No Ordinary Assignment: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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"A haunting memoir of disarming honesty. . . a remarkable testament to the anguish and the beauty of foreign correspondence.”—Roger Cohen, New York Times Paris bureau chief and author of An Affirming Flame
From award-winning journalist Jane Ferguson, an unflinching memoir of ambition and war—from The Troubles to the fall of Kabul.
Jane Ferguson has covered nearly every war front and humanitarian crisis of our time. She reported from Yemen as protests grew into the Arab Spring; she secured rare access to rebel-held Syria, where foreign journalists were banned, to cover its civil war. When the Taliban claimed Kabul in 2021, she was one of the last Western journalists to remain at the airport as thousands of Afghans, including some of her colleagues, struggled to evacuate.
Living with sectarian violence was nothing new to Ferguson. As a child in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and ‘90s, The Troubles meant bomb threats and military checkpoints on the way to school were commonplace. Books by Dervla Murphy and Martha Gellhorn offered solace from her turbulent family, and an opportunity to study Arabic in Yemen came as a relief—and a ticket to the life in journalism she imagined.
Without family wealth or connections, she began as a scrappy one-woman reporting team, a borrowed camera often her only equipment. Networks told her she had the wrong accent, the wrong appearance, not enough “bang-bang shoot-‘em-up.” Still, Ferguson threw herself into harm’s way time and again, determined to give voice to civilian experiences of war. In the face of grave violence and suffering, this seemed a small act of justice, no matter the risks.
Ferguson’s bold debut chronicles her unlikely journey from bright, inquisitive child to intrepid war correspondent. With an open-hearted humanity we rarely see in conflict stories, No Ordinary Assignment shows what it means to build an authentic career against the odds.
Jane Ferguson is a special correspondent for PBS NewsHour. Her reporting has won an Emmy Award, a Peabody Award, the George Polk Award, and the Aurora Humanitarian Journalism Award, among others. A frequent contributor to the New Yorker, she lives in New York City.
"An engrossing chronicle of the costs and rewards of becoming like the women she saw delivering news of skirmishes and revolutions on TV. That Ferguson would become a war reporter who epitomizes this era is one of the anomalies of this compelling book. . . What raises No Ordinary Assignment above many other memoirs is the way it shows Ferguson's refusal to take shortcuts in her reporting. She fully lived her stories, experiencing the wars with the people she covered and writing with the kind of intimate knowledge that is prized by novelists and historians.” — New York Times Book Review, Editor's Choice
“This is a must-read for anyone who aspires to be a journalist or loves to read and understand great journalism.” — Katie Couric
“With vivid details and pointed reflection, her memoir draws readers into the world of war that exists beyond the “bang bang” of most news coverage… Ferguson clearly demonstrates the devastating, oft-overlooked impact of war on civilians from every side… She is an expert storyteller… A captivating, honest, and powerful attempt to do justice to the hardest stories to tell.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“For all the upheaval and conflict she’s seen, Jane Ferguson has never lost sight of the ordinary men and women caught in the middle of it all. This is the story of her journey, and it's told with breadth and verve and humanity.” — Dexter Filkins, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Forever War
“Jane Ferguson’s life story is as extraordinary as her assignments. She takes the reader on an intimate and at times surprising journey from her childhood in conflict-torn Northern Ireland, through wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan until finally ending up in New York. Her prose is vivid; her narrative full of insight; and her stories infused with raw emotion as she bears witness to the brutality and destruction and memorializes the remarkable people she encountered along her way. This book should be savored and appreciated, not skimmed.” — Dr. Fiona Hill, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and New York Times bestselling author of There Is Nothing For You Here
“So much has been packed into this young foreign correspondent’s remarkable life, you’d think she’s far older than she is. From Ireland to Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, and Ukraine, there’s hardly a war zone she hasn’t covered. But what most draws you in to this finely written memoir are the raw accounts of a childhood short on love and long on criticism that no doubt pushed her in the direction of a high-wire career, and, along the way, a soulful search to understand who, really, is Jane Ferguson?” — Judy Woodruff, former anchor of PBS NewsHour
“[No Ordinary Assignment is] a standout, the best memoir I’ve read since Michelle Obama’s Becoming. . . Ferguson is an utterly compelling narrator because she’s startlingly honest and vulnerable. . .As talented and brave as she is as a TV correspondent, she is that rare person in TV who can really write. She knows how to create distance. What to put in, what to leave out. How to win a reader’s trust. How to make us feel that we are with her on extraordinary travels. How to inspire women everywhere to dream and to stick to our guns.” — Vicky Ward, New York Times bestselling author of Kushner, Inc.
"War correspondent Jane Ferguson’s courage and grit come through in this memoir, as she charts her lonely childhood in Northern Ireland and her determination to pursue journalism. The descriptions of her wartime reporting provide a dramatic view of conflicts in Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan." — Christian Science Monitor
“No Ordinary Assignment is an intimate portrait of a journalist coming into her own. For some of us that happens in boardrooms; for Jane Ferguson, it happened in war zones. Her memoir is a thrill to read and an inspiring example of what can happen when we confront fear and great risk with purpose.”
— Pat Michell, author of Becoming a Dangerous Woman and cofounder of TEDWomen
“Growing up in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, Jane Ferguson gained a visceral, instinctive understanding of conflict. She brought an inquisitive eye and innate empathy to the greatest stories that have defined our age, from the wars in Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Her courageous book is an honest, searing examination of these events—and of the toll they inflict on journalists who give up so much to keep telling the stories of those who often can’t speak for themselves.” — Yaroslav Trofimov, author of The Siege of Mecca and chief foreign-affairs correspondent at Wall Street Journal
“Jane Ferguson's gripping memoir, No Ordinary Assignment, traces with compassion, insight, and honesty her career as a foreign correspondent… Astute, compassionate, and detailed, No Ordinary Assignment is a thoughtful eyewitness account from a reporter whose perspective is gracious and wise.” — Shelf Awareness
"Really important, brave reporting." — Nicholas Kristof
"Jane Ferguson's breathtaking memoir takes us inside the savage wars of the last two decades with greater immediacy and compassion than any news report. Her inspiring and sometimes nerve jangling account shows what it takes to bring us the news: tremendous courage and determination, qualities she has in spades. Whether dreaming up an adventuresome life beyond Belfast or facing down murderous Yemeni warlords or Syrian torturers - or indeed network resistance - she is unflinching. Her book will forever alter the way you look at the news." — Kati Marton, New York Times bestselling author of The Chancellor