James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

James Fallows: Events

  • Events: Pritzker; Simon, Doctorow, Gessen, & Nafisi; Kummer & Levenson

    Three interesting events; hope you can catch some or all.

    In the world of modern journalism, sometimes you are traveling around and learning things as a reporter; sometimes you are sitting in a room and going crazy as a writer; and sometimes you get to ask people questions as a moderator and live-event appearance-maker.

    The next two days hold a rich offering of live-event possibilities for me. Please join in if you can:

    Atlantic Small Business Forum, which runs through the morning of tomorrow, December 4, in Washington. You can see a live stream here. I get to interview the new Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker, about her "Open for Business" agenda and other initiatives at 9:30 a.m.

    PEN - Google - Atlantic Forum, "Who's Afraid of Free Speech?" tomorrow afternoon, December 4, in Washington starting at 4 p.m. You can find information about attending or seeing a livestream here. I get to interview an astonishing panel including E.L. Doctorow (any book you can name); David Simon (The Wire etc); Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran etc); and Masha Gessen (The Man Without a Face etc), at the Newseum in Washington.

    MIT Writing Program, "Long-Form Journalism: Inside the Atlantic," on Thursday afternoon in Cambridge, 5pm-7pm, details here. Tom Levenson, Professor of Writing at MIT and author of the Inverse Square blog, will interview the Atlantic's Corby Kummer, who has edited my articles for 30+ years, and me on specifics of how articles go from inchoate concept to (we hope less inchoate) published reality. 

    Then it will be back to the reporting and writing mode. I was going to take a stab at adventure/reporting by flying myself up to Boston for the MIT event, but ominous weather forecasts for the return on Friday morning leave me in the hands of US Air. 

  • Mark Your Calendars: Huntsman-Gingrich Today, Three Gorges Tomorrow

    A debate different from the zillion we have seen so far; plus, an engrossing photo display

    Dec 12, 4pm, Newt Gingrich-Jon Huntsman "Lincoln-Douglas Debate" on foreign policy. Livestream on Huntsman site or here; C-Span rebroadcast at 8 pm. And if, after the debate, you're still looking for other candidates, there's new hope!

    Dec 13, 6pm, in New York, panel on "Water, Culture, and Climate Change" at the India China Institute of The New School. Details here. I mention it mainly because one of the panelists is Hai Zhang, whom I know and who will be showing some of the fascinating photos from his Three Gorges Dam series, showing what is happening in the communities displaced by rising waters of the dammed Yangtze. Here is a sample, taken a few months ago:


    That is all.

  • Local News: If You Are in Cincinnati on Thursday...

    Come to Xavier University at 7:30 pm

    ... October 27 (tomorrow as I write), my wife and I will be speaking at Xavier University in the evening, on a program called "Does China Exist?" Details on time, place, and theme here. She is an Ohio girl, and we are both fans of the Queen City, which is where I first introduced myself to her parents long ago. Plus, the program is free! See you there.

  • June 23: Embarrassment of Riches in D.C.

    A book talk, a music show -- you have no excuse to be cranky or bored

    Gladstone.jpgIf you're looking for entertainment next Thursday night, June 23, in Washington, please come to the famous Politics and Prose book store (which is under new ownership as of today) to hear Brooke Gladstone, of NPR's On The Media, talk about her very interesting new book The Influencing Machine. I'll be interviewing her, starting at 7pm.

    ZLAEM_Pomplamoose_138.jpgAnd if you have the ability to be in two places at once, consider also going to the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center to hear OK Go and (yes) Pomplamoose. They're on at 6pm.

    I am looking into telekinesis options for myself that evening. Enjoy one or the other or both.

    UPDATE: Short of telekinesis, there is always the choice of watching the show later, via the Kennedy Center's web site where Millennium Stage performances are archived. Thanks to reader DB for this tip.

  • If You Happen to be in Sydney This Evening

    American politics, as discussed in Australia

    All-purpose congratulations! Fortunate place to be. But if you're at loose ends, Morris Fiorina, of Stanford, and I will be mulling over the implications of the midterm elections, in a colloquy at the University of Sydney. Details here.

    Wherever you are, it's worth following the radio interviews of Mark Colvin, one of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's luminaries and (in his current role, after years as a reporter overseas which were ended by a near-fatal bout with disease in Africa) an Australian counterpart to, say, Terry Gross as a high-end interviewer. I've listened to his PM show often on the internet and enjoyed it; I talked with him yesterday about the news environment in the US after the mid-terms, what's up in China, and so forth. Longer-version podcast here. I mention this both in "for the record" spirit and also to alert listeners outside Australia who might not know about Colvin's show.

  • If You're Going to be in Austin This Weekend...

    A conversation with Karl Marlantes at the Texas Book Festival

    ... well, congratulations! We lived there for a total of four years during and after my wife's time as a U of Texas doctoral student in linguistics, and like all former residents have memories that are (pleasantly) dominated by barbecue joints, Tex-Mex, beer halls, music, Barton Springs, etc. Plus, of course, "study" and "work." The big constant in Austin life is the "Oh, it used to be so great here, but growth has spoiled the 'real' Austin" lament. That is what we heard from old timers on arrival in the mid-70s, and it's what we've heard on all return visits since. I'm sure the complaint is always true -- and always false, because it still seems pretty great.

