Junger, Sebastian 1962-
Junger, Sebastian 1962-
Born January 17, 1962, in Boston, MA; son of Miguel (a physicist) and Ellen (an artist) Junger. Education: Concord Academy, graduated 1980; Wesleyan University, B.A., 1984. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Atheist.
Freelance writer. Half King, bar and restaurant, New York, NY, coowner; Vanity Fair, contributing editor; frequent appearances on television talk shows.
National Magazine Award; SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism.
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea, Norton (New York, NY), 1997.
Frontline Diaries: Into the Forbidden Zone (documentary film), National Geographic Channel, 2001.
Fire, Norton (New York, NY), 2001.
A Death in Belmont, Norton (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including Men's Journal, Outside, American Heritage, and New York Times Magazine.
The Perfect Storm was produced as an audiobook (read by Stanley Tucci) and released by Random House Audio, 1997; The Perfect Storm was also adapted for film and released by Warner Brothers, 2000; Fire was produced as an audiobook, 2002.
With his first book, The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea, Sebastian Junger quickly established himself as a bestselling writer of literary nonfiction, combining the journalist's clarity and eye for detail with the novelist's sense of narrative and drama. The Perfect Storm tells the story of a commercial swordfishing boat caught in the grip of a killer storm. The Andrea Gail, out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, was fishing the Great Banks of the North Atlantic in October, 1991, when the convergence of three storms from north, south, and west created a tempest of unmatched severity—in meteorological terms, a "perfect storm." Buffeted by one-hundred-foot waves and winds in excess of eighty-five m.p.h., the seventy-two-foot vessel was destroyed and her crew drowned. Drawing on interviews, radio dialogues, court depositions, and various other sources, Junger depicts a New England fishing community and the dangerous lives of the fishermen with gritty realism, and even recreates what the final harrowing hours of the Andrea Gail must have been like. The author also recounts tales of the storm's survivors, including Air National Guard rescue workers forced to abandon their helicopter and ride out the storm at sea.
In addition to exploring the human interest of the events surrounding the sinking of the Andrea Gail, Junger offers a great deal of historical and technical information on such topics as the commercial swordfishing industry, the formation of storms, fluid mechanics, naval architecture, and the experience of drowning. Junger's method of fusing large bodies of factual material with the elements of high drama left him open to criticism from a number of perspectives. New York Observer critic Warren St. John pointed to what he considered to be errors and omissions in The Perfect Storm, accusing the author of distorting the record to make a better story. Junger himself, on the other hand, feared the book would hold little interest for readers more concerned with plot and action than historical accuracy. "I didn't want to invent dialogue or fictionalize or do any of the stuff that readers love," he explained in an interview with Ellen Barry in the Boston Phoenix Online Web site. "I was sure I was condemned to write a journalistically interesting book that just wouldn't fly. It would be too heavy. The topic is too weird and idiosyncratic. It's all the things that kill books."
Nonetheless, The Perfect Storm became a best-seller, with movie and paperback rights selling for hefty sums. Junger's desire to write about the fishermen's fate stemmed from having witnessed the 1991 storm firsthand and from having prior experience working a dangerous job, as a high-climber for tree-removal companies. The same love of adventure drew him to a writing career. "I write because it thrills me," he once told CA. "I write journalism—not fiction—because it thrusts me out there into the world and I'm so awed by what I find." Junger, who credits Barry Lopez, Joan Didion, Pete Matthiessen, Norman Maclean, and Michael Herr as his primary literary influences, continues to work as a freelance contributor to magazines. "I sit down in the morning with a cup of coffee, edit what I wrote the day before, start in on the next section, stop writing, go running and have lunch, take a nap on the floor (so I don't sleep too long), get up and write for another couple of hours and then go out to a bar and play pool or sit there and just think about what I wrote that day. If it went well I'll have a cigarette, too."
