David Halberstam

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The news of David Halberstam's death is a surprisingly shocking blow. In general, a man's passing at age 73 cannot seem wholly unnatural or out of sequence. But it was hard to think of Halberstam as being as anything but young. He was as full of ambition and energy and enthusiasm and spark as anyone I know, of any age.

He was a generous advisor and patron to me, starting when I was in my mid-20s, and I know that he was to many, many young journalists. As I have grown older, I have reflected on his example of the karmic importance of being nice to the young. He had his excesses -- he was strapping and big, "an honest six-three" I think he wrote in one of his books about sports, or maybe it was "an honest six-four" -- and with his deep, dramatic, sometimes self-dramatizing voice he could look and sound like a clean-shaven Old Testament God. He was aware of and liked the effect, I think. But he had a very, very big heart, and with The Best and the Brightest he changed our business. I still remember the day when, as a graduate student in England, I got my sea-mail copy of Harper's with Halberstam's long story "The Programming of Robert McNamara" on the cover. I read it all, standing at the mail box, and I thought: this is what journalism is for. (I also thought: aren't magazines great! And: I belong back in America.)

(Addendum: not everyone knows that Halberstam was a childhood friend, and I believe an actual school classmate, of Ralph Nader in their home town of Winsted, Ct. It would have been more fun to be the civics teacher than the principal at that school.)

There will be more to say later. Just now, I am stunned by his loss.

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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.
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