    This weekend in particular, Austin will be graced by the 2010 Texas Book Festival, an event started by Laura Bush when she was the state's First Lady in the mid 1990s. I've mentioned several times over the past year -- including here, here, and here -- my admiration and enthusiasm for Matterhorn, the majestic novel of the Vietnam war by Karl Marlantes. I'm delighted to have a chance to interview Karl Marlantes at the festival, at 10am Saturday morning. Details here and here. Be there!

    Also, at 3:15, I'll have a chance to interview another book festival author: a product of the University of Texas's linguistics department who has written about the pleasures and satisfactions of learning the Chinese language. Looking forward to that one too.

  • If You're in Chicago This Evening

    Panel on media and politics at University of Chicago, May 26

    I will be interviewing Rick "Nixonland" Perlstein and Tom "Secret Lives of Citizens" Geoghegan, about the future of media and politics, at an event at the University of Chicago at 7pm on May 26th. Details here. This marks just about the end of my recent intense immersion in Hyde Park/U Chicago activities. Nice neighborhoods! Impressive students! See you on Wednesday night.

    (And if I were in DC this evening, I would be giving birthday greetings on their respective big birthdays to my son Tad and my friend David I.)

  • If You're in Chicago on Thursday...

    Lecture in Chicago on May 6 -- and it's free!

    ...I'll be giving a lecture at the International House of the University of Chicago on May 6, starting at 4:30. Details here. The subject won't be the TSA! (Hint: Will be talking about relations with a very populous country whose name starts with C.)

    Well, technically, I'll still be giving the lecture whether or not you're in Chicago. But if you're in the neighborhood, feel free to attend.

  • Carter "crisis of confidence" retrospective this evening

    Thirty years ago this summer, Jimmy Carter delivered his famous "Crisis of Confidence" adddress to the nation, generally mis-identified as the "malaise" speech -- a word he didn't use. I was gone from the Carter speechwriting empire by then. My successor and longtime friend Hendrik Hertzberg was in the hot seat that time. (Below, screenshot of Carter at the start of the speech.)

    Recently Kevin Mattson, of Ohio University, published a book about that speech, its origins, and its aftermath, called What the Heck Are You Up to, Mr. President? This evening, October 7, I'll be joining him in Washington for a discussion of the speech, the book, and the general phenomenon of political calls, like Carter's, for "higher purpose" and "rebirth of citizenship." A live stream of the program, from 6:30pm to 7:30pm Eastern time, will be here.

    Other details about the event, including the many political worthies who will be on hand, and sponsorship by the Progressive Book Club and the Center for American Progress, are here. As Mattson knows, I have some quarrels about first-hand details of his reconstructed account. But I certainly support the larger case he is making in his book. 

  • More from the F'DOH: Summers, Schmidt

    Another day, a lot more stimulation, at the "First Draft of History" event, as previously reported here.

    I was the Atlantic's assigned chronicler/blogger for the interview with Lawrence Summers. First installment here; full wrapup, with clips, here. Then I got to interview Eric Schmidt of Google, who put on a real tour de force. The Atlantic's writeup by Derek Thompson, with clips, here.

    Tomorrow back to reading, interview, writing -- you know, the stuff of getting the next issue of the magazine produced. But this was a worthwhile two days.

  • For you fans of Chinese reality-TV


    In the spring of 2007 I wrote about a campy / idealistic Chinese reality show called Win In China, which was designed to select, train, and motivate future entrepreneurs. The film maker Ole Schell has produced a documentary about the program and its aftermath, which will be shown at the Asia Society in New York on Tuesday evening, June 2. Details here.

    I haven't seen the film, though I was one of the "what it all means" interviewees, but I watched Ole Schell getting lots of background footage as the show was underway. I think this should be very interesting. Make your Gotham travel plans accordingly!

  • If you're in the DC area on Wednesday night...

    ... you can meet the people responsible for the book that I keep on lauding, America's Defense Meltdown -- plus get a free copy of the book, by coming to a book-launch reception. You have to pay for your own beer, but it's at a place I have been many times and whose beer quality I can vouch for.

    Details: Wednesday, December 3, 6pm, at the Officers' Club at Fort Myer, across the river from downtown Washington in Rosslyn, Va. This same site has for several decades been the location for weekly beer sessions among the defense-reform community that originally featured the famous, late Col. John Boyd. Further info about the event, including instructions for RSVPs, at the Center for Defense Information site here. I'd be there if I weren't on the other side of the world. Have a beer and get a book for me.

  • Something I had forgotten....

    .... in the seven years since my wife and I moved away from Berkeley, CA:

    This really is the nicest place on earth.

    Yes, you have your Tuscanys and your Cape Towns  and your Vancouvers and all the rest (including Duluth!). But when it comes to a locale that is actively beautiful and human-scaled and full of creature comforts and with mild climate, and where first-rate work of importance to the world is also underway, Berkeley is hard to beat.

    Which leads me to: if you happen to be in Berkeley today, Thursday, Sept, 25, I will be there too. Barrows Hall, 4pm, talking about US-China relations. Then.... back to Beijing to keep learning about that topic.


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