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Reston, James B., Jr. 1941-

Reston, James B., Jr. 1941-

(James Barrett Reston, Jr.)

PERSONAL:

Born March 8, 1941, in New York, NY; son of James Barrett (a journalist) and Sarah Jane (a journalist) Reston; married Denise Brender Leary, June 12, 1971; children: three. Education: Attended Oxford University, 1961-62; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A., 1963. Hobbies and other interests: Woodcrafting on a lathe.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Chevy Chase, MD. Agent—Timothy Seldes, Russell & Volkening, 50 W. 29th St., New York, NY 10001.

CAREER:

Writer and journalist. U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC, speech writer for Secretary of the Interior Morris Udall, 1964-65; Chicago Daily News, Chicago, IL, reporter, 1964-65; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, lecturer in creative writing, 1971-81; Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC, senior fellow. Also served as a fellow at the American Academy in Rome and a scholar in residence at the Library of Congress. Military service: U.S. Army, Military Intelligence, 1965-68; became sergeant.

MEMBER:

Authors Guild, Authors League of America, PEN, Dramatists Guild.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Dupont-Columbia Award, and Prix Italia (Venice), both 1982, both for Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1982; Valley Forge Award, 1985, for Sherman's March and Vietnam.

WRITINGS:

FICTION

To Defend, to Destroy (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 1971.

The Knock at Midnight (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 1975.

NONFICTION

The Amnesty of John David Herndon, McGraw (New York, NY), 1973.

(With Frank Mankiewicz) Perfectly Clear: Nixon from Whittier to Watergate, Quadrangle (New York, NY), 1973.

The Innocence of Joan Little: A Southern Mystery, Quadrangle (New York, NY), 1977.

Sherman, the Peacemaker (play), first produced in Chapel Hill, NC, by the Playmakers Repertory, 1979.

Our Father Who Art in Hell: The Life and Death of Jim Jones, Quadrangle (New York, NY), 1981.

Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown (radio documentary), first aired on National Public Radio, May, 1981.

Eighty-eight Seconds in Greensboro (documentary; first aired on PBS-TV's Frontline series, 1983), WGBH Transcripts, 1983.

Jonestown Express (play), first produced in Providence, RI, by Trinity Square Repertory Company, May 22, 1984.

Sherman's March and Vietnam, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1985.

The Real Stuff (documentary), first aired on PBS-TV's Frontline, 1987.

The Mission of Discovery (documentary), first aired on PBS-TV, 1988.

The Lone Star: The Life of John Connally, Harper (New York, NY), 1989.

Collision at Home Plate: The Lives of Pete Rose and Bart Giamatti, Edward Burlingame (New York, NY), 1991.

Galileo: A Life, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.

The Last Apocalypse: Europe at the Year 1000 A.D., Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.

Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2001.

Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors, Doubleday, (New York, NY), 2005.

Fragile Innocence: A Father's Memoir of His Daughter's Courageous Journey, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Scriptwriter for David Frost, The Nixon Interviews, 1976-77. Contributor of articles to New Yorker, National Geographic, Saturday Review, New York Times Magazine, Washington Post Magazine, Omni, Esquire, New York Times Book Review, Time, and other periodicals. Regular fiction reviewer, Chronicle of Higher Education, 1976-77. Books have been translated into twelve foreign languages.

ADAPTATIONS:

Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown was adapted as a sound recording by National Public Radio (Washington, DC), 1981; Collision at Home Plate has been optioned for film.

SIDELIGHTS:

American author and journalist James B. Reston, Jr., writes both fiction and nonfiction, sometimes combining both. Plays, novels, biographies, and television documentaries are among the various formats categorizing his larger works. For his subjects, Reston often draws from history's major socio-political events and figures, from President Richard Nixon to the crusading leaders of the first millennium. He commonly addresses destructive or warring elements of society and has repeatedly presented history as a vivid story. Reviewing Reston's book Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, an Economist contributor stated: "Well aware that war makes for a rattling story, he devotes his gift for words to the construction of a thrill narrative, unashamedly infused with what he calls ‘elemental romance.’ His heroes are caricatures whose personality traits transcend the facts." While critics have found this style riveting, not all have appreciated his interpretation of facts and infusion of fictional elements.

Winning access to a series of recordings of the Jonestown colony's proceedings, Reston explores the Jonestown mass suicide-murder of 1978 in three different forms: as a documentary on public radio; in a booklength study of Jim Jones's commune; and in a semi-fictionalized play. While Peter Schrag faulted the book as "flawed both by uncertain purpose and by an excessive tendency to … speculations of various obvious sorts," he admitted in the Nation that the tape transcriptions are invaluable and the "book makes clear how much of a tall tale Jonestown really was." Reston's play Jonestown Express conveys this same idea, as Richard Zoglin suggested in Newsweek: "At a time when dramatists are shying away from ‘big’ social issues …, [in Jonestown Express] the message comes through with clarity and power: it could happen again; it could happen here."

