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: Video

  • The CEO of DreamWorks on the Making of 'Lincoln'

    How a dense, historical movie made it to the big screen, in the era of The Fast and the Furious

    One month before the election, The Atlantic and our partners at UCSD put on the second 'Atlantic Meets the Pacific' conference in La Jolla. Video of many of the sessions has now gone up on the UCSD site. (Videos from both the 2012 and the 2011 conferences are here.)

    This year I got to interview Stacey Snider, the CEO of DreamWorks, about many aspects of a studio-executive's job. But the discussion began with the then-impending release of her next big movie, Lincoln. I hadn't seen it at that point and knew only vaguely about its theme, and so I didn't ask her about its substance or implications. Instead, starting 3:00 into the clip below, I ask her to tell us what we should know about the movie that, a month hence, we'd be hearing all about. Then I asked her how a studio thinks about releasing a wholly "worthy" movie like this, in the era of The Fast and the Furious (which was another of her movies).

    This is not a mainly-Lincoln discussion, but I thought it was revealing and interesting overall -- including when Snider explains that the most-misunderstood part of her job is that her principal duty is to read: scripts, novels, newspapers, histories, magazines. But its discussion of what the studio was thinking with Lincoln will be interesting for anyone who has seen the movie (as I finally have -- you should certainly do so if you haven't) and thought about its implications. For now I direct you to Ta-Nehisi Coates's ongoing exploration of these issues.

    One policy point only: time and again in writing about American politics and the American presidency, I say that things are a huge mess now, but they've often been extremely messy through our history. This movie is a useful reminder on that point.

    As a bonus, I also got to interview Gretchen Rubin, creator of "The Happiness Project." I was genuinely fascinated and engaged by everything she says. The three minutes that start at time 22:00 also touch on one of my Major Principles for Life.

    Thanks to Stacey Snider, Gretchen Rubin, all the other guests and interviewers, and the UCSD and Atlantic Life teams who made this happen. (I went from these interviews on to China, for my "Mr. China" article in the current issue.) See you in La Jolla next fall.

  • "China Today" #3: The Environment

    Third in the series of video conversations about China's prospects.

    The third in the series of conversations I've been having with Damien Ma, of the Eurasia Group, is now online, here. It's the third one down on the list on that page; previous two available there, and here. The theme this time is an extension of one often discussed in our pages: namely, how serious, really, is the environmental challenge for China, and how do the country's efforts to cope with it measure up.

    By the way, lots of other interesting videos on the Atlantic's (conveniently-named) "Video" channel, here. Worth checking out.

  • More Emmy News (updated)

    An Emmy win for Bob Schapiro & company.


    Back in February I mentioned how great it was that Bob Schapiro and his team had received two NY Emmy nominations for the "On the Frontlines: Doing Business in China" series that Bob had worked on and invested in for years. We ran many segments from the series on this site last summer. They are all in the "Doing Business in China" category of posts, and as soon as the "category" function is restored to our site, I'll be able to link to them as a group. For now, take my word for it that they were surprisingly enlightening and informative inside looks at  factories, offices, department stores, peasant markets, and all the other aspects of China's economic life that are so often discussed in the abstract in the rest of the world.

    This past weekend, the series was the winner in one of its categories! After the jump, the official list of all members of Bob Schapiro's team. I am not a completely disinterested observer, having been the on-camera co-host of the series (with Emily Chang) and then joining the NYT's Joe Nocera for "what it all means" discussions after each segment. But Bob Schapiro, Dovar Chen, and others had done so much filming and interviewing before I got involved that I can dispassionately give congratulations to them.

    If you're interested in seeing this now-award-winning series in the comfort of your own home, just click this box this corrected link, which allows you to see clips and offers a discount. Makes the perfect Mother's Day gift too.

    More »

  • Installment #2 of "China Today" Conversations

    Those enormous Chinese loans to America: how do they shift the balance of power between the countries?

    Following this first installment earlier in April of the "China Today" series of conversations between me and Damien Ma, of the Eurasia Group, a second has just gone online. It is here, with embedded version below.

    The main theme of this second conversation is which country has the leverage over the other, via China's enormous loans to and investments in the United States. Ma and I see this more or less the same way -- but in quite a different way from what you'd think based on mainstream coverage of the topic or, especially, US talk shows or political speeches. Judge for yourself.

