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Michael James Totten (born September 16, 1970) is an American journalist and author who has reported from the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans, Cuba, Vietnam, and the Caucasus. His work appears in various publications, websites, and on his blog. His first book, The Road to Fatima Gate, was published in 2011 and was awarded the Washington Institute Silver Book Prize. In his blog posts, he also describes himself as an "independent journalist", while regularly exposing his thoughts in articles which often focus on Middle Eastern conflicts.

Michael J. Totten
Totten at a Lebanese cafe in 2005
Totten at a Lebanese cafe in 2005
BornMichael James Totten
(1970-09-16) September 16, 1970 (age 49)
Salem, Oregon, U.S.
OccupationJournalist, blogger, novelist
ResidenceSunnyside, Portland, Oregon, U.S.
EducationSouth Salem High School (1988)
Alma materUniversity of Oregon (English literature)
Period2000s and 2010s
SubjectMiddle Eastern geopolitics and international relations
Shelly Lynn Stephenson (m. 2002)

Early life and educationEdit

Totten as a high school freshman in the mid-1980s
Totten as a high school sophomore in the mid-1980s
Totten as a high school junior in the 1980s
Totten as a high school senior in the late 1980s

Totten is of English[1] descent and was born in Salem, Oregon[2] on September 16, 1970.[3][2][4] His father was a Republican and a military veteran.[5] Totten's grandfather was a World War II veteran.[6] Totten attended McKinley Elementary School in Salem, Oregon.[7]

Totten studied English literature at the University of Oregon in the early 1990s,[8] after attending South Salem High School in the 1980s.[9][10][11][12][13] He has stated that he did not like his time living in Salem and that he was glad to leave it.[14]


In the 1990s, Totten wrote an opinion column for The Daily Iowan.

Totten's work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times,[15] City Journal, the New York Daily News,[16]The Jerusalem Post, the Daily Star of Lebanon, Reason magazine, Commentary,[17]LA Weekly, Front Page, Tech Central Station, and the Australian edition of Newsweek.

In July 2007, Totten traveled to Baghdad to embed with several U.S. Army units before transitioning to Anbar province and embedding with U.S. Marines.[18] In late 2007 he embedded with U.S. Marines in Fallujah, and he embedded again with the U.S. Army in Baghdad in late 2008.

Totten won the 2007 Weblog Award for Best Middle East or Africa Blog,[19] he won it again in 2008, and was named Blogger of the Year in 2006 by The Week magazine for his dispatches from the Middle East. He was in Georgia during the 2008 South Ossetia war.[20]

His most recent book is Tower of the Sun: Stories from the Middle East and North Africa.[21]


In the past Totten has described himself as a "weird combination of liberal, libertarian, and neocon" and later he described himself as politically centrist.[22] He initially supported the Iraq War's overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime, stating during the run-up, "If you don't join us now, when Saddam's regime falls and Iraqis cheer the US Marines, you are really going to feel like a jackass. And your jackassery will be exposed beneath klieg lights for all to see."[23] However, he believed that the critics of the war who noted the lack of progress from 2004 to 2006 were correct while the Bush administration was wrong. He supported the 2007 'surge' strategy.[24]

On June 23, 2010, Totten applauded Barack Obama's decision to accept General Stanley McChrystal's resignation, and Totten labeled it "one of the best decisions the president has made since he took office."[25]


Totten describes himself as an "independent journalist." Most of his trips—to Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Bosnia, Kosovo, Georgia, and several other places—are paid for out of his own pocket, although he has also accepted funding from the Government of Azerbaijan, the American Jewish Committee and the Lebanese pro-western March 14 alliance for trips to Azerbaijan, Israel, and Lebanon, respectively.[26][27]

Personal lifeEdit

In the early 2000s, Totten married Shelly Lynn Stephenson in Oregon's Multnomah County,[28][29][30] and they spent their honeymoon in Spain in April 2002.[31] He describes his wife as "conventionally" liberal.[29] They are both registered Democrats and atheists,[32] although Totten did not vote for Barack Obama[20] and is a former Christian.[33] They both live together in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Portland, Oregon.[34][3][35]

Totten was briefly a Libertarian during the 1990s, but became a Democrat afterwards, though he has stated in the past that he was never fully content with being a Democrat and has considered going back to the Libertarians.[36]


Totten's first book, The Road to Fatima Gate: The Beirut Spring, the Rise of Hezbollah, and the Iranian War Against Israel (Encounter Books, April 2011, ISBN 978-1-59403-521-0), reports his experiences in the Middle East, primarily Lebanon.