In Sherman's March and Vietnam, Reston "unearths unusual and thoughtful metaphorical parallels between William Tecumseh Sherman's way of war [during the U.S. Civil War] and the conduct of the war in Vietnam," wrote Brian Burns in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Washington Post Book World contributor Russell F. Weigley related: "By breaking down one of the major limits restraining the violence of war, Reston contends, Sherman accustomed American soldiers to regarding such limits lightly. [Sherman's march] pointed the way to subsequent, larger violations, destroying lives as well as property." In pursuing this theory, the author "traces Sherman's march, seeking to find out what the man was like and to measure his impact on the ethics of modern war," noted Stephen W. Sears in the New York Times Book Review.

In addition, Reston contrasts the resolutions of the two wars, pointing out that while dissenters in the Civil War were given amnesty, neither side involved in the Vietnam debate was given a substantial resolution. Sears found this portion of Reston's account, which "examines why a dozen years after the Paris peace accords … the wounds of the Vietnam era are still unhealed," convincing. Weigley likewise noted that "some of the most eloquent passages of Reston's book return to searching the Civil War for possible guidance toward escaping the divisive emotional legacy of Vietnam." While the critic faulted the author for "indulg[ing] in ambivalence and complexity," he noted that Sherman's March and Vietnam is "stimulating," for "the lasting damage that Sherman perpetrated against restraint in war is a theme worth emphasizing."

Reston looks further back in history for The Last Apocalypse: Europe at the Year 1000 A.D., which portrays major factors in Europe's transition into a ruling Christian civilization. Various factions, among them individual kingdoms, Vikings, barbarians, and Moors, were at large in Europe; and in the years leading into the second millennium, they were being destroyed or conquered and converted to Christianity. The mass social changes occurring, rather than any one cataclysmic event, created an apocalypse, according to Reston, who openly used elements of fiction to give readers his history lesson. "Clearly, while Reston is chronicling the overall Christian triumph, he also is mourning many of the cultures that were lost," wrote David Crumm in a Knight-Ridder/Tribune New Service review. "It's often difficult to determine whether Reston is giving us verifiable facts or a slice of literary lore. In either case, he has an eye for unforgettable detail." Reston uses "a breezy magazine style that hits the highlights of history," assessed Crumm. "He lays out scores of colorful anecdotes and sprinkles them with a dry wit." Although Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewer Steven Harvey also found the book to be a page-turner, the critic felt Reston's book was too heavily weighted in gory details and overly depended on fiction for his sources. "What we get are the exaggerations of literature in a lively paraphrase," contended Harvey. However, other reviewers, such as Europe contributor Robert J. Guttman, assessed Reston's style of presentation more positively, more simply recognizing the work as "a lively and engaging book."

Focusing on two principal characters, Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, Reston again explores the crusades in his next book, Warriors of God: Richard the Lion-heart and Saladin in the Third Crusade. When writing this work Reston set out to "knock away the barnacles that have encrusted both of the characters," the author told Ray Suarez in an Online NewsHour discussion, referring to the typical Arab approach to Saladin "as a demagogue," Richard the Lionheart's persistent association with "Robin Hood lore," and the general dominance of the Cambridge school of history in the documentation of the Crusades. Washington Post Book Review contributor Tariq Ali recommended Reston's book as "a refreshingly unbiased popular history of the Third Crusade (1187-92)." Reviewers of Warriors of God again praised Reston for his exciting and vivid presentation of history, noting his flare for presenting drama, sometimes in a somewhat fictitious manner. Geoffrey Moorhouse noted Reston's skill at telling a story and "illuminating detail," but in the critic's Guardian review he wrote that "Warriors of God sometimes reads like a campfire yarn told in the American Midwest." In a more positive review, Library Journal contributor Jim Doyle maintained that Reston "offers the reader a captivating story in a lucid and often humorous style." "The varied landscapes of the Holy Land are described with the visual awareness of a topographical painter, and both the ecstasy and the horror of medieval warfare are tellingly evoked," stated Julian Rathbone in the Sunday Telegraph.

Reston is taking legal action against 20th Century Fox and director Ridley Scott for alleged copyright violations. Reston claims that Warriors of God was plagiarized by screenwriter William Monahan, who was hired by Scott to write the script for the film Kingdom of Heaven, released in 2005.

Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors outlines Reston's belief that Columbus's voyage to the New World was inextricably tied to Christianity's victory over Islam in the Iberian peninsula. In the process, the author examines such figures as King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, as well as many lesser-known historical figures. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the author mostly "does justice to the complexities of his subject, examining the worlds of Christians, Muslims and Jews with sympathy and irony." A Kirkus Reviews contributor referred to the book as "a riveting portrait of 15th-century Spain."

In Fragile Innocence: A Father's Memoir of His Daughter's Courageous Journey, Reston writes of his daughter Hillary's struggle with a neurological problem that she developed when she was only eighteen months old after suffering from a high fever. Never diagnosed as to the cause, the attack has left her susceptible to seizures and numerous other health problems. "Much of Fragile Innocence is given over to the mundane but bewilderingly complex and demanding task of caring for (and keeping safe) a severely cognitively damaged young child, on the one hand, and what borders on an obsession with discovering what ‘caused’ all this, on the other," wrote a contributor to the National Right to Life News. Ted Westervelt, writing in the School Library Journal, noted that the author "tells a … nuanced and enjoyable story."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Reston, James B., Jr., Fragile Innocence: A Father's Memoir of His Daughter's Courageous Journey, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 2006.

PERIODICALS

Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, GA), March 15, 1998, Steven Harvey, "Atrocities Committed en Route to Culture," p. L11.

Biography, spring, 2006, review of Fragile Innocence, p. 407.

Booklist, January 1, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of The Last Apocalypse: Europe at the Year 1000 A.D., p. 742; June 1, 2001, Margaret Flanagan, review of Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, p. 1832.

California Bookwatch, April, 2006, review of Fragile Innocence.

Daily Variety, April 21, 2005, Gabriel Snyder, "Litigious Scholar on a ‘Crusade,’" p. 6.

Economist, October 20, 2001, "Stirring Stuff; The Medieval Crusades."

Entertainment Weekly, February 24, 2006, Tina Jordan, review of Fragile Innocence, p. 68.

Europe, December, 1999, Robert J. Guttman, review of The Last Apocalypse, p. 47.

Guardian (London, England), October 20, 2001, Geoffrey Moorhouse, review of Warriors of God, p. 8.

Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX), July 15, 2001, Lee Cearnal, "Novel Muslim vs. Heartless Lionheart," p. 18.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1998, review of The Last Apocalypse, p. 251; August 15, 2005, review of Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors, p. 903; December 1, 2005, review of Fragile Innocence, p. 1269.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, July, 1999, review of The Last Apocalypse, p. 34.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 4, 1998, David Crumm, review of The Last Apocalypse, p. 304K6295.

Library Journal, March 15, 1998, Norman Malwitz, review of The Last Apocalypse, p. 82; May 1, 2001, Jim Doyle, review of Warriors of God, p. 108; December 1, 2005, Martha E. Stone, review of Fragile Innocence, p. 155.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 17, 1985, Brian Burns, review of Sherman's March and Vietnam, p. 3.

Nation, May 2, 1981, Peter Schrag, review of Our Father Who Art in Hell: The Life and Death of Jim Jones.

National Right to Life News, April, 2006, review of Fragile Innocence, p. 14.

Newsweek, June 4, 1984, Richard Zoglin, review of Jonestown Express.

New York Times Book Review, February 17, 1985, Stephen W. Sears, review of Sherman's March and Vietnam, p. 13; April 5, 1998, David Walton, review of The Last Apocalypse, p. 25; June 24, 2001, John D. Thomas, review of Warriors of God, p. 24.

Publishers Weekly, February 16, 1998, review of The Last Apocalypse, p. 192; March 12, 2001, review of Warriors of God, p. 79; August 15, 2005, review of Dogs of War, p. 52.

School Library Journal, June, 2006, Ted Westervelt, review of Fragile Innocence, p. 194.

South Carolina Review, spring, 1998, review of The Last Apocalypse, p. 172.

Sunday Telegraph (London, England), October 14, 2001, Julian Rathbone, "A Just, Right, and Holy War?," p. 14.

Variety, April 4, 2005, "Angry author attacks ‘Kingdom,’" p. 4.

Washington Post Book World, February 10, 1985, Russell F. Weigley, review of Sherman's March and Vietnam, p. BW11; September 12, 1999, review of The Last Apocalypse, p. 10; June 4, 2001, Tariq Ali, "The King and the Sultan," p. C4.

Washington Times, May 4, 1998, Julia Duin, "America Not Ready to Greet Millennium," p. 2.

Wilson Quarterly, spring, 1998, Toby Lester, review of The Last Apocalypse, p. 102.

ONLINE

James Reston, Jr., Home Page,http://restonbooks.com (December 12, 2006).

Online NewsHour,http://www.pbs.org/newshour/ (August 3, 2001), Ray Suarez, discussion with Reston about Warriors of God.

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