After the publication of The Perfect Storm, Junger traveled with Iranian photographer, Reza, into Afghanistan in order to meet Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Taliban resistance leader. The result of their journey was a documentary titled Frontline Diaries: Into the Forbidden Zone. "I'd always wanted to make the pilgrimage into [his] territory to do a profile of him," Junger stated in a National Geographic Web site article by Ted Chamberlain. Both journalists spent a month in Afghanistan as guests of the Northern Alliance leader, Massoud, and "visited a refugee camp inhabited by thousands of Afghans who had fled the Taliban regime." Los Angeles Times writer Hugh Hart commented that "surreal touches abound" in Frontline Diaries, a documentary which "offers sobering footage detailing the hazards of war, Afghan-style." Hollywood Reporter contributor Marilyn Moss called it a "fascinating, well-documented and well-mounted look" at the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan. She also noted the "first-rate journalism" that permeates the documentary.
"Junger is an excellent storyteller … [and] observer," wrote Justin Marozzi in a London Sunday Telegraph review of Fire, Junger's second book, which is a compilation of previously published magazine articles. Only the first two pieces are actually devoted to fire-fighting and the personalities engaged in controlling a forceful blaze in the canyons of Idaho. Other articles feature Kashmir terrorists, the war in Kosovo, the last person who harpoons whales by hand, and Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Afghan resistance fighter—and subject of the documentary, Frontline Diaries—who was assassinated in September, 2001.
"The essays are short, punchy, full of fascinating factual research and altogether very readable," remarked New Republic contributor David Thomson. Thomson's chief criticism was what he viewed as a quality of oversimplification present in Junger's work. Book reviewer Chris Barsanti noted that the stories in Fire "are marked with a generous humanity and sharpness of eye." Iain Finlayson of the London Times wrote that the author's work "is frontline reporting of the highest order from the dangerous, blade-sharp edge of things." "[Junger's] stories … hold our interest" even when they are no longer present in the daily news, stated Anthony Brandt in National Geographic Adventure. "The jewel [of the book] is the profile of Massoud," wrote a Business Week reviewer. In a Booklist article, Joanne Wilkinson commented that the book's "topics are compelling." Library Journal contributor Rachel Collins observed the author's "unfailing eye for detail" and the fact that Junger tries to write his articles in such a way that he includes as many different perspectives as he possibly can. "The prose is clean and hard," wrote London Guardian reviewer Steven Poole. London Sunday Telegraph critic Marozzi praised Junger's writing style in these words: "He understands, as too many of his colleagues do not, that his surroundings … are of more interest to the reader than his reactions to them."
"Sebastian Junger has a good reporter's affinity for disasters of various sorts," wrote Bookreporter.com Web site contributor Robert Finn. With his 2006 work A Death in Belmont, he explores a trouble zone of a different sort and one with a personal angle to it. The work re-examines one of the murders attributed to the Boston Strangler in the early 1960s, the death of Bessie Goldberg, an elderly suburban homemaker in Belmont, Massachusetts. Junger has a family connection to this crime, for the Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo, was employed in the Junger household as part of a work crew that was building his mother's art studio, one of three men hired in 1962 (Junger was one at the time). Junger relates a chilling anecdote in the book of this worker attempting to have Mrs. Junger, the author's mother, follow him into the basement one day; however, there was something about DeSalvo that kept her away from him. During the time DeSalvo was hired by the Jungers, Goldberg was killed just a mile away in the same well-to-do suburb. Roy Smith, a black cleaning man hired in the Goldberg home that day was convicted of the crime, but later, when DeSalvo convinced to being the Boston Strangler, he added the Goldberg death to his others. Smith died not long after his sentence was subsequently commuted, and DeSalvo was murdered in prison with nobody knowing for sure if he actually had killed Goldberg or not.
