Hammer, Joshua 1957-

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Hammer, Joshua 1957-


Born 1957. Education: Princeton University, B.A., 1979.


Home and office—Cape Town, South Africa. E-mail—[email protected]


Ashai Evening News, Tokyo, Japan, reporter and movie critic, 1979-80; People magazine, New York, NY, staff writer, 1982-85, contributing editor, 1985-88; Manhattan, Inc., New York, NY, contributing editor, 1985-88; Newsweek, general editor in New York, NY, 1988-93, bureau chief in Nairobi, Kenya, 1993-96, bureau chief in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1996-97, bureau chief in Los Angeles, CA, 1997-2000, bureau chief in Berlin, Germany, 1999-2000, bureau chief in Jerusalem, 2001-04, bureau chief in Africa and correspondent-at-large, 2005-06; freelance foreign correspondent, 2006—; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Nieman fellow, 2004-05.


Best Reporting award, Latin American Press Association, 1997; Los Angeles Times Book Award finalist, 1999, for Chosen by God; National Magazine Award finalist, 2003, for best reporting; Deadline Club Award, 2003, for best feature writing.


(With Rosemary Breslin) Gerry!: A Woman Making History (biography of Geraldine Ferraro), Pinnacle Books (New York, NY), 1984.

Chosen by God: A Brother's Journey (memoir), Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.

A Season in Bethlehem: Unholy War in a Sacred Place, Free Press (New York, NY), 2003.

Yokohama Burning: The Deadly 1923 Earthquake and Fire That Helped Forge the Path to World War II, Free Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including New Republic, Washington Monthly, Harper's, Seattle Times, New York Times Magazine, and Esquire.


After his graduation from Princeton University in 1979 with a degree in English, Joshua Hammer traveled throughout southeast Asia, Africa, and South America, learning to speak Japanese, French, and Spanish. To help finance his travels and yearnings to experience cultures other than his own, Hammer honed his skills as a freelance writer, contributing stories to magazines such as Esquire, Nation, GQ, Premiere, New York Times Magazine, and Los Angeles Times Magazine. He also worked as an English teacher and film critic in Japan.

Eventually Hammer settled down in New York City and, following in his father's footsteps, became a correspondent for the New York Times, as well as taking a job as a staff writer for People magazine. In 1988, Hammer obtained his first post at Newsweek magazine, where he began as a general editor for the business section. Five years later, Hammer, now a foreign correspondent for Newsweek, was appointed bureau chief in Nairobi, Kenya, becoming one of the magazine's key correspondents.

Hammer was transferred to South America in 1997, where he became Newsweek's bureau chief in Buenos Aires. After a brief stint as the magazine's bureau chief in Los Angeles in 1998, Hammer was again transferred to Europe in 1999, this time as bureau chief in Berlin, Germany. The following year, Hammer covered the upheaval in Kosovo.

In the midst of all his reportage from around the world, Hammer published a 1999 memoir, Chosen by God: A Brother's Journey. The work, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, explores Hammer's relationship with his younger brother, Tony, from whom Hammer had been estranged. In an excerpt from the book which was published in Newsweek, Hammer explained that he had decided to return to the United States in late 1997 after several years overseas, with the idea of "re-establishing contact with [my brother]." The two had maintained only minimal contact over the past twenty years. The break came, wrote Hammer, "shortly after Tony turned 21, when my brother seemed to shed his personality like an old skin." It was at this time that Hammer's brother "decided to devote his life to God … identifying himself with the ultra-Orthodox fringe of Judaism." At this point the two brothers' lives became, in Hammer's words, "something like mirror opposites." His brother eventually married, had six children and "rarely strayed from his community." Ham- mer continued: "As I reported on bodies piled high in Rwandan churches, child-killers in Liberia, paramilitary death squads in Colombia, the very idea of God seemed like an indulgence." It was this wide disparity between the brothers' lives that eventually drew Hammer in, as he became "intrigued" by the thought of the search for "common psychological denominators that seemed to underpin our divergent lives."

