Tom Engelhardt: Meet the man behind the obsessional, addictive Tomdispatch

Historians in the News

Tom Engelhardt is that rare 62-year-old who can make people half his age feel old. And young. Old, because, well, if you've got the age advantage, how come he's the one with the all the vigor? Young, because his energy and enthusiasm and commitment are galvanizing—ask the hundreds of writers whose books he's edited over the years (Mike Davis, Adam Hochschild, Studs Terkel, Noam Chomsky; the list goes on and on); or the journalism students he's taught and inspired; or, for that matter, just drop in on his web site, Tomdispatch, any given day to enjoy his latest gleeful (and always elegant) demolition of the Bush administration or the mainstream media, or both, or the most recent Tomdispatch essay by one of the stars of the literary left, who write for the site in part because they know they'll get the best editing around. started out in November 2001 as a e-mail list of about a dozen friends and family members. Stunned at the Bush administration's post-9/11 course and sensing the calamities to come, Engelhardt started sending around clippings—framed by his own ever-lengthening commentaries—from the world press, offering perspectives on America's global actions largely absent from US coverage. In 2002 the Nation Institute gave the fast-growing list a home as a web site billed as "a regular antidote to the mainstream media." The pieces typically run into the thousands of words ("Sometimes the world just can't be grasped short.") and each week brings two or three new ones. Engelhardt ballparks the average readership of each piece at up to 100,000—not bad for basement operation run by a guy with a day job and one part-time assistant editor.

This past year the site spawned two books—one, "Mission Unaccomplished", a collection of interviews Engelhardt did with an assortment of writers (and not only lefties) whose thought he admired, the other, written by former federal prosecutor and Tomdispatch star Elizabeth de la Vega, building a legal case that Bush & co. engaged in a conspiracy to "deceive the American public and Congress into supporting the war." In his introduction to the collected interviews, "Mission Unaccomplished," Engelhardt writes, "I saw my mission, modestly accomplished, as connecting some of the "dots" not being connected by our largely demobilized media, while recording as best I could the "mission unaccomplished" moments I felt certain would come," and this statement stands as a pretty good summary of what Tomdispatch has achieved over these past five years....

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