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: Tiger jim

  • Leaving home photo album, #2

    -- From my dad's driveway, a vista I will think of not only in Beijing but eventually in Washington and anywhere else. The San Bernardino mountains, where my dad often rode horses, as they looked this morning after the past few days' big storms.


    -- From the photo archives, a picture I had never seen until it was discovered and digitized by my brother-in-law Bryan. My mother and father in Philadelphia General Hospital, one day after I was born there. He was 24 and just beginning his service as an intern at the hospital. She was 21, one year out of Tufts, one year into what would be her 55 years of married life.


    We'll think of them too. End of this theme.

  • Fresh Air update, concluding family comments

    Webcast of yesterday's interview on Fresh Air available online here.

    After we'd discussed the People's Bank of China, RMB/$ exchange rates, the "financial balance of terror" between China and the US, and similar worthy topics, Terry Gross asked me in the closing moments about the deaths of my parents. Specifically, why I'd written on this site about my father's death two months ago today. (My mother died unexpectedly, and relatively young, in her sleep nearly five years ago.)

    I didn't know she would ask this but in retrospect am glad that she did. As I fumbled to explain in real time, part of my instinct in making a private matter public was the sense that people with the virtues of my parents -- talented, loving, curious, hopeful people who poured their heart and effort into the betterment of their small community and the well-being of their family -- deserve more celebration than they typically get, precisely because they have chosen not to operate on a broad public stage. My parents were very well known in our home town but unknown outside of it. It gave me heart to think that people who had never encountered them might hear something about the lives they led.
    As my siblings have taken turns cleaning out our dad's house, they have come across hundreds of pictures that none of us had ever seen before. Parents are always old to their children. When parents have lived to an objectively advanced age and then physically run down, as my dad did, it is startling to be reminded how vigorous and, yes, beautiful they had once been. My mom and dad's youth is what we are discovering after their deaths.

    Thus, and as the real end to this commemorative series, three pictures I had never seen while my parents were living, part of a huge collection that my brother-in-law Bryan Neider is digitizing from old, brittle prints. The first are of my parents in the late 1940s, around the time of their wedding when she was 20 and he was 23. (His wedding ring is visible in the second shot.) Then, one of the rare pictures of my dad in which he's not smiling. Here he is wearing his game face, as the four-quarters, every-play offensive and defensive lineman known as Tiger Jim. These are people we never knew and are meeting now.

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  • James A. Fallows, 1925-2008

    This has been a good week for America but a rough week for certain Americans. Barack Obama's grandmother. Michael Crichton, and the book critic John Leonard. Many others, but of importance to me: my father, James A. Fallows, yesterday, November 7.

    After the jump, an obituary prepared for his hometown newspaper (and my first journalistic outlet), the Redlands Daily Facts. His son-in-law, Jack Tierney, paid him an eloquent tribute here, and I previously posted a letter from one of his former patients, here. Below, images of the active, enthusiastic, joyful man I will remember, engaging in two of his favorite activities: camping out while trail-riding in the California canyons, and winning a tennis point.


    Formal obituary below.

    James A. Fallows MD, a civic leader in Redlands and for many years a mainstay of the local medical community, died on November 7 at the Plymouth Village health center. He was 83 years old and had been in declining health for several months.

    Dr. Fallows, who was named the Redlands Man of the Year in 2002, when he was 77, was known for his full and energetic engagement in all aspects of local life. He was one of the early members of the Beaver Medical Clinic, which he joined in 1955 on his discharge from service as a U.S. Navy doctor. He practiced there for the next 35 years, during which time he was also the chief of staff at Redlands Community Hospital, president of the Beaver Medical Group, and for 15 years the chairman of the hospital's Intensive Care Unit, which he founded. In a paper presented to the Fortnightly Club, Dr. Fallows calculated that he had records of more than 3,500 house calls to patients during that period, or an average of two per week every week of the year.

    Apart from his medical career, Dr. Fallows was active in numerous civic activities. He was the president or chairman of the YMCA, the Fortnightly Club, the Friends of the A.K. Smiley Library, the Rim of the World Riders, the Redlands Mounted Police, the Redlands Community Scholarship Foundation, and the San Bernardino County Heart Association, among other organizations. He was also a board member or trustee of the Redlands Unified School District, the University of Redlands, the Redlands Symphony Organization, and Reading for the Blind. After moving to Plymouth Village six years ago, he was president of the Plymouth Village Association.

    Apart from all of this, he enjoyed countless hobbies and activities, especially tennis, trail-riding, bridge, bicycling, and piano playing. He was an accomplished painter and sculptor. Over the last two decades, he established himself as a local computer expert, helping set up web sites and networked installations for friends and civic organizations.

    James A. Fallows was born in Abington, Pennsylvania, in 1925, to Lloyd and Marion Fallows, and grew up in nearby Jenkintown. In high school he wrestled and played football and tennis, and was editor of the school newspaper. In 1943 he went to Ursinus College, in Pennsylvania, under the Navy's V-12 program. There he also played football and wrestled and acted in dramatic productions. After two years in college, he was admitted to Harvard Medical School. He spent his internship and residency in naval service in Washington DC, Corona, and other locations, before moving to Redlands to join the then-small Beaver Clinic.

