Shipler, David K. 1942–
Shipler, David K. 1942–
(David Karr Shipler)
PERSONAL: Born December 3, 1942, in Orange, NJ; son of Guy Emery, Jr. (a journalist) and Eleanor (a teacher; maiden name, Karr) Shipler; married Deborah S. Isaacs (a teacher), September 17, 1966; children: Jonathan Robert, Laura Karr, Michael Edmund. Education: Dartmouth College, A.B., 1964; attended Russian Institute, Columbia University, 1975. Religion: Protestant.
CAREER: New York Times, New York, NY, news clerk, 1966–68, reporter, 1968–73, foreign correspondent in Saigon, Vietnam, 1973–75, foreign correspondent in Moscow, U.S.S.R., 1975–79, chief of Moscow bureau, 1977–79, chief of Jerusalem, Israel, bureau, 1979–84, State Department diplomatic correspondent for Washington, DC, bureau, 1985–88; Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, guest scholar, 1984–85; senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1988–90; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Ferris Professor of Journalism and Public Affairs, 1990–91; freelance writer, 1991–. Has also taught at Dartmouth College and American University. Military service: U.S. Naval Reserve, 1964–66; became lieutenant.
AWARDS, HONORS: Society of Silurians award, 1971, for distinguished reporting; American Political Scientists Association award, 1971, for distinguished public affairs reporting; Page One Award, New York Newspaper Guild, 1973, for best local reporting; co-winner of Page One Award, New York Newspaper Guild, 1973; Sigma Delta Chi award (New York chapter), 1973; George Polk Award in Journalism, Long Island University, 1983; Overseas Press Club Award, 1984; Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, 1987, for Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land; D.Litt., Middlebury College and Glassboro State College, both 1988; Alfred Dupont-Columbia Award for broadcast journalism, 1989, for television documentary Arab and Jew; honorary M.A., Dartmouth College, 1994; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 2004, for The Working Poor: Invisible in America.
Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams, Times Books (New York, NY), 1983, revised edition, 1989.
Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, Times Books (New York, NY), 1986, revised edition, Penguin (New York, NY), 2002.
A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.
The Working Poor: Invisible in America, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic, Harper's, New Republic, McCall's, Nation, New Yorker, and New York Times Magazine.
SIDELIGHTS: In his foreword to Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams, David K. Shipler writes that he "wanted to look beneath the surface past the leadership changes, dissidents' trials, economic statistics, and diplomatic negotiations, to dimensions of attitude and culture where the task was not so much to answer questions as to ask them." What Shipler presents, according to Toronto Globe and Mail contributor Patrick Martin, is a view that is "entirely new to Western audiences." Termed a "stunning tapestry" by Malcolm Boyd in the Los Angeles Times Book Review and "an example of the journalist's memoir at its best" by S. Frederick Starr in the Washington Post Book World, Shipler's Russia "ventures a trip into the Russian psyche, that expanse of some one hundred nationalities, ethnicities, tongues and paranoias that Winston Churchill called 'a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,'" noted Robert Manning in the New York Times. Shipler's volume, evolving from his 1975 to 1979 stint as a New York Times correspondent in Moscow, presents a somber view of post-detente days in this region. "Shipler describes, better than anyone I have read," remarked R.C. Longworth in the Chicago Tribune Book World, "the growth of 'Russianism,' an amalgam of a loss of faith in communism, the mystical love for Mother Russia, an exclusivity that quickly slides into xenophobia and anti-Semitism, and a belief in authoritarianism."
The fascinating aspect of Russia for Manning is that it presents the views, the fears, the criticisms of people at all levels of Russian society. One such citizen, a Communist Party official in Moscow, says: "You cannot understand us because you have not suffered and survived what we have…. You have not lived under a Stalin—and God keep you from ever having to—and so you cannot understand." "The bad news in this book," commented Manning, "as if we needed more bad news about Soviet-American relations, is that the Russians are very different from us." Longworth noted this in his review as well, concluding that Shipler's "remarkable and hugely important book … largely succeeds in capturing this crucial difference." Boyd ultimately considered Russia "indispensable for any reader who wants to decipher, understand and cross a forbidden border."
Shipler worked as Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times from 1979 to 1984. From that background came his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land. This 1986 volume, which was updated and revised in 2002, as the author writes in his foreword, "is not a book about the diplomatic, political, or military dimensions" of the Middle Eastern conflict. Instead, the work focuses on the everyday people living on both sides of the issue. The author—who notably refers to the parties involved as "Arab and Jew" as opposed to "Arab and Israeli," examines the cultural backgrounds behind the longstanding hostilities in parallel studies of Arab and Jewish citizens.
Some critics noticed that Shipler tends to hold accountable one group. "Since the Jews do hold power in Israel," noted New Leader contributor Harold Waller, "considerable attention is given to the unsavory side of an admittedly difficult circumstance. The author particularly stresses patterns of Jewish behavior arising from the invidious stereotypes he uncovers, such as the brutality and oppressiveness of Israeli forces in the occupied territories and discrimination against Israeli-Arabs."
"There is an air of ethnocentrism in [Arab and Jew] that, while rarely becoming overt, hovers continuously in the background," stated Hillel Halkin in a New Republic essay. "One has the feeling that for Shipler, the tragedy of Jews and Arabs in Israel is primarily one of prejudice and misunderstanding, like that of whites and blacks in America before the civil rights revolution." But Halkin felt that "the plain fact of the matter … is that what lies at the heart of Arab-Jewish tensions in Israel is not subjective prejudice but an objective contest for land and power, and the analogy with blacks and whites is at best misleading."
