Author Q&A with Sebastian Junger

Author Q&A with Sebastian Junger

Stripes Okinawa

Sebastian Junger is the New York Times bestselling author of Tribe, War, A Death in Belmont, Fire, and The Perfect Storm, and co-director of the documentary film Restrepo, which was nominated for an Academy Award. He is also the winner of a Peabody Award and the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He lives in New York City with his family. We had the opportunity to learn more about Junger and his latest book, "Freedom." 

About "Freedom"

Throughout history, humans have been driven by the quest for two cherished ideals: community and freedom. The two don’t coexist easily. We value individuality and self-reliance, yet are utterly dependent on community for our most basic needs. In this intricately crafted and thought-provoking book, Sebastian Junger examines the tension that lies at the heart of what it means to be human.

For much of a year, Junger and three friends—a conflict photographer and two Afghan War vets—walked the railroad lines of the East Coast. It was an experiment in personal autonomy, but also in interdependence. Dodging railroad cops, sleeping under bridges, cooking over fires, and drinking from creeks and rivers, the four men forged a unique reliance on one another.

In Freedom, Junger weaves his account of this journey together with primatology and boxing strategy, the history of labor strikes and Apache raiders, the role of women in resistance movements, and the brutal reality of life on the Pennsylvania frontier. Written in exquisite, razor-sharp prose, the result is a powerful examination of the primary desire that defines us.

1. Tell us about yourself.

I’ve been a war reporter since 1993, when I went to Sarajevo to cover the Bosnian civil war; before that I was a high-climber for tree companies. A chainsaw injury up in a tree led me to write about dangerous work and led to my first book, “The Perfect Storm.” I was in Afghanistan in 1996, as the Taliban were taking over, and then I spent two months with Ahmed Shah Massoud in 2000 as he battled the Taliban and Al Qaeda. I saw the liberation of Kabul a year later and then started covering US forces, which resulted in my book, “War,” and my documentary film, “Restrepo.” I also covered several civil wars in West Africa. I gave up war reporting after my colleague, Tim Hetherington, was killed in Libya, and I now live in New York City with my wife and two little girls. 

2. What made you want to write “Freedom”?

 People will die to defend their tribe and they will die to defend their freedom. In some ways, they are one in the same thing. Freedom and community are core human values that go back tens of thousands of years, but the word “freedom” can be horribly misused by people who need a moral or political justification for doing something that is wrong. I wanted to write a clear, concise book that attempted to sort all that out.

3. What was your favorite part about writing “Freedom”?

I love writing. There are no favorite parts. That said, the sections about the Pennsylvania frontier were a lot of fun to research and write about.

4. What was the most difficult part about writing “Freedom”?

In the middle of the writing process, I almost died of a ruptured abdominal artery. I lost 90 percent of my blood. Recovering from that, physically and emotionally, was very hard. Picking up where I’d left off the day that it happened was surreal.

5. We're curious .... did your traveling group establish a hierarchy within the group?

There was no hierarchy of authority but there was a hierarchy of experience. No one gave orders but they gave suggestions. My nickname was “Daddy Sebastian,” so clearly, I was making a lot of decisions and doing a lot of caretaking. I always made coffee and breakfast, for example. At times I was overruled by the group. Mostly they listened to me.

6. What do you want readers to walk away with after reading, “Freedom”?

Mostly, I want readers to understand that modern life is extraordinarily easy compared to most of human history, and that we owe our safety, comfort and ease primarily to the society we are part of. And we owe something in return. What we owe is a matter of debate, but we don’t owe nothing. As I say in the book, “Only children owe nothing.” And none of us are children.

We will be giving away free copies of "Freedom" from June 21-27 on our Facebook page. Follow us there to enter in our giveaway when it's live! 

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