Junger attempts in A Death in Belmont to determine who the real perpetrator was, but comes up with more questions than answers in this "perplexing story [that] gains an extra degree of creepiness from Junger's personal connection to it," as a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted. David Mandell, writing in the Florida Bar Journal, noted: "The mark of good nonfiction is to keep a reader's interest when there are no answers to the mystery," and that is exactly what Junger did. Speaking with Time critic Lev Grossman, Junger reported part of his inspiration for writing the book: "It's not an adventure story. There are no one hundred-ft. waves. And I just frankly wanted to know what happened." Junger at first despaired that he could not ultimately and certainly list the murderer, but as he further related to Grossman: "What saved me was this idea that I was going to turn the readers into a jury. If you don't know, you just turn to the readers and ask a question and let them decide."
Junger's book received general critical praise. Finn, writing on the Bookreporter.com Web site, praised Junger as an "incredibly thorough researcher and a careful writer," while Entertainment Weekly reviewer Chris Nashawaty termed the writer "a hell of a storyteller." Similar praise came from Booklist writer Joanne Wilkinson, who termed the book "an intriguing crime story that also contains painful truths about race and justice in America," and from Library Journal reviewer Karen Sandlin Silverman, who found A Death in Belmont "a well-documented page-turner that leaves us wanting more." Nathaway felt, however, that the story would have made a stronger magazine piece than a full-length book. A critic for Kirkus Reviews had no such reservations, calling the same work "a meticulously researched evocation of a time of terror, wrapped around a chilling, personal footnote."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, OH), May 28, 2006, "A Killer Close By? As Baby in Boston Suburb, Author Comes into Contact with Possible Strangler."
Book, December 1, 1999, review of The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea, p. 718; November-December 2001, Chris Barsanti, review of Fire, p. 70; May 1, 2003, "Sebastian Junger: The War Reporter, Author and New York Barkeep Shows Us His Souvenir-strewn Lower East Side Office—but First He's Gotta Take This Call," p. 36.
Booklist, September 1, 2001, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Fire, p. 22; February 15, 2006, Joanne Wilkinson, review of A Death in Belmont, p. 4.
BookPage, October, 2001, review of Fire, p. 2.
Business Week, October 22, 2001, review of Fire, p. 22E4.
Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, CA), June 7, 2006, "No Calm after ‘Perfect Storm’ for Author Sebastian Junger."
Detroit Free Press, November 4, 2001, review of Fire, p. 4E.
Entertainment Weekly, July 14, 2000, Owen Gleiberman, review of the movie version of The Perfect Storm, p. 51; September 28, 2001, review of Fire, p. 68; April 21, 2006, Chris Nashawaty, "Belmont Stakes," p. 76; April 28, 2006, "Sebastian Junger," p. 32.
Financial Times, May 27, 2006, "A Brush with Death a Close Call with a Serial Killer in the 1960s Fails to Build into a Convincing Account 40 Years Later," p. 30.
Florida Bar Journal, February, 2007, David Mandell, review of A Death in Belmont, p. 49.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 13, 2001, review of Fire, p. D12.
Guardian (London, England), October 19, 2002, Steven Poole, review of Fire, p. 30.
Harper's, November, 2001, review of Fire, p. 73.
Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), April 30, 2006, "No Clear Evidence, No Solution."
Hollywood Reporter, September 25, 2001, Marilyn Moss, review of Frontline Diaries: Into the Forbidden Zone, p. 15.
Instructor, October 2006, "Sebastian Junger: The Journalist and Author of the Perfect Storm on Boys' Books, Global Learning, and Great Teaching," p. 56.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2001, review of Fire, p. 1092; March 1, 2006, review of A Death in Belmont, p. 221.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, May, 1999, review of The Perfect Storm, p. 68.
Library Journal, September 1, 2001, Rachel Collins, review of Fire, p. 220; April 1, 2006, Karen Sandlin Silverman, review of A Death in Belmont, p. 110.
Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2001, Hugh Hart, review of Frontline Diaries, p. F-11.
Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, June 5, 2006, Peter Elikann, review of A Death in Belmont.
