist Bruce Feiler loves country music, but he's also willing to face up to its unsavoriness, and that's what makes ‘Dreaming out Loud’ so riveting. … Feiler's a born storyteller, a craftsman and a cut-up—in short, he's the genuine article."
In the late 1990s Feiler was inspired to visit the Middle East in search of archaeological evidence for the stories presented in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses would be the first of many books the author would write in which he would travel to ancient lands, conduct research, and delve into religious questions springing from the Bible and other holy texts. The book details the author's tour of sites in Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, accompanied by an archaeologist, in search of the lands of Moses, Abraham, Jacob, and other Biblical figures. "Readers who find Westerners' encounters with the Holy Land enchanting will cherish this book," declared a Publishers Weekly reviewer. New York Times critic Richard Bernstein felt that the most important aspect of the work is the author's resurgence of spirituality as he confronts the ancient past. Bernstein observed that Feiler "has put an enormous amount of information into this book and has invested it with a keen intellectual curiosity, so that we learn a great deal about the spiritual meaning of the Bible and the centuries of speculation about it as a historical document. Most of all, Mr. Feiler achieves for his readers what he set out to achieve for himself: to ground the Bible in real soil and in real history and, in so doing, demonstrate its amazing vitality."
Feiler would soon complement Walking the Bible with a version for young readers titled Walking the Bible: An Illustrated Journey for Kids Through the Greatest Stories Ever Told, as well as with Walking the Bible: A Photographic Journey. The original Walking the Bible would also be adapted as a television documentary. To adapt the text for young readers, the author shortened it considerably, making cuts that Booklist critic Ilene Cooper feared were "made with a hacksaw," though she concluded that "readers won't be disappointed by the material." Writing for School Library Journal, Patricia D. Lothrop asserted that Feiler "largely succeeds in slimming rather than dumbing down his account" for children.
With the continuing violence in the Middle East, much of it stemming from religious—as well as tribal—hatreds, Feiler's next book, Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, proves timely. Employing his now established strategy of venturing into the Middle East to interview religious leaders and ordinary people, the author repeatedly risked his life in the war-torn region. His mission was to find out how and why three religions that all claim the biblical Abraham as their founding figure have come to follow such different paths and to fall into such desperate conflicts. Referring to his considerable research, including readings of the Bible and Qur'an, the author relates as much as is known about Abraham, who lived some four thousand years ago, whose life is now shrouded in myth. He goes on to relate how each of the three major religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—have chosen to interpret the life and lessons of Abraham in their own way to the advantage of their own faiths.
"Feiler's evolving understanding of the Abraham story and how it has been shaped historically by political and social considerations emboldens him to construct his own version of Abraham," reported Joel Streicker in his Midstream review. He continued: "Rather than seeing Abraham as an oasis of faithfulness or comfort in a harsh world, he sees Abraham as an ‘ever-present, ever-flowing stream that represents the basic desire of all people to form a union with God.’" The author goes on to assert that today's faiths have gone astray from the original message found in Abraham, the original monotheist, and concludes that "the idea that there can be one exclusive Abrahamic religion is dead," as a Christian Century writer related. Observing that more and more people of all faiths are starting to tolerate other beliefs, Feiler is optimistic that Muslims, Jews, and Christians will one day find peace in a common ground. While Streicker felt that "Feiler's attempts to link directly the Abraham story with current political realities feel flat-footed," America critic Michael McGarry believed that Abraham is a good starting point for readers trying to understand the current fighting. McGarry also remarked: "Feiler is not a biblical scholar, but he has engaged some of the right people. He has interpreted them correctly and translated them appropriately for the more popular audience he seeks, and deserves, to reach."
Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion asks whether religions are a source of conflict in the world or if they can be a means for finding peace. Along the way, Feiler adds personal notes to the text about his reconnection with his Jewish roots and his feelings about organized religion. Denouncing extremists of any religion, he calls for moderates to make their voices heard and repeats the optimism of his previous books that peace will eventually come to the Middle East. Highly recommending the book in her America review, Olga Bonfiglio called the author "a trustworthy and honest guide. … Throughout his journey he consults the Bible and finds reliable sources who can elaborate on the history, archeology, language and architecture of places that have been the center of religion, values, morality and civilization itself." A Kirkus Reviews contributor, who found Feiler's descriptions of the dangers he faced while in Iraq particularly riveting, felt that the author's conclusions "don't seem adequate to the task of unsnarling the knot of religion and violence, [but] they will nonetheless leave readers with a warm fuzzy feeling." Library Journal reviewer Sandra Collins concluded that readers who enjoyed Feiler's previous books will like "this quick and readable one, too."