A Kirkus Reviews critic described Chosen by God as "a deeply affecting family memoir about the author's brother, who, within a matter of months, changed from a kind of hippie lost soul in Jerusalem to a baal teshuva (literally, ‘master of repentance’)—a newly pious Jew." Gilbert Taylor in Booklist wrote: "A memoir with understated emotional impact, Hammer's story potently explores the universals of sibling rivalry and religious commitment." Paul M. Kaplan, writing for Library Journal, referred to Chosen by God as "an insightful look at modern orthodox Jewish life from the inside." And a reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt that "[Hammer's] journalistic experience is evidenced by a well-written, accessible account and easy-to-read prose."

In A Season in Bethlehem: Unholy War in a Sacred Place, Hammer tells the story of the al-Aqsa intifada, focusing on the thirty-nine day siege by Israeli soldiers of Palestinian militants who seized the Church of the Nativity in April 2002. Hammer, who became Newsweek's bureau chief in Jerusalem in 2001, based his work on extensive interviews as well as his own reports on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. "Taking us behind the church's protective walls and well beyond what we saw on TV or read in the press," wrote Salon.com reviewer Christopher Farah, "Hammer's account of the siege thrusts us into the heart of the action—the clashing egos, the tense negotiations, the dwindling supplies of food, patience and sanity—and into the heart of what makes Israeli-Palestinian relations so frustrating and so hopeless." According to Booklist critic Bryce Christensen, "Hammer confronts readers with vexing questions about how longtime foes will ever make lasting peace."

Hammer's interest in early-twentieth century Japanese history led to his 2006 work Yokohama Burning: The Deadly 1923 Earthquake and Fire That Helped Forge the Path to World War II. On September 1, 1923, a massive earthquake and fire devastated the Japanese port city of Yokohama and much of Tokyo, killing 140,000 people and leaving millions more homeless. Following the disaster, Hammer contends, "the forces of imperialism took increasing control of the nation's agenda, and Japan began its march to war with the West," observed a critic in Kirkus Reviews. The author notes that Japanese authorities, intent on proving their own worth, stubbornly refused international relief aid, and he describes the xenophobic impulse that resulted in the slaughter of thousands of Korean immigrants at the hands of Japanese soldiers. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Jacob Heilbrunn stated that "Hammer goes beyond simply recounting the earthquake's aftermath to make a provocative and largely persuasive case that it marked a turning point in Japan's embrace of militant nationalism."



America's Intelligence Wire, August 18, 2003, John Gibson and Heather Nauert, "Interviews with Joshua Hammer, Jane Secker"; September 30, 2003, Wolf Blitzer, "Interview with Author Joshua Hammer"; November 22, 2004, John Kasich, "Flashback: Bureau Chief Speaks on Kidnapping."

Booklist, November 1, 1999, Gilbert Taylor, review of Chosen by God: A Brother's Journey, p. 505; August, 2003, Bryce Christansen, review of A Season in Bethlehem: Unholy War in a Sacred Place, p. 1947; September 15, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of Yokohama Burning: The Deadly 1923 Earthquake and Fire That Helped Forge the Path to World War II, p. 18.

Commentary, May, 2000, Wendy Shalit, review of Chosen by God, p. 62.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1999, review of Chosen by God, p. 1544; July 1, 2003, review of A Season in Bethlehem, p. 893.

Library Journal, November 15, 1999, Paul M. Kaplan, review of Chosen by God p. 74.

Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2000, Jonathan Kirsch, review of Chosen by God, p. A18.

Newsweek, November 8, 1999, Joshua Hammer, "A Tale of Two Brothers."

New York Times, September 17, 2006, Jacob Heilbrunn, "Aftershocks," review of Yokohama Burning.

Publishers Weekly, November 15, 1999, review of Chosen by God, p. 74; June 23, 2003, review of A Season in Bethlehem, p. 55; June 26, 2006, review of Yokohama Burning, p. 42.


Newsweek Online,http://www.newsweek.com/ (June 17, 2001), "Newsweek Reporter Detained by Palestinians."

Salon.com,http://dir.salon.com/ (October 27, 2003), Christopher Farah, review of A Season in Bethlehem.