Miami Herald, May 3, 2006, "Sebastian Junger Explores a Connection to the Man Who Claimed to Be a Serial Murderer."
National Geographic Adventure, November-December, 2001, Anthony Brandt, review of Fire, p. 59.
New Republic, November 5, 2001, David Thomson, review of Fire, p. 35.
New Statesman, June 19, 2006, "Brush with a Strangler," p. 67.
Newsweek, April 10, 2006, "A Killer in the House; When Sebastian Junger Was a Baby, the Boston Strangler Was Working in His Family's House. How's That for a Perfect Storm?," p. 58.
New Yorker, August 11, 1997, review of The Perfect Storm, p. 79.
New York Law Journal, May 12, 2006, Eleanor J. Bader, review of A Death in Belmont.
New York Observer, August, 1997, Warren St. John, review of The Perfect Storm.
New York Review of Books, December 20, 2001, William McNeill, review of Fire, p. 86.
New York Times, October 6, 2001, Caryn James, review of Frontline Diaries, p. A13; October 17, 2001, Michiko Kakutani, review of Fire; April 8, 2006, "A Murder Victim's Child Disputes Junger Book," p. 9; May 22, 2006, "Under a Guise of Fiction, Realities of War," p. 7.
New York Times Book Review, June 18, 1997, review of The Perfect Storm, p. 8; October 14, 2001, Paula Friedman, review of Fire, p. 28; September 29, 2002, Scott Veale, review of Fire, p. 32; April 16, 2006, "The Belmont Strangler," p. 12.
People, November 17, 1997, "Sebastian Junger: Sexiest Author," p. 104; November 5, 2001, review of Fire, p. 52.
Philadelphia Inquirer, June 7, 2006, Desmond Ryan, review of A Death in Belmont.
Publishers Weekly, April 7, 1997, review of The Perfect Storm, p. 83; February 19, 2001, "Junger in Danger Again," p. 16; September 24, 2001, review of Fire, p. 79, and interview with Sebastian Junger, p. 80; October 17, 2005, "Jungerian Theory," p. 10; February 13, 2006, review of A Death in Belmont, p. 70.
Reference & Research Book News, August, 2006, review of A Death in Belmont.
Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly, June 5, 2006, review of A Death in Belmont.
Seattle Times, May 3, 2006, Mary Ann Gwinn, review of A Death in Belmont.
Spectator, May 20, 2006, "Who Done It in Boston?"
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), November 11, 2001, Justin Marozzi, review of Fire.
Time, July 3, 2000, Richard Corliss, review of the movie version of The Perfect Storm, p. 56; April 10, 2006, "A Murderer in the Home," p. 75.
Times (London, England), November 14, 2001, Iain Finlayson, review of Fire, p. 12.
Times Literary Supplement, July 18, 1997, review of The Perfect Storm, p. 8.
Underwater Naturalist, January, 1999, review of The Perfect Storm, p. 46.
USA Today, April 13, 2006, "In Junger's World, ‘Absolute Truth’ Enticingly Elusive," p. 6.
Us Weekly, July 24, 2000, Oliver Jones, "Sebastian Junger: The Man Who Wrote the Book Is Still Fascinated by Physical Danger," p. 54.
Washington Post, October 12, 2001, Carolyn See, review of Fire, p. C4.
Yankee, September, 2000, Robert Pushkar, review of The Perfect Storm, pp. 66-75.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (December 2, 2007), Robert Finn, review of A Death in Belmont.
Boston Phoenix Online,http://www.bostonphoenix.com/ (October 11, 2001), Ellen Barry, interview with Sebastian Junger.
HarperCollins Web site,http://www.harpercollins.com/ (December 2, 2007), "Sebastian Junger."
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (December 2, 2007), "Sebastian Junger."
Literati Web site,http://literati.net/ (May 12, 2003), reviews of Fire and The Perfect Storm.
National Geographic Web site,http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ (May 12, 2003), Ted Chamberlain, review of Frontline Diaries.