Freedland, Jonathan 1967- (Sam Bourne)
Freedland, Jonathan 1967- (Sam Bourne)
Born February 25, 1967; children: Jacob and Sam. Education: Wadham College, Oxford University, B.A. (honors), 1989.
Office—Guardian, 119 Farringdon Rd., London EC1R 3ER, England. E-mail—[email protected]
Journalist and writer. Sunday Correspondent, reporter, 1989-90; Washington Post, reporter, 1992; BBC News and Current Affairs, reporter, 1990-93; Guardian, England, Washington correspondent, 1993-97, columnist and editorial writer, 1997—; also columnist for the Jewish Chronicle; The Long View history series, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio 4, presenter. Has appeared on multiple television programs, including The Talk Show (BBC 4), 2002-03.
Laurence Stern Fellowship, Washington Post, 1992; Somerset Maugham prize for nonfiction, 1999, for Bring Home the Revolution; Columnist of the Year, What the Papers Say Awards, 2002.
Bring Home the Revolution: The Case for a British Republic, Fourth Estate (London, England), 1999.
Jacob's Gift: A Journey into the Heart of Belonging (memoir), Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 2005.
(As Sam Bourne) The Righteous Men (novel), HarperCollins (London, England), 2006.
Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for the British Guardian; after living in Washington, DC, he examined British political life and wrote about his conclusions in Bring Home the Revolution: The Case for a British Republic. As Albert Scardino pointed out in the New Statesman: "The tree of liberty, the Virginian aristocrat Thomas Jefferson argued, needs refreshing from time to time with the blood of revolution. Britain has not experienced a revolution at home for more than 300 years. Jonathan Freedland thinks it's time, and he has one firmly in mind, the one Jefferson helped to start in the reign of George III."
Freedland's love for America is a tough sell in Britain, where, as a reviewer writing on the Centre for Citizenship Web site noted: "Contempt for Americans may be the only politically correct hatred left in Britain." American fast food and puerile action movies are used to justify this contempt, but as Freedland says, the best of America is not understood or appreciated in Britain—and it is the Britons' loss. The reviewer cited an American letter-writer to the Guardian, who remarked: "The English really only know approximately nine things about America, six of which are invariably incorrect."
Freedland believes that Britons should look past the fast food and popular culture to what America really has to offer: political enlightenment. He contends that Britain is no longer a true democracy, but what Scardino called "a dictatorship of parliament." When Freedland returned to England after four years in the United States, he was shocked to find abuses of government power and infringement of individual liberty there—such as police engaging in search and seizure without reason or warrant, juries convicting people who refuse to testify against themselves, assuming that silence equals guilt, and even the prospect of trial by jury being abolished in complex cases because some members of Parliament believed that ordinary people were not intelligent enough to understand the testimony.
Freedland believes that what Britain needs is more government—more elected officials, and more representatives who are responsible to the people, not the appointed, unelected officials currently in power. Freedland also believes that the monarchy must be abolished, since it is the basis of the class system prevalent in Britain. As Scardino remarked: "In a democracy, there is no place for hereditary power. The class system inspires a constant pursuit of superiority, rather than of excellence."
Because Britain does not have an equivalent of the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech in the United States, Freedland argues that true freedom does not exist there. In Britain, government documents belong to the crown and are often kept secret, merely for the convenience of those in power. Freedland concludes from this that "the British state much prefers darkness to light" and that the British government is uncomfortable with unregulated expression by its citizens. As the reviewer writing on the Centre for Citizenship Web site commented, in America the public record "is in plain language, accessible to all." The reviewer continued: "Many Britons are inclined to sneer at that, claiming to see in it an inability to meet European standards of linguistic agility. But Freedland notes that in a democracy where the people really exercise the power, … politicians have no choice but to speak the language of plain people. There is also a genuine social mobility in America that means that no one need accept the status into which they are born."
A reviewer writing in the Economist remarked that "Mr. Freedland is struck by a simple but pervasive fact of American life. In America, he says, power flows from the bottom up, not from the top down as in Britain." The reviewer added: "It takes a foreigner, especially perhaps one who has been reared on the various condescending British caricatures of Americans, to marvel at all of this. Americans take their robust democracy for granted and see only its defects. Mr. Freedland sees the defects too, but considers them a price worth paying."
