PERSONAL: Male. Education: Northwestern University, B.A. (journalism); University of Oregon, M.F.A.
CAREER: Journalist, novelist, and nonfiction author. Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, reporter; Bread Loaf Conference, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, creative writing instructor, eight summers between 1983-95; University of North Carolina, Wilmington, writer-in-residence, 1996, conducted master of fine arts workshop, 1998.
Summer Fires: A Novel, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.
The Casco Deception, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1983.
Divine Assassin, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1985.
Saltmaker, Viking (New York, NY), 1988.
Flamingo: A Novel, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.
The Last Spy, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993.
Purgatory Road, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
AS ETHAN BLACK
The Broken Hearts Club, Ballantine Publishing (New York, NY), 1999.
Irresistible, Ballantine Publishing (New York, NY), 2000.
All the Dead Were Strangers, Ballantine Publishing (New York, NY), 2001.
Dead for Life, Ballantine Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Gary Wohl) Franco Harris (biography), Tempo Books (New York, NY), 1977.
The Road to Extrema, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Frequent Flier: One Plane, One Passenger, and the Spectacular Feat of Commercial Flight, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.
The Coming Storm: Extreme Weather and Our Terrifying Future, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.
Contributor to periodicals, including the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, GQ, Mirabella, Parade, Outside, and Glamour. Contributor to books, including Out of the Noosphere: Adventure, Sports, Travel, and the Environment, compiled by Outside magazine, 1998.
ADAPTATIONS: Film rights for two of his books have been optioned, The Last Spy to Paramount and Purgatory Road to CinemaLine; a number of Reiss's fiction works have been recorded on audio cassette.
SIDELIGHTS: Bob Reiss is a world traveler, often using his travels to gather information for his articles and books. He has honed his writing skills over the years and now passes on some of the lessons he has learned by teaching writing workshops at various colleges and writers conferences. While primarily known for his novels and nonfiction books, he also publishes thrillers under a pseudonym, Ethan Black. He told a Campus Communique reporter that he uses the pseudonym for these thrillers, "since these books are somewhat of a departure from my other books."
Reiss's first book, Franco Harris, is a biography for children that he coauthored with Gary Wohl. Harris was a former National Football League running back who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The book was part of a series featuring "well-written biographies" emphasizing recent events in the subjects' lives, observed Judith Goldberger in Booklist.
From biography, Reiss jumped to fiction, with a murder mystery, Summer Fires: A Novel, praised by critics for a first attempt in this genre. The main character is Miles Bradshaw, a man who accidentally set his bed afire, killing his wife and daughter. Prior to this tragedy, Bradshaw was a well-to-do lawyer, but after the fire, he chooses to take on legal cases that help economically deprived people. He ultimately becomes embroiled in a murder mystery when he witnesses a fire that kills a child. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book an "entertaining and for the most part exciting first novel." William Bradley Hooper, writing in Booklist, also enjoyed Summer Fires despite "some contrivances" he found to be "glaring." Newgate Callendar stated in the New York Times Book Review that Summer Fires is "a smashing first novel."
Reiss has also written a suspense novel set in World War II. The Casco Deception takes place on Captain's Island, Maine, a site chosen as a hideout by a group of Nazi spies hoping to avoid detection. American-born German-sympathizer John Ryker tries to commandeer a battery of long-range guns but is thwarted by Lt. Tom Heiden, a U.S. soldier stationed at this outpost because he was deemed unfit to serve anywhere else. "The action rises to a fever pitch," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, calling the book "a marvelously suspenseful tale." Rex E. Klett, for Library Journal, praised this "strong, intensely absorbing novel" for its "good characterization and plot."
Divine Assassin is allegedly based on real events and real people, namely U.S. hostages held in Iran in the 1980s and Libyan political leader Muammar al-Qaddafi. The story is filled with a lot of "bloody violence and mercilessly detailed tortures," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, but despite this, "the story is timely and it fixes attention on the frustratingly ineffective means of dealing with international terrorists." The protagonist, Tim Currie, seeks revenge for his own hostage experience and for the murder of his girlfriend. He blames Qaddafi for both events and sets out to kill him. A writer for Booklist described the plot as "exciting" but "improbable," concluding that the book is a "mind-jarring thriller."
Saltmaker "tackles the ethics of the Bomb," wrote a reviewer for Kirkus. In this story, the president of theUnited States refuses to retaliate when he learns that the Soviet Union has launched a strike against America, in essence surrendering to the Soviet government. Moments later, U.S. military leaders discover that no attack had been launched. Rather, the Pentagon received false signals as a result of a computer glitch. The president resigns after this event when people begin calling him a traitor for not standing up to the Soviets. Brian Alley for Library Journal, like many other critics, found the story somewhat unbelievable. To enjoy this book, readers must "accept that an American President would surrender," Alley wrote, adding that "no strong character or plot emerges" in the book.
Reiss has received mixed reviews for his other novels. The most praised is The Last Spy, which a writer for Kirkus Reviews called "Reiss's best [thriller] by far." Burke Wilkinson in the Christian Science Monitor said The Last Spy is "impressive," noted that Reiss "shows a firm grasp of the techniques of international espionage." "A very readable thriller," wrote Albert Wilhelm in Library Journal. Reiss "perfectly captures the undercover agent's sense of paranoia," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Reiss's investigative reporting, however, has garnered the most positive overall attention by reviewers of all his writing. The Road to Extrema explains how the ongoing destruction of the Amazon rain forest may cause "catastrophic changes in the earth's climate," observed Steve Weingartner in Booklist. "Brazil's highway BR-364," noted a writer for Kirkus Reviews, "has been called the 'most controversial road in Latin America.'" The road has provided a way for migrant workers to gain access to the jungle and to raise crops there. However, as the Kirkus Reviews writer remarked, this road has been "reviled in the States as 'a straw sucking up the Amazon.'" Reiss traveled between the United States and Brazil in his search to find out how ten years of development has affected the Amazon. The Kirkus Reviews writer called the account of these travels"captivating and original."