Other books include:[37]

  • Tower of the Sun: Stories From the Middle East and North Africa (2014)
  • Where the West Ends (2012)
  • Resurrection: A Zombie Novel (2014)
  • Taken – A Novel (2013)
  • In the Wake of the Surge (2011)
  • On the Hunt in Baghdad (2011)
  • In the Land of the Brother Leader (2011)
  • Raid Night (2011)


  1. ^ Totten, Michael J. (July 2005). "Al Qaeda Hits London". Retrieved June 16, 2017. I have never been to England, but it's where my family and my name are from.
  2. ^ a b "Archive". Normblog. BlogSpot. September 28, 2003. Archived from the original on August 7, 2010. Michael J. Totten was born in Salem, Oregon in 1970. He studied English literature at the University of Oregon, and his interests have since expanded to include writing, history, politics, and travel.
  3. ^ a b Oregon Elections Division (August 28, 2017). "TOTTEN, MICHAEL JAMES". My Vote. Salem, Oregon: Oregon Secretary of State. Archived from the original on September 1, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
  4. ^ Totten, Michael J. (2003). "An Open Letter to the People of Iran". I remember the revolution of 1979. The Shah was deposed, the Ayatollahs seized power, and students in the streets of Tehran shouted "Death to America!" Our embassy staff were kidnapped, and we Americans were terrified. I was nine years old.
  5. ^ Totten, Michael J. (December 23, 2015). "The Truth About American Sniper". City Journal. I was raised with the anti-military prejudice common in my community, despite having a military veteran and Republican for a father.
  6. ^ Totten, Michael J. (October 14, 2003). "Schizophrenic Liberalism". Dispatches. World Affairs Journal. Archived from the original on December 8, 2017. Retrieved December 7, 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  7. ^
  8. ^ Totten, Michael J. (2017). "Michael Totten". LinkedIn. LinkedIn. Retrieved August 29, 2017. 1990-1994
  9. ^ "Michael J. Totten".
  10. ^ "Michael Totten, Class of 1988 - South Salem High School - Classmates".
  11. ^ "1987 South Salem High School Yearbook".
  12. ^ "South Salem High School class lists - contact old friends".
  13. ^ "1988 South Salem High School Yearbook".
  14. ^ Totten, Michael J. (2004). "Against Suburbia".
  15. ^ Book review by Michael Totten of Mirror of the Arab World: Lebanon in Conflict by Sandra Mackey, The New York Times, March 30, 2008
  16. ^ "Frontline Lessons from the Iraq Surge", Michael Totten, New York Daily News, August 29, 2007
  17. ^ "The Worst since 9/11", Michael J. Totten, Commentary, August 22, 2007
  18. ^ "Iraq Trip Confirmed", Michael J., July 5, 2007
  19. ^ "The 2007 Weblog Award Winners", Kevin Aylward, November 9, 2007
  20. ^ a b Totten, Michael J. "December 11, 2017". Facebook. Facebook. Retrieved December 12, 2017. You may recall that I gave Obama a hard time about Russia, too, and I didn't vote for him. I don't vote for pro-Russian or soft-on-Russia candidates. I was in Georgia when Russia invaded.
  21. ^ Totten, Michael J. (20 November 2014). "Tower of the Sun: Stories From the Middle East and North Africa". Belmont Estate Books – via Amazon.
  22. ^ "Quick Poll", Michael J. Totten, January 2008; see comment timestamped "January 7, 2008 1:25 AM"
  23. ^ "A Liberal's Case for Bush's War"
  24. ^ The Real Iraq, Michael J. Totten, City Journal, May 16, 2008
  25. ^ Good Call, Mr. President, Michael J Totten, June 2010
  26. ^ "On my way to Israel", Michael J. Totten, January 2009
  27. ^ The Explosive Caucasus, Michael J. Totten, August 2008
  28. ^ "Oregon, Marriage Indexes, 1906-2009". 2009. Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  29. ^ a b Totten, Michael J. (November 2, 2006). "My Last Domestic Politics Post of the Election Season". Dispatches. World Affairs Journal. Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  30. ^ Totten, Michael J. (July 24, 2004). "A Photo Tour of Tunisia". Archived from the original on May 27, 2017. Retrieved May 26, 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  31. ^ Totten, Michael J. (March 8, 2003). "Weekend Words and Photos". Michael J. Totten. BlogSpot. Archived from the original on September 29, 2004. Retrieved September 29, 2004. Shelly in Spain on our honeymoon last April.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  32. ^ "Jerks".
  33. ^ "Fighting Dirty".
  34. ^ Oregon Elections Division (August 28, 2017). "STEPHENSON, SHELLY LYNN". My Vote. Salem, Oregon: Oregon Secretary of State. Archived from the original on August 29, 2017. Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  35. ^ Totten, Michael J. "Against Suburbia". World Affairs Journal.
  36. ^ Totten, Michael J. "The Libertarian Temptation". World Affairs Journal.
  37. ^ Michael J. Totten

Further readingEdit

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