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Tom Bissell (born January 9, 1974) is an American journalist, critic, and fiction writer, originally from Escanaba, Michigan, United States and currently based in Los Angeles, California.

Tom Bissell
Bissell at the 2012 Comic-Con International
Bissell at the 2012 Comic-Con International
Born (1974-01-09) January 9, 1974 (age 45)
United States
OccupationJournalist, writer
ResidenceLos Angeles, California, U.S.
GenreJournalism, fiction, video games

Personal lifeEdit

He studied English at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. In 1996, when he was 22 years old, Bissell went to Uzbekistan as a volunteer for the Peace Corps.[1] He was there for seven months before returning home. He worked as a book editor in New York City and edited, among other books, The Collected Stories of Richard Yates and Paula Fox's memoir Borrowed Finery.[2] He is a frequent reviewer for The New York Times Book Review.

Bissell's father served in the Marines during the Vietnam War, alongside author and journalist Philip Caputo. The two remained friends during Bissell's childhood and Caputo read Bissell's work and encouraged him in his early writing efforts.[3]


Bissell has written for Harper's Magazine, Slate, The New Republic,[4] and The Virginia Quarterly Review, where he is a contributing editor. While much of Bissell's magazine writing could be considered travel writing, his articles are more concerned with politics, history, and autobiography than tourism.[5]

As a journalist he traveled to Iraq[6] and Afghanistan during wartime.

Bissell's literary work has been recognized and highlighted at Michigan State University in their Michigan Writers Series.[7]

His book in collaboration with Jeff Alexander, "Speak, Commentary", is a collection of fake DVD commentaries for popular films by political figures and pundits such as Noam Chomsky, Dinesh D'Souza and Ann Coulter.

His other books have earned him several prizes, including the Rome Prize, the Anna Akhmatova Prize, and the Best Travel Writing Award from Peace Corps Writers. His journalism has been anthologized in The Best American Travel Writing, and The Best American Science Writing.[8]

While much of Bissell's writing is concerned with issues of international relations and literary criticism, he frequently references Star Wars, J.R.R. Tolkien, and video games as well. The video game Gears of War 2, the first version of which Bissell wrote about for The New Yorker, contains a character named Hank Bissell, an apparent nod to him. In a March 2010 Observer article, he wrote about the appeal of games like Grand Theft Auto IV and his own simultaneous struggles with addiction to video games and cocaine.[9]

Bissell wrote about the cult film The Room in a 2010 article ("Cinema Crudité") published in Harper's Magazine.[10] In May 2011, he signed on to co-write (with actor Greg Sestero) a closer look at the film – the resultant book, The Disaster Artist, was published by Simon and Schuster in October 2013.[11]

Bissell's story "Expensive Trips Nowhere" was filmed as The Loneliest Planet (2011).


While Bissell has been critical of neo-conservatism, the Bush administration, and American unilateralism, his politics often do not fit within established categories of American liberalism and conservatism. Much of his work is concerned with the legacy of the Soviet Union and Communism.[12][13]

He has cited Philip Caputo as a major influence, along with Michigan writers Jim Harrison and Thomas McGuane.[14]


In 2005, Pantheon published a collection of Bissell's short fiction, God Lives in St. Petersburg: and Other Stories. In the same year, his story Death Defier was published in the Best American Short Stories. His story "Aral" inspired Werner Herzog's 2016 film Salt and Fire.[15]



  • Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia (2003) ISBN 978-0-375-42130-3
  • Speak, Commentary: The Big Little Book of Fake Dvd Commentaries (2003) (with Jeff Alexander) ISBN 978-1-932416-07-7
  • God Lives in St. Petersburg: and Other Stories (2005) ISBN 978-0-375-42264-5
  • The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam (2007) ISBN 978-0-375-42265-2
  • Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter (2010), ISBN 978-0-307-37870-5
  • Magic Hours: Essays On Creators and Creation (2012), ISBN 978-1-936365-76-0
  • The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made (2013, with Greg Sestero), ISBN 1451661193
  • Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve (2016) ISBN 978-0-375-424663
  • Everything About Everything: Infinite Jest, Twenty Years Later (2016) ISBN 978-0-316-30605-8

Video game scriptsEdit


  1. ^ Tom Bissell, Rolf Potts' Vagabonding
  2. ^ McSweeney's Internet Tendency: Tom Bissell, Archived 2004-04-07 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "March/April 2007 | Poets & Writers". Archived from the original on 2008-01-16. Retrieved 2010-07-26.
  4. ^ Bissell, Tom. "The Bunny Revolution | The New Republic". Retrieved 2010-07-26.
  5. ^ "Travel Writers: Tom Bissell". Retrieved 2010-07-26.
  6. ^ Day to Day (2006-01-11). "A Search for Military Strategy in Iraq". NPR. Retrieved 2010-07-26.
  7. ^ "Michigan Writers Series". Michigan State University Libraries. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
  8. ^ Random House, Authors, Tom Bissell,
  9. ^ "Video Games: The Addiction" by Tom Bissell, The Observer March 21, 2010 The Guardian
  10. ^ Bissell, Tom (August 2010). "Cinema Crudité: The mysterious appeal of the post-camp cult film". Harper's. Vol. 321 no. 1923. Harper's Foundation. pp. 58–65. Retrieved December 4, 2018.(subscription required)
  11. ^ Ruland, Jim (September 27, 2013). "Worst movie ever? 'The Disaster Artist' explores 'The Room'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  12. ^ See, e.g., "On CD Projekt's game "The Witcher 2"". Retrieved 2013-02-12.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ The Film Stage
  16. ^ Kotaku
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^

External linksEdit