  • More on the RMB and Chinese Economics: "China Today" Series

    Beginning a series of video conversations about China's economics and place in the world.

    Today we kick off a series of video conversations about the Chinese economy, US-China relations, and the general swirl of developments that is modern China. It is called "China Today"; you can find it here; and it features short discussions between me and Damien Ma of the Eurasia Group, below.


    We'll be running these as a series through the spring and again in the fall. In a sense they're an extension of last year's "Doing Business in China" series of videos -- which I will provide a link to when our site's "categories" feature is put back in action, and which as noted earlier is in contention for some documentary awards. The first discussion, which we recorded this past weekend, ends up being timely in regard to the Hu-Obama RMB discussions now in the news.

  • Interesting China/Google discussion; housekeeping note

    Interesting discussion: this morning I had the chance to listen in, as moderator, to a very lively discussion on the short- and long-run implications of the Google/China imbroglio and the Chinese government's apparent attempt to create its own info-sphere apart from the external internet. It was a joint production of the New America Foundation and Slate, and was held at the New America HQ in Washington today. Webcast available here; seriously, this was revealing and highlighted both convergences and divergence of view. Panelists:
      --Alec Ross, "Senior Advisor for Innovation" at the State Department, who left before the end, for work relating to Sec. of State Clinton's speech tomorrow on the Internet and Freedom;
     -- Rebecca MacKinnon, now of the Open Society Institute, long-time figure in China/internet policy;
     -- Evgeny Morozov, of Foreign Policy magazine and the Yahoo! Fellow at Georgetown;
     -- Timothy Wu, of Columbia University Law School.

    Among the topics covered: the pluses and minuses in Google's decision; whether the company was right or wrong to have entered China in the first place; what divisions may exist inside the Chinese government; what response the US government and US companies should and will make; whether China is limiting its own long-term potential through creating a blinkered, censored info-sphere, and so on.  We even got in two questions from viewers of a webcast in China. All in all, more informative than policy-panels often turn out to be.

    Related housekeeping note: if I live these next few days the way I should, I won't post anything in this space until early next week. That is even though there is a ton of pending, updated material on the Outlook -> Gmail migration, the Nexus One phone, new models of flying cars, interesting software, whether American politics is past redemption, specific suggestions on redeeming politics, the travails of journalism, and other treasured topics. And oh, yes, recent politics. For the second time in the past two years, I've reached a breaking point of overdue chores, messages I actually have to answer, and other things that can't wait any more. (If I've ignored your message, sorry! And, join the club!) Time to plow through all of that according to the rescue-and-recovery gospel promulgated by David "Getting Things Done" Allen, before doing anything else at all. See you in the run-up to the State of the Union Address.

  • In case you were really curious about my views on different topics...

    For the record:
    - Last night's panel discussion with Jim Lehrer on the News Hour about China, Obama, et cetera, here;

    - Also last night on BBC America with Matt Frei, also about Obama and China, here;

    - This morning on CSPAN Washington Journal, with Bill Scanlan, also about Obama and China, not on line at the moment but I will find it at some point (here);
    - Interview last week on The Kindle Chronicles, with Len Edgerly, about e-reading devices, here;

    - Radio interview two weeks ago, when I was in Australia, with Margaret Throsby of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation -- closest U.S. counterpart would be Terry Gross -- here. Her interviews are Fresh Air-like in combining policy and personal info. Also discussing my upcoming collaboration with the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney on future-of-media issues, a topic for another day.

    - Just to round this out, plan to be on KQED "Forum" with Michael Krasny at 9:30am PST / 12:30pm EST today. (Audio here.)

    - Charlie Rose this evening, with Elizabeth Economy and Nicholas Burns.

  • Doing Business in China: Legalese (updated)

    Before launching a business plan in China, it's essential to understand its legal system.

    Nearing the end of our Doing Business in China clips, here's the story of a Western businessman who went to the Chinese courts for relief -- and got it. Larger point involves the uneven way that "rule of law" applies in China. Some place, yes; many places, no; but the number of "yes" zones is increasing.

    UPDATE: In introducing the previous clip, I said that there was one sentence in it I completely disagreed with, while all the rest rang true. In case you were wondering, it was the sentence saying that in Shanghai and Beijing, "it is hard to find someone who doesn't speak English." If you define "Shanghai and Beijing" as meaning, "inside a five-star international hotel in Shanghai or Beijing, among the staff trained to deal with foreign guests, when the first team is on duty," that statement is exactly right! Otherwise....The statement appears around time 1:20, so you can put it in context and see the source.

