Jonathan Schell

Schell giving a reading at the Occupy Wall Street event Occupy Town Square, in Tompkins Square Park in New York, February 2012

Jonathan Edward Schell (August 21, 1943 – March 25, 2014)[1][2] was an American author and visiting fellow at Yale University, whose work primarily dealt with campaigning against nuclear weapons.


His work appeared in The Nation, The New Yorker, and TomDispatch. The Fate of the Earth received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, among other awards, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Critics Award.

From 1967 until 1987, he was a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he served as the principal writer of the magazine's Notes and Comment section. He was a columnist for Newsday from 1990 until 1996. He has taught at many universities, including Princeton, Emory, New York University, the New School, Wesleyan University and the Yale Law School. At the time of his death he was a Visiting Lecturer at Yale College.

In the early 1980s, Schell wrote a series of articles in The New Yorker (subsequently published in 1982 as The Fate of the Earth), which were instrumental in raising public awareness about the dangers of the nuclear arms race. He became a persistent advocate for disarmament and a world free of nuclear weapons.[3]

In 1987, he was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and in 2002, a fellow at the Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy. In 2003, he was a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School, and in 2005, a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Yale's Center for the Study of Globalization.[4]

From 1998 to his death in 2014 he was a Senior Fellow at The Nation Institute and the Peace and Disarmament Correspondent for The Nation magazine.[5]

In 2002 and 2003, Schell was a persistent critic of the invasion of Iraq.[6] He has since commented, "There doesn't seem to be a rush to find the people who were right about Iraq and install them in the mainstream media."[7]


Schell was born in New York City in 1943. He graduated from Harvard University in 1965.[5]

He was the brother of Suzanne Schell Pearce, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Orville Schell, former dean of the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.[8] and current Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society in New York. He was a graduate of The Putney School in Putney, Vermont.

Reviews, response, and criticism

In 1967, John Mecklin wrote in The New York Times that The Village of Ben Suc, Jonathan Schell's first book, was "written with a skill that many a veteran war reporter will envy, eloquently sensitive, subtly clothed in an aura of detachment, understated, extraordinarily persuasive."[9]

On its publication in 1982, "The Fate of the Earth" was described by Kai Erikson in The New York Times as "a work of enormous force" and "an event of profound historical moment.... [I]n the end, it accomplishes what no other work has managed to do in the 37 years of the nuclear age. It compels us - and compel is the right word - to confront head on the nuclear peril in which we all find ourselves."[10]

Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, however, David Greenberg called The Fate of the Earth an “overwrought doomsday polemic.”[11] Two decades later, in, Michael Kinsley characterized it as "an overheated stew of the obvious and the idiotic" and suggested it was "the silliest book ever taken seriously by serious people."[12] The Los Angeles Times noted that "some reviewers found Schell's book shrill and overstated."[13]

Reviewing The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger in The New York Times in 2007, Martin Walker characterized it as "a passionate and cogently argued case for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons.... There is little in Schell’s book that is new, but his careful assembly of the available evidence will scare the pants off most readers. And so it should."[14]

In his heyday at The New Yorker, some of Schell's colleagues referred to him as "the incredibly boring Jonathan Schell." [15]

Selected publications

See also


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