Shipler's emphasis on interviewing the average Jew or Arab for his book came under scrutiny by Halkin. "There is undoubtedly more human interest in a group of giggling Arab schoolgirls in Ramallah or a worried Jewish teacher in Nazareth than in an interview with the assistant foreign minister of Egypt or the Israeli deputy something-or-other…. The trouble is that by de-emphasizing history and politics, one gains in readability but loses in overall perspective." Still, Halkin praised Arab and Jew as a "thoughtful, well-researched, deeply caring work that is genuinely sympathetic to both sides." To Nation reviewer Micah Sifry, Shipler "brings to light the deeply held attitudes and stereotypes that keep the conflict at a perpetual boil."
Shipler turned his attention to domestic racial matters with his 1997 book, A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America. As in Arab and Jew, the author introduced his more recent book by saying that it does not concern statistics or public policy. Rather, A Country of Strangers looks at why and how the races react to one another. A lack of communication lies at the heart of the problem: "Few white Americans," remarked Shipler, "have much grasp of how they are seen by African-Americans because few whites ask the question and if they did most blacks would probably be more polite than honest."
In gathering numerous interviews with African-American and white citizens, Shipler noted that black-white racial misunderstanding has resulted in a nation that lives as strangers "not because they don't know each other," as Juan Williams wrote in the Washington Monthly, "but because their minds are filled with myths about each other." For example, white Americans worry about being the victim of violence and crime committed by blacks, but statistics show that black-on-black crime is much more prevalent. "On the other side of the racial divide," said Williams, "Shipler has blacks testify about white brutality, committed by vicious cops and lynch mobs, offered as justification for many blacks' belief that whites are the really violent race." Similar to the way Shipler pointed to Jewish racism in Arab and Jew, he cites the white majority as a catalyst for conflict in A Country of Strangers. Nation contributor H. Jack Geiger found Shipler's treatment of that issue as "the book's only real shortcoming. While Shipler surely understands the centrality of power in racism, he almost never goes on to explore the uses of racism in the nation's political economy—its utility in blocking working-class and middle-class coalitions against the slide toward banana-republic inequality of incomes and wealth, and its efficacy in disguising the fact that the racially coded assaults on welfare, public schools, health care and housing are also class-based attacks on whites, especially poor whites."
Despite that criticism, Geiger suggested that A Country of Strangers "is not a dreary, wimpy presentation of the familiar tale of whites only as oppressors and blacks only as victims—Shipler knows it is more complicated than that." Readers of both races, the critic concluded, "will learn something of the real experiences and responses on the other side of the racial divide, the things that most of us mostly hide from one another and never have a chance to learn. It includes stories of the downward path to wisdom about race in the United States, from … the black father earnestly advising his son never, ever to argue with a white cop on a highway at night, to the mutually pained and devastated feelings of college roommates (or corporate coworkers) torn apart by what each sees—but neither means—as condescension and insult." The author "is clear that open bigotry is rarer than it used to be," remarked New York Times critic K. Anthony Appiah, "but he argues that this fact can lead white people to underrate the ways that racism still pervades American life." Shipler's authority on race relations was highlighted in 1997, when he was invited by President Clinton to participate in a town meeting on the subject.
Having tackled racism and prejudice in earlier books, Shipler addresses the challenging issue of poverty in his The Working Poor: Invisible in America. In what several critics praised as a nonpartisan, evenhanded study of the causes and effects of poverty for those who try to eke out a living in America's worst-paid jobs, the book carefully relates various stories of real-life people whom Shipler has interviewed and whose lives he describes with "revealing" anecdotes, as Edna Boardman described them in Kliatt. Many times, his subjects' poverty can be attributed to their own poor decisions, while in other cases it is unfortunate circumstances that have led to their plight. Shipler recognizes that the problem cannot be solved with quick fixes such as increasing the minimum wage, though he does suggest this as one helpful strategy; he also feels that social programs such as Head Start need better funding from the government, while the poor need to take on some of the responsibility themselves, such as by becoming more active voters. Public Interest reviewer Joel Schwartz called the author an "excellent reporter" whose "discussion of poverty is refreshingly honest" and "commendably evenhanded."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Shipler, David K., Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams, Times Books (New York, NY), 1983.
Shipler, David K., Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, Times Books (New York, NY), 1986.
Shipler, David K., A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.
Chicago Tribune Book World, February 19, 1984, R.C. Longworth, review of Russia.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 4, 1984, Patrick Martin, review of Russia.
Kliatt, May, 2005, Edna Boardman, review of The Working Poor: Invisible in America, p. 44.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 1, 1984, Malcolm Boyd, review of Russia.
Nation, December 27, 1986, Micah Sifry, review of Arab and Jew, p. 744; December 1, 1997, H. Jack Geiger, review of A Country of Strangers, p. 27.
New Leader, December 1, 1986, Harold Waller, review of Arab and Jew, p. 25.
New Republic, November 10, 1986, Hillel Halkin, review of Arab and Jew, p. 38.
New York Times, November 11, 1983, Robert Manning, review of Russia; November 16, 1997, K. Anthony Appiah, "Some Day," review of A Country of Strangers.
Public Interest, fall, 2004, Joel Schwartz, "Work and Poverty," review of The Working Poor, p. 131.
Washington Monthly, March, 1998, Juan Williams, review of A Country of Strangers, p. 51.
Washington Post Book World, November 20, 1983, S. Frederick Starr, review of Russia.