Freedland thinks it would be easy for Britons to "bring the revolution home" and transplant American virtues in Britain, because the men who led the American Revolution were originally British. He argues that his book is about "making Britain the nation it was destined to be." The Economist contributor stated that change may be more difficult than Freedland imagines, but that on the other hand, "it may succeed in moving power from the state to the people and so completing the liberal revolution that Britain invented [but] which it only half implemented. Mr. Freedland has at least made an eloquent contribution to the case against timidity."
In his next book, Jacob's Gift: A Journey into the Heart of Belonging, the author presents a memoir about his own family, tracing it back three generations. He also delves into the meaning of identity and belonging, especially in terms of being Jewish. A contributor to the New Statesman called Jacob's Gift for the most part "a fascinating and moving family memoir." The author focuses his story primarily on his mother and on Nathan and Mick Mindel, Freedland's great uncles. "More truly poignant is the story of Sara," wrote the New Statesman contributor. "Freedland's mother is a woman who has known very deep sorrow, poverty, bereavement and illness." Marie Valla, writing in Newsweek International, commented that Freedland's mother was unable to "reconcile her strict religious upbringing with … [life's] trials."
Freedland decided to write his novel, the religious-historical thriller The Righteous Men, under the pseudonym of Sam Bourne. "If I stuck to my own name, booksellers might be confused," Freedland explained in an article in the Guardian. "Given what I had written before, they might be expecting The Righteous Men to be a tract on House of Lords reform or the Israel-Palestine conflict. There was also a hint [from the publishers] that ‘Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian’ might send the wrong message. I suspected I knew what that meant: pointy-head columnist for pointy-head newspaper—it doesn't exactly scream mass appeal."
The Righteous Men begins with the murder of a New York City pimp and a Montana militiaman. Journalist Will Monroe discovers that the seemingly unrelated murders have a commonality in that each man held similar secrets, including the fact that each was perceived as a bad man in life but, as it turns out, had performed numerous good deeds and may actually have been good. When Monroe's wife is kidnapped, he connects it to his investigation, which leads him to Brooklyn's Hasidic Jewish community and a legend of thirty-six righteous men who act selflessly so that the world can survive. As Monroe begins to investigate deeper, he finds that each of these men is turning up dead. Before long, he learns that the masterminds behind the plot belong to a sinister organization. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author "has done his homework" concerning ancient religious beliefs and rites. Stephanie Zvirin, writing in Booklist, called the novel "a dramatic, full-throttle adventure." Although a Kirkus Reviews contributor thought the novel somewhat convoluted, the reviewer went on to refer to it as "riveting." In a review in the Library Journal, Joy St. John noted the novel's "swiftly moving plot," adding that "the … action scenes and shocking twist … are sure to please."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Freedland, Jonathan, Jacob's Gift: A Journey into the Heart of Belonging, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 2005.
Booklist, August 1, 2006, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Righteous Men, p. 46.
Economist, July 4, 1998, review of Bring Home the Revolution: The Case for a British Republic, p. 86.
Guardian (London, England), March 29, 2006, "What's In a Pseudonym?"
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2006, review of The Righteous Men, p. 589.
Library Journal, July 1, 2006, Joy St. John, review of The Righteous Men, p. 61.
New Statesman, August 7, 1998, Albert Scardino, review of Bring Home the Revolution, pp. 44-45; April 25, 2005, review of Jacob's Gift, p. 50; July 3, 2006, review of The Righteous Men, p. 65.
Newsweek International, May 16, 2005, Marie Valla, review of Jacob's Gift, p. 63.
New York Times Book Review, September 10, 2006, Dwight Garner, "Inside the List," brief discussion of author's pseudonym.
Publishers Weekly, July, 17, 2006, review of The Righteous Men, p. 135.
Times Literary Supplement, September 4, 1998, Christopher Hitchens, review of Bring Home the Revolution, p. 28.
Centre for Citizenship,http://www.centreforcitizenship.org/ (March 8, 2007), review of Bring Home the Revolution.
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (March 8, 2007), information on author's television appearances.
Jonathan Freedland Home Page,http://www.jonathanfreedland.com (March 8, 2007).