Tom Bissell

Tom Bissell is a journalist, critic, and fiction writer. He was born in Escanaba, Michigan, in 1974, and graduated from Michigan State University before briefly serving in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan.

His books include Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia (2003); Speak, Commentary: The Big Little Book of Fake Dvd Commentaries (2003) (with Jeff Alexander); God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories (2005); The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam (2007); Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter (2010); Magic Hours: Essays On Creators and Creation (2012); and The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room (2013) (with Greg Sestero). Bissell is a recipient of the Rome Prize and also a Guggenheim Fellowship. His short stories and journalism have also been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Travel Writing, and The Best American Science Writing. The many magazines he has written for include Harper'sThe New YorkerGrantlandThe New Republic, and GQ, among many others. The Disaster Artist is being adapted to the screen by James Franco.

He lives in Los Angeles.


Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve:

The Twelve Apostles have always been mysterious. We’ve seen them in countless paintings and churches, but who were they? Separated by two thousand years, our knowledge of them is based on contradictory and often cryptic gospels, as well as a collection of remains whose provenance ranges from questionable to dubious to downright spurious.

Tom Bissell spent years exploring the purported tombs and resting places of the Twelve, from Jerusalem to India to Kyrgyzstan to Spain and beyond, as well as the vast scholarly literature on early Christianity. This book is his guide to this rich and fascinating world. Separating the myths from the facts, he helps us understand the religious and cultural environment in which these men lived. Along the way, we come to understand the tensions between the diverse factions that comprised early Christianity, the seismic impact of the Jewish revolt and destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple, and how Rome came to be the heart of the Church. Above all we see how a series of conflicting and incomplete stories about events in a minor Roman province coalesced into a world-historical religion.

Like Bruce Feiler’s bestselling Walking the Bible, this is a modern journey into an ancient faith – a book for the skeptical, the faithful, and everyone in between. 


“Even if readers don’t care about the apostles, Bissell’s style is compelling on its own. His unforced humor is delightful, his wealth of research grounds this formidable apostolic project, and his crafty rhetoric and irresistible charm make it a must-read.” –Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review

A rich, contentious, and challenging book.” – Kirkus Starred Review



“A humorous yet sincere peek into the creation and creator of The Room.” – Jeffery Gleaves, Harper’s

Readers who seek even more chuckles at the expense of The Roomwill not be disappointed with this peek behind the camera, but the surprising turn in The Disaster Artist is how it capably, even affectionately, humanizes the individuals responsible for the film, particularly its creator, Tommy Wiseau.” – Doug Cornett, Propeller Magazine

The New York Times, RosedudMichael Ian Black, October 4, 2013 

The Los Angeles Review of Books, Wiseau's Folly, Scott Jacobson, October 31, 2014



“He writes these essays with a storyteller’s eye for detail. He can summon a setting in an adjective or two: the 'Viagral' cars and 'bespoke little mailboxes' of the Hollywood Hills, the 'hash-marked permafrost' of a football field in his hometown, Escanaba, Mich. About character, too, he can be funny and pithy and acute... This is not to suggest Bissell coasts on novelistic chops. He is also a diligent researcher with a genius for quotation. His greatest gifts as an essayist, though, resemble the more numinous attributes he imagines in an ideal travel writer: 'curiosity, a willingness to be uncertain, an essential emotional generosity." – Garth Risk Hallberg, The New York Times 

"A whip-smart, occasionally pugnacious collection of essays on culture from a wide-ranging critic... Stellar culture writing--Bissell has the knowledge and wit to earn his provocations." – Kirkus

The Rumpus Interview with Tom BissellApril 17, 2012

HarpersSix Questions for Tom BissellApril 17, 2012

Los Angeles Review of Books, Maria Bustillos on Magic HoursApril 18, 2012



 “[A]… fantastic new book… Extra Lives is a meditation on whether games can offer anything deeper than narcotic thrill.” – Farhad Manjoo, Slate

Extra Lives is the first truly indispensable work of literary nonfiction about society’s most lucrative entertainment medium. Bissell’s commentary is marvelously astute and his enthusiasm for games makes even his words on the printed page feel positively backlit.” – Jason Killingsworth, Paste



"...a book that combines the virtues of distance and immediacy--the cool perspective that comes from investigating a war that was pretty much over before the author was born and the searing immediacy of being raised by a troubled veteran of that lost war." – Joe Klein, The New York Times

"A penetrating look back at the Vietnam conflict, with Bissell alternatively guiding and following his veteran father... Big-picture politics take second place to the achingly personal in Bissell's heartfelt book." – Kirkus



“Bissell writes prose here as vivid and forceful as anything in his first book. The short story seems the right form for him; he artfully expresses the emotions stirred up by his own forays into the world outside America…Bissell reveals himself to be not only a subtle craftsman but also a mordant observer of a new generation lost in a complex and dangerous world.” – Pankaj Mishra, The New York Times

“It feels genuinely exciting to get a vivid insight into this shifty, bloodstained region from such a good writer… all the writing here is memorable; it engages the senses.” – Carrie O’Grady, The Guardian



“A literary, elegiac account of travels in the outback of Uzbekistan, tracing the origins and consequences of one of the world’s most devastating ecological disasters… First-rate in every regard: to be put alongside such classics on the region as Throuhg Khiva to Golden Samarkand and The Road to Oxiana.” – Kirkus