In Frequent Flier: One Plane, One Passenger, and the Spectacular Feat of Commercial Flight, Reiss "probes the history, the science, the business, and the human component of the airline industry," wrote David Greising in Business Week. In order to find out what keeps a large plane airborne, Reiss took a seventy-two-hour flight with Delta Airlines that transported him from Atlanta to Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, Honolulu, Dallas, and back home. Reiss really wanted to find out what it was like to fly the plane, so he sat in the cockpit and talked to the pilots, crew, people in the control tower, and in between flights, to the ground crews. "Frequent Flyer will entertain anyone who wonders how airlines keep their planes running," said Greising. "Not a book to make nervous fliers any calmer," wrote Denise Perry Donavin in Booklist, concluding that the book was "fascinating." A Kirkus Reviews writer called the book "an enjoyable history both of commercial aviation and a leading U.S. airline." "Anyone who loves to fly—or anyone who has to fly," said a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "should read this comprehensive book."
The Coming Storm: Extreme Weather and Our Terrifying Future is a "carefully documented, intelligently reasoned account," according to David Pitt in Booklist. The Coming Storm "examines the scientific and political conflict that's been raging since signs of the greenhouse effect appeared in the late 1980s," observed Suzy Hansen in a Salon.com interview with Reiss. In 1988 scientist Jim Hansen testified to the U.S. Senate that the so-called greenhouse effect could cause disastrous weather, and it is with Hansen's testimony that Reiss begins his book. Reiss's book includes stories about weather calamities such as the 1993 Mississippi River flood, the 1991 fire that devastated parts of Oakland, California, and the 1995 Chicago heat wave, along with testimony from climatologists. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly stated that "Reiss writes in the urgent yet reasoned voice of a person sounding an alarm while there is still time to act."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Armchair Detective, summer, 1996, S. M. Tyson, review of Purgatory Road, p. 377.
Booklist, October 15, 1977, Judith Goldberger, review of Franco Harris, p. 318; February 1, 1980, William Bradley Hooper, review of Summer Fires: A Novel, p. 757; May 15, 1985, review of Divine Assassin, p. 1296; January 15, 1990, Denise Perry Donavin, review of Flamingo, p. 976; March 1, 1992, Steve Weingartner, review of The Road to Extrema, p. 1184; January 1, 1994, Denise Perry Donavin, review of Frequent Flyer: One Plane,One Passenger, and the Spectacular Feat of Commercial Flight, p. 794; February 1, 1996, George Needham, review of Purgatory Road, p. 920; August, 2001, David Pitt, review of The Coming Storm, p. 2066.
Business Week, April 11, 1994, David Greising, review of Frequent Flyer, p. 17.
Christian Science Monitor, October 7, 1983, Randy Shipp, review of The Casco Deception, p. B8; June 7, 1993, Burke Wilkinson, "Heroines, Spies, and Lies," p. 13.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1979, review of Summer Fires, p. 1286; May 1, 1985, review of Divine Assassin, p. 390; March 1, 1988, review of Saltmaker, p. 317; November 1, 1989, review of Flamingo, pp. 1557-1558; February 1, 1992, review of The Road to Extrema, pp. 168-169; November 1, 1992, review of The Last Spy, p. 1331; December 1, 1993, review of Frequent Flyer, p. 1509; December 1, 1995, review of Purgatory Road, pp. 1662-1663.
Library Journal, May 15, 1983, Rex E. Klett, review of The Casco Deception, p. 1018; June 1, 1985, Barbara Conaty, review of Divine Assassin, p. 146; May 1, 1988, Brian Alley, review of Saltmaker, p. 91; November 15, 1992, Robert H. Donahugh, review of The Last Spy, p. 102; August, 2001, Jeffrey Beall, review of The Coming Storm, p. 154.
New York Observer, December 3, 2001, Bill McKibbon, review of Summer Fires,, p.18.
New York Times Book Review, January 6, 1980, New-gate Callendar, review of Summer Fires, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, November 26, 1979, review of Summer Fires, p. 41; April 1, 1983, review of The Casco Deception, p. 51; April 19, 1985, review of Divine Assassin, p. 71; November 24, 1989, review of Flamingo, p. 62; February 3, 1992, review of The Road to Extrema, pp. 73-74; October 19, 1992, review of The Last Spy, p. 57; January 17, 1994, review of Frequent Flyer, p. 396; January 8, 1996, review of Purgatory Road, pp. 58-59; July 23, 2001, review of The Coming Storm, p. 61.
Quill & Quire, April, 1990, Paul Stuewe, review of Flamingo, p. 29.
Smithsonian, October, 1992, Dee McRae, review of The Road to Extrema, p. 170.
Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1989, Dorothy M. Broderick, review of Saltmaker, p. 204.
Campus Communique,http://www.uncwil.edu/ (October 7, 1999), "King's Road Writer Series Hosts Reading by Author Bob Reiss."
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (October 23, 2001), Suzy Hansen, "Stormy Weather."*