Mr. Bernstein was born in New York and received his B.A. from the University of Connecticut, graduating with highest honors in 1966. He did five years of graduate work at Harvard University in History and East Asian Languages before deciding on a career in journalism.
His graduate career was interrupted in 1970 when he began working as a part-time correspondent for The Washington Post, filing stories from Taiwan and Mainland China, which he first visited in 1972. His first full-time job was in 1973 as a staff writer for TIME Magazine, where he wrote some two dozen cover stories, mostly on China and Vietnam. He was subsequently the magazine's youngest ever Hong Kong Bureau Chief, covering China and traveling extensively in Southeast Asia. In 1980, he went to Bejing to open TIME’s first bureau in the People's Republic of China. His three years in that post produced his first book, FROM THE CENTER OF THE EARTH: The Search for the Truth About China (1983), which was declared by The Boston Globe to be "a classic” and was called a “wry, acerbic, masterfully-conceived account” by The New York Times.
His second book, FRAGILE GLORY: A Portrait of France and the French, was published in 1982. A reviewer in The New York Times called it “the most penetrating account of contemporary France we’re likely to own.”
Mr. Bernstein joined The New York Times that same year, working as a metropolitan reporter and Chief of the United Nations Bureau. He served as the paper's Paris Bureau Chief from 1984-1987 and returned to New York in 1987 to become National Cultural Correspondent.
DICTATORSHIP OF VIRTUE: Multiculturalism and the Battle for America’s Future, was published in 1994. A reviewer in the Boston Globe called it “tart, sometimes eloquent, always graceful and lucid."
He was named Daily Book Critic of The New York Times in 1995 and stayed at that position until 2002. Book number four, THE COMING CONFLICT WITH CHINA (1997), of which he is co-author, was widely praised by publications such as Business Week, the New Republic and The Los Angeles Times. Mary Matalin, on the CBS Radio Network, said “If you buy only one book this year, this should be it.” His next, ULTIMATE JOURNEY: Retracing the Path of an Ancient Buddhist Monk Who Crossed Asia in Search of Enlightenment (2001), was listed by The New York Times as one of the "Best Books of the Year" and recounts his retracing (in 1999) the path taken across Asia and India by a Buddhist Monk in 629 AD while searching for enlightenment.
Number six was his book-length narrative of the 9/11 attack, OUT OF THE BLUE: From Jihad to Ground Zero. It was named by The Boston Globe as one of the seven best books of 2002.
In 2003, Mr. Bernstein resumed his work as a foreign correspondent, serving four years in Berlin as the Times's Bureau Chief for Germany and Central Europe.
Mr. Bernstein's latest book, THE EAST, THE WEST, AND SEX: A History of Erotic Encounters (2009), will be published in June by Alfred A. Knopf.
Mr. Bernstein lives in New York with his wife, Zhongmei Li, and their son, Elias.
THE EAST, THE WEST, AND SEX: A History of Erotic Encounters
Kirkus Reviews: April 15, 2009
An investigation of the Western male’ age-old attraction to Asian women. International Herald Tribune columnist Bernstein (Ultimate Journey: Retracing the Path of an Ancient Buddhist Monk Who Crossed Asia in Search of Enlightenment, 2001, etc.) begins with
the story of ChinaBounder, a foreign English teacher in Shanghai who boasted on his blog that he could have unlimited sex with Chinese women. The author attempts to trace this long-running East-West sexual fascination and finds the underlying reasons as
pertinent today as they were when British diplomat Paul Rycaut’s The Present State of the Ottoman Empire (1668) first titillated readers with details of the Eastern harem. Western conquest and colonialism translated into Eastern slavery and submission, setting the stage for Eastern reception of Western desire.
In his loose-limbed style, Bernstein illustrates this development with solid examples throughout literature. These include the central crisis in the Iliad, in which Agamemnon steals Achille’s beloved slave companion, Briseis; the passion of Antony for Cleopatra; Marco Polo’s fabulous descriptions of Kublai Khan’s permissive court, and other stimulating travel accounts by Sir John Mandeville and Ludovico di Varthema; and the work of Gustave Flaubert and Richard Burton (both aficionados of prostitution while traveling in the East) as a kind of “sexual and cultural liberation movement” in era of the emerging bourgeoisie.
The author chronicles the various “phases” in this long erotic encounter, including the British nabob in India, the French lusting for Moorish women in Algeria, the war-time occupiers of Japan and Vietnam and the current trend of post-middle-aged Western men taking up marriages in Thailand. In an effort to be fair and nonjudgmental, Bernstein offers feminist viewpoints as well.
A diligent scholar pursues a subject given to theories of exploitation and dehumanization, but intriguing any way you look at it.
Publishers Weekly: April 6, 2009
Is the notion of the East as a zone of special erotic possibilities purely a matter of Western fantasy and wishful thinking...?” This question is at the center of Bernstein’s wide-ranging, critically astute history of the complicated relationship between Western male sexuality and the East. The book opens in 2006 Shanghai and concludes in contemporary Bangkok; in between, we are led through a sweeping yet focused, male-centered history of sexuality, spanning a broadly defined East and West, from
antiquity to the 21st century.
Bernstein examines Flaubert’s sexual exploits in Egypt, where he vividly recorded “a sensual intensity, impossible in the West”; British explorer Richard Burton’s travels through the Middle East, India and Africa, all exemplified by a sexual artistry uncultivated in Christian Europe; the fascinating case of the secretive Henry de Montherlant, a pederast who spent years in North Africa “greedy for flesh” and eventually took his own life.
Former New York Times correspondent Bernstein (Fragile Glory) writes lucidly
and with verve. This probing, absorbing and eclectic study critically challenges morally and politically correct interpretations of the Western sexual exploitation of the East. 12 illus. (June 2)
Suggested Speech Topics:
A HISTORY OF EXOTIC ENCOUNTERS: WHY IT MATTERS TO THE WEST
AMERICA VS. CHINA: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
MULTICULTURALISM AND THE ONGOING BATTLE FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE
ULTIMATE JOURNEY: RETRACING THE PATH TO ENLIGHTENMENT