Feiler once told CA: "I was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia. For the first eighteen years of my life I thought nothing of that. Savannah, as far as I was concerned, was just as American as any place else. In 1983 I left home to attend Yale University. Suddenly I was odd. ‘Oh, you're from Georgia,’ my classmates would say. ‘Do you have running water?’ ‘Where do you keep your slaves?’ On the surface they were joking, of course, but this triggered a long process over the next four years of exploring the South and regional differences in America. Little did I know, but this process of being an outsider inside a strange place, in this case a Southerner in the North, would become a driving force behind my work.
"After graduating from college I wanted to continue this process, this time by being an American abroad. I chose Japan and three years later wrote Learning to Bow, an account of life in a small Japanese village as seen from the eyes of an American teacher. Following my experience in Japan I moved to England; after being a teacher I was ready to return to school. That experience became the basis for my second book, Looking for Class, an exposé of one of the world's most prestigious academic institutions and an examination of contemporary English life.
"After five years abroad and two books, I was ready at last to come home to America. What better way to explore American culture, I thought, than from the back lot of a circus. In 1993 I fulfilled a childhood dream and ran away to join a circus. My book from that experience is called Under the Big Top."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, February 17, 2003, Olga Bonfiglio, "A Sacred Trek," review of Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses, p. 25; April 28, 2003, Michael McGarry, "‘Our’ Father," review of Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, p. 22; November 7, 2005, Olga Bonfiglio, "Travel to the Center," review of Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion, p. 32.
Anglican Journal, December, 2002, review of Abraham, p. 14.
Booklist, October 1, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Walking the Bible: An Illustrated Journey for Kids Through the Greatest Stories Ever Told, p. 341.
Children's Digest, January-February, 2005, Bruce Feiler, review of Walking the Bible: An Illustrated Journey for Kids Through the Greatest Stories Ever Told, p. 10.
Christian Century, May 3, 2003, review of Abraham, p. 44.
Entertainment Weekly, June 2, 1995, Erica K. Cardozo, "Send in the Clowns: An Inside Look at the Greatest Show on Earth," p. 52; April 3, 1998, Ken Tucker, review of Dreaming out Loud: Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd, Wade Hayes, and the Changing Face of Nashville, p. 86.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2001, review of Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses, p. 91; July 15, 2002, review of Abraham, p. 1006; June 15, 2005, review of Where God Was Born, p. 671.
Library Journal, September 1, 2005, Sandra Collins, review of Where God Was Born, p. 148.
Midstream, January, 2003, Joel Streicker, "An Excellent Adventure by Land Through ‘Four’ Books of Moses," review of Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses, p. 43; November-December, 2005, Joel Streicker, "Promising Too Much, or Seeking in the Wrong Place?," review of Abraham, p. 41.
National Catholic Reporter, October 11, 2002, Dianne Bergant, "The Story of Abraham's Three Families: Author Takes Vivid Look at Patriarch's Legacy," review of Abraham, p. 18.
Newsweek, April 2, 2001, David Gates, "The Holy Land, by the Book: Trudging Sacred Spaces," p. 60.
New York Times, April 4, 2001, Richard Bernstein, "Transformed on the Trail of the Patriarchs."
New York Times Book Review, October 31, 1993, Simon Sebag Montefiore, review of Looking for Class: Seeking Wisdom and Romance at Oxford and Cambridge, p. 20; July 23, 1995, Jean Hanff Korelitz, review of Under the Big Top: A Season with the Circus, p. 14.
Presbyterian Record, February, 2003, Solange De Santis, "‘Unlikely Messenger’ Promotes Respect among Abrahamic Faiths," review of Abraham, p. 38.
Publishers Weekly, June 14, 1991, review of Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan, p. 51; April 24, 1995, review of Under the Big Top, p. 54; March 2, 1998, review of Dreaming out Loud, p. 53; February 12, 2001, review of Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses, p. 200; July 11, 2005, review of Where God Was Born, p. 86.
School Library Journal, November, 2004, Patricia D. Lothrop, review of Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses, p. 162; April, 2005, review of Walking the Bible: An Illustrated Journey for Kids Through the Greatest Story Ever Told, p. S47.
Washington Post Book World, September 22, 1991, Robert A. Rosenstone, review of Learning to Bow, pp. 3-4.
Whole Earth Review, winter, 1994, Melissa White, review of Learning to Bow, p. 77.
Bruce Feiler Home Page,http://www.brucefeiler.com (August 30, 2006).
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (April 12, 2001), Stephanie Zacharek, review of Dreaming out Loud.
Washington Post Online,http://www.washingtonpost.com/ (September 20, 2005), interview with Bruce Feiler.