PERSONAL: Education: Graduate of the University of Texas at Austin.
CAREER: Writer, editor. Former executive editor and vice president at Harper & Row, Hyperion, Random House, and Villard. Has also worked at a zoo and as a literary agent.
MEMBER: Boy Scouts of America (Eagle Scout).
Bad TV: The Very Best of the Very Worst, Delta (New York, NY), 1995.
Finding True Love in a Man-Eat-Man World: The Intelligent Guide to Gay Dating, Sex, Romance, and Eternal Love, Dell (New York, NY), 1996.
Let’s Get Lost: Adventures in the Great Wide Open, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1999.
The First Heroes: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raid—America’s First World War II Victory, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.
ADAPTATIONS: Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations was adapted for audio, Recorded Books, 2006.
SIDELIGHTS: Craig Nelson is a former publishing editor and the author of numerous nonfiction works. His first book title, Bad TV: The Very Best of the Very Worst, was a tongue-in-cheek ode to woefully bad television programming. Nelson covers forty years of television, including situation comedies, made-for-television movies, and children’s shows, to find the worst television ever produced. Reviewing Bad TV in Entertainment Weekly, Vanessa V. Friedman felt the author deals with the topic in “an appropriately awestruck tone.”
In his 2002 title, The First Heroes: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raid—America’s First World War II Victory, Nelson takes on a more sober topic, focusing on the April, 1942, raid on Tokyo and other Japanese cities by American bombers. The sixteen bombers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle provided an enormous morale boost for Americans and also created a sense of fear and dread in the Japanese, who had hitherto felt safe and well protected in their islands. This psychological factor was greater than any physical destruction that the raid accomplished. After the raid the pilots and crew had to bail out of their planes, which were out of fuel. Their planned escape route was through Japanese-occupied China, and many did not survive the mission. Nelson, who is both a son and nephew of World War II veterans, approaches the story from the viewpoint of twenty crew members in a “a thrilling real-life saga that both informs and inspires,” according to Booklist contributor Jay Freeman. Other critics added to the praise. A writer for Kirkus Reviews lauded Nelson’s “passionately fresh perspective to this amazing story,” and further called the book “riveting” as well as a “gripping drama . . . nearly impossible to put down.”
Nelson turns to an earlier era of American history in his 2006 work, Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. Here he tackles the enigma of Paine, who at age forty, with little formal education, penned one of the most important tracts in Western history. His seventy-seven-page pamphlet, Common Sense, was, according to New Yorker contributor Jill Lepore, “an anonymous, fanatical, and brutally brilliant . . . pamphlet that would convince the American people of what more than a decade of taxes and nearly a year of war had not: that it was nothing less than their destiny to declare independence from Britain.” Historians have long wondered at Paine’s ability to synthesize Enlightenment thought in this hard-hitting work, and, as Lepore noted, Nelson “argues that Paine soaked up the ideas of the Enlightenment, especially Newtonian rationalism, during the years he spent in London, and that may be the best explanation anyone ever gets.” For Lepore, Nelson’s book was a “rewarding new biography.” Further praise came from Library Journal contributor Thomas J. Schaeper, who commended Nelson’s “storyteller’s gift for the dramatic.” Similarly, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Nelson’s Thomas Paine a “brisk, intellectually sophisticated study.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES
Booklist, September 1, 2002, Jay Freeman, review of The First Heroes: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raid—America’s First World War II Victory, p. 50; October 15, 2006, Jay Freeman, review of Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations, p. 9.
Entertainment Weekly, January 13, 1995, Vanessa V. Friedman, review of Bad TV: The Very Best of the Very Worst, p. 56.
History Today, May, 2003, review of The First Heroes, p. 84.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of The First Heroes, p. 1103.
Library Journal, July, 1999, Janet Ross, review of Let’s Get Lost: Adventures in the Great Wide Open, p. 119; August, 2002, Edwin B. Burgess, review of The First Heroes, p. 118; September 15, 2006, Thomas J. Schaeper, review of Thomas Paine, p. 69.
New Criterion, October, 2006, Joseph Rago, “Doubting Thomas,” review of Thomas Paine, p. 25.
New Yorker, October 16, 2006, Jill Lepore, “The Sharpened Quill,” review of Thomas Paine.
Publishers Weekly, July 24, 2006, review of Thomas Paine, p. 47.
Craig Nelson Home Page, http://www.craignelson.us (January 28, 2007).