  • Doing Business in China: Lost in Translation

    Although unprecedented numbers of Chinese people are learning English, communication can still be challenging.

    Ah, the mysteries of language. This little clip, next in the Doing Business in China series, actually does a nice job of introducing some of the tangles and intricacies of the "what language are people speaking, when they say they're speaking English?" question. There is exactly one sentence in this clip, from an interviewee, that I completely disagree with. Will let you guess which one it is. The rest all rings true, even when people contradict one another and themselves.

  • Doing Business in China: Who Holds the Purse?

    In Chinese families, women drive economic decisions more forcefully than men.

    You can probably guess the answer to the question above, explored in this next clip from the Doing Business in China series. But I do love the way this clip gets to the answer, via both its pre-Communist era documentary and movie footage and also its exploration of special role of the "Shanghai woman." I think you will see what I mean.


  • Doing Business in China: An Eastern Perspective

    The western quest for precision is often futile in China, where facts and figures never tell the whole story.

    This clip is about numbers, and the varying ways to make sense of them in China. At one extreme the power of numbers is of obvious and unignorable importance. The opening scene of the clip, on a winter day in Shanghai, give a glimpse of the sea-of-people effect of many Chinese cities. On the other hand, neither Shanghai nor Beijing nor any other city in the mainland seems as densely packed as either Tokyo or Hong Kong. The difference with mainland China is that there are so many multi-million person cities across so huge a landmass, plus plenty of well-populated rural areas too.

    At the same time, just about any number concerning China is an approximation, from economic growth rates to literacy or environmental readings, or anything else. This clip mainly talks about the implications of that rough-and-ready statistical approach for businesses, but it has international and political implications too. 

  • Doing Business in China: Drinks and Deals

    The most important business relationships in China are cemented in the bar.

    Ah, drinking in China as part of business negotiations. Where to start... This next installment of the Doing Business in China series is a beginning. It really is true that the purpose of many "business" dinners is for everyone, Chinese and foreign, to become drunk (often on Chinese Baijiu, 白酒, vodka-ish raw spirit). In becoming drunk and lowering defenses, people prove their mutual trust, or something. In any case, it's real. Note the appearance of Chinese beer, on which I often commented during my time of residence, starting about time 0:11. Main point: this sounds like a joke or cliche but actually makes a difference.

  • Discussion with John Podesta at Gov 2.0 conference

    Last week Tim O'Reilly held his debut "Gov 2.0" conference in Washington. All the parts I saw were interesting and provocative. For a list of clips, podcasts, and so on, go here. For the record, here is a clip of a session I did with John Podesta, former Clinton White House chief of staff and now head of the Center for American Progress. We decided to do it as a split-shift Q-and-A: first, improbably, he asked me questions, and then I asked him some. We ran out of time before I could get many details on something I really wanted to know about: what it was like to spend time with Kim Jong Il, when Podesta accompanied Bill Clinton to North Korea this summer.


    Seriously, the conference was a valuable series of presentations, worth perusing especially if you're feeling blue about the general tone of American political "discussion" these days and the fecklessness of many public efforts.

    A nice place to start is with this presentation by Carl Malamud, whose efforts to open public data to (gasp) the public I've often noted over the years. I return to the theme: we take our encouragement where we can find it.

  • The Real China

    From pollution to unemployment, factory workers to churchgoers, a look at the real people and issues dominating the nation today.

    Starting this week and through the fall, the Atlantic's site will have a series of clips from the DVD series "Doing Business in China" in which I was involved before moving back to the United States. I'll have more to say shortly about the background of the project, and what I view as its potential importance. For now I'll just say thanks to: Bob Schapiro and Dovar Chen, who figured out how to get the original and quite startling video footage inside Chinese factories, bureaucracies, stores, etc over the past few years; Joe Nocera of the New York Times, who appears on the films in "what it all means" discussions with me after each segment; and Emily Chang, on-camera co-host. I'll also mention that when we were filming some of the narration in Shanghai, it was hot and humid beyond all belief, and we were standing in direct sun on a rooftop. More to come, and I will say that I learned a lot about China through the process of working on this project.


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.



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