    In 1948, while still in medical school, he married Jean Mackenzie, whom he had known from childhood. They were very happily married for 56 years, until her death in 2004. Recently he married Helen Haim, of Plymouth Village, his loving companion of several years. He is survived by countless friends and colleagues and grateful patients, and also by: his second wife, Helen Haim Fallows; his elder brother, Robert L. Fallows of Lansdale, Pa.; his children James M. Fallows, now of Beijing; Susan F. Tierney, of Chestnut Hill, Ma.; Thomas S. Fallows, of Hong Kong; and Katharine F. Neider, of Menlo Park, and their spouses; ten grandchildren; and longtime family friend Yolanda Molina.

    Dr. Fallows who was nicknamed "Sunny Jim" in his childhood and "Tiger Jim" through his adult life for his intensity on the football field, was known for his constantly cheery and upbeat demeanor and his boundless curiosity and energy. In some of his last comments to his family before his death, he said "I've had a wonderful life" and "I'm such a lucky guy."

    A memorial service for Dr. Fallows will be held tomorrow, November 10, at 2:30 pm in the main Assembly Hall at Plymouth Village.

    More »

  • Non-political, highly personal: my dad

    On Election Day, I am at the bedside of my father, James A. Fallows MD, who is nearing the end of his extraordinary life. Six months ago, when he first seemed mortal, I was grateful for the opportunity to talk about him at the college he attended for two years -- before being rushed straight to medical school for service as a Navy doctor -- and from which he received his honorary bachelor's degree 60 years later.

    Just now I have received a note that expresses more vividly than I could what a life well, fully, and joyously lived can mean. I share it now, with the writer's permission, at a time when my dad himself can no longer appreciate it but while it is not yet purely retrospective.
    The note begins:

    My name is Erin Cox-Holmes, and I'm a fan of the Atlantic ...As I was trolling sites today, waiting through the nail-biter until the results came in, I happened upon your site. And, as I always do when I see your name, I thought of your dad.

    It continues below:

    I grew up in Redlands; my mom, Shirley Cox, was a nurse at the Beaver Medical clinic [where my father worked]. Your dad was our family doctor.

    In 1978, when I was 18, a second year student at the U of R [U of Redlands] counting the days until departure for the Salzburg semester, I found a series of lumps on the back and side of my neck. My mom was worried about me, and talked your dad's nurse into working me in. This was one week before Christmas. I went in casually, and watched your dad's face go from nonchalant to veiled as he felt the side of my neck. He dismissed my mother to the waiting room, and then told me that he thought there was a 95% chance that I had lymphoma, and, if I did, there was a 90% chance I'd be dead in six months.

     There's no flowery way to deliver that kind of message. He said it baldly, and simply. The depth of ache in his eyes was from someone who had to deliver news like that on a regular basis, but never got used to it....

    He tactfully put it that he thought I would like time to let it sink in before we called my mother in and gave her the news.  He just sat there with me for about five minutes, and then brought my mother back in. ...I'd had enough time to breathe that I could manage my pounding heart, and also cope with her feelings.

     Our family was barely surviving financially, and he also personally went to talk to "her" doctor, the urologist, to convince him to give her the rest of the afternoon off, with pay.

     Diagnosis being what it was back then,  a biopsy was the only way to actually know what was happening inside people's skins. The first available date was after the New Year. I have no idea what strings your dad pulled, or what family plans of yours got ruined, but he managed to get an operating room late in the day on Christmas Eve, so we wouldn't go through the holiday without knowing. (He asked if I would rather know or not, on Christmas morning, and I wanted to know.)

    I knew after surgery that I would know by the length of the incision whether it was a benign lump or a tumor, but was not prepared to wake up in recovery, and discover that I was so thoroughly bandaged that I would not be able to tell.

     I woke up by myself, felt the bandages on my neck, couldn't call anyone due to the after-effects of the breathing tube. But your dad appeared one minute later, and said that he'd been watching, so that I wouldn't wake up alone to wonder. And, I'm sure the glimmer I saw in his eyes wasn't merely a reflection of the florescent lights, when he told me the lumps were benign. That long-healed line on my neck is still tender, and I never finger it, without remembering his remarkable kindness, that small town doctor, in a world which has passed by.

     Your blog entry today says that you are at a medical facility on family business, and I thought the remembrance of your dad's mercy might cheer you as you face whatever this day brings to you and yours.


    Best regards,

    Erin Cox-Holmes

    Punxsutawney, PA

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  • Father's Day evening tribute to my own dad

    A month ago I made a crazed out-and-back trip from Beijing to the U.S. East Coast, stopping in LA, to fulfill an obligation many years in the making. This was to give a commencement speech at Ursinus College, outside Philadelphia. I mention it, on this Father's Day, because it directly concerned my father, and because some of the homilies involved were rounded up in today's NYT selection of "the future lies ahead"-ish thoughts from Commencement speeches. Pensees of mine are nestled in there between those of Clarence Thomas and Jessica Lange.

    Here is a transcript of the whole thing, in its 11-minute entirety. Happy Father's Day!


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A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

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