John Norris has written for Politico, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of The Disaster Gypsies and Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo



Vie on CSPAN

John Norris joins Dan Balz of The Washington Post at The National Press Club to discuss his book, in which he details the life of Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Mary McGrory.

John Norris at the Gaithersburg Book Festival

John Norris at the 2016 Gaithersburg Book Festival.





  • The River That Swallows All Dams
    with Charles Kenny, Foreign Policy (May 8, 2015)
    For 60 years, colonialists, engineers, and dictators have tried to tame Africa’s greatest waterway. Will the newest effort to harness the Congo River also fail?
  • Congress, What Is It Good For?
    Foreign Policy (September 15, 2014)
    When it comes to foreign policy, the record of the 113th Congress is painfully slim.
  •  Queen Mary
    Politico (May/June 2014)
    Mary McGrory and the lost art of the Washington prima donna.
  • USAID: A history of US foreign aid
    Devex (July 2014)
    An entertaining look at the history of those who have led the world’s largest development agency from its inception to today.
  • In Defense of the Handout
    Foreign Policy (March 24, 2014)
    Are conditional cash transfers really the silver bullet to raising countries out of poverty?


  • America Is Not the Grinch
    Foreign Policy (December 23, 2013)
    Sorry, haters, when it comes to foreign aid — of all sorts — the United States is far and away the most generous nation on Earth.
  • The Clean Plate Club
    Foreign Policy (October 30, 2013)
    From Senegal to St. Louis, the world wastes an astonishing amount of food every year. So why is it so hard to cut down on leftovers, save the environment, and feed the hungry?
  • The Syrian Disconnect
    Foreign Policy (September 19, 2013)
    It’s not just that Americans don’t want to go to war against Assad — it’s that they know America’s not good at going to war anymore.
  • Make Them Eat Cake
    Foreign Policy (September 3, 2013)
    How America is helping export an obesity epidemic.
  • The Supervillain Syndrome
    Foreign Policy (August 26, 2013)
    Why dictators like Assad just can’t quit while they’re ahead.
  • Foggy Bottom Review
    Foreign Policy (August 20, 2013)
    The clock is ticking on the State Department’s grand strategy review. Can John Kerry match his predecessor’s record on the QDDR?
  • APB for the APB
    Foreign Policy (July 16, 2013)
    Has Syria scuttled Samantha Power’s Atrocity Prevention Board?
  • Ship Storm
    Foreign Policy (May 21, 2013)
    There may be valid reasons to question the wisdom of reforming U.S. food aid. But saving the Merchant Marine isn’t one of them.
  • The Ghost of Iraq
    Foreign Policy (May 1, 2013)
    How the last war is haunting the Syria debate.
  • Left Hook
    Foreign Policy (April 3, 2013)
    Here are five ways the GOP can outflank President Obama on foreign policy.
  • Let Them Eat Subsidies
    Foreign Policy (March 1, 2013)
    The Obama administration could revolutionize aid and save billions—if only Congress would stand up to the farm lobby.


  • Beyond GDP
    Foreign Policy (December 26, 2012)
    How our fixation with economic growth blinds us to broader measures of a society’s health—or lack thereof.
  • Four More Years… in Exile
    Foreign Policy (November 26, 2012)
    The Republican foreign-policy establishment faces tough problems after the recent electoral disappointment.
  • Please God, Not Another Blue-Ribbon Panel
    Foreign Policy (October 24, 2012)
    In these times of straitened budgets, an international affairs realignment commission would allow the State Department to do more with less.
  • The Golden Gun
    Foreign Policy (August 13, 2012)
    The curious link between Olympic prowess and military largesse.
  • Money Pit on the Potomac
    Foreign Policy (July 31, 2012)
    The Pentagon has taken on more and more activities that have very little to do with traditional definitions of national security.
  • Hired Gun Fight
    Foreign Policy (July 18, 2012)
    A new plan represents a seismic shift in how American foreign aid programs are conducted.
  • How to Get Your Country off the Sh*t List
    Foreign Policy (July 5, 2012)
    An open letter to the leaders of Eritrea, Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Turkmenistan, Belarus, Sudan, Pakistan, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and other countries too numerous to list here.

2011 and Earlier

  • The Price of Failure
    Foreign Policy (October 5, 2011)
    How much has the collapse of Somalia cost the world? $55 billion — and here’s where it went.
  • Five Myths About Foreign Aid
    Washington Post (April 28, 2011)
    What’s the point of U.S. foreign aid, and does it do any good? Let’s topple a few misconceptions and find out.
  • The Y Article
    Foreign Policy (April 13, 2011)
    The Pentagon’s secret plan to slash its own budget.
  • Testing Obama’s Sudan Policy
    The Guardian (October 20, 2009)
    Obama’s Sudan policy won’t succeed without improved security in Darfur and a willingness to hold Khartoum accountable.
  • Lawyers, Guns, and Money
    Foreign Policy (October 14, 2009)
    Why is the Obama administration giving the odious Sudanese regime’s lobbyists a polite hearing instead of running them out of town?
  • Two Years to Self Destruct in Sudan
    Foreign Policy (September 3, 2009)
    It’s not too late to stop Africa’s largest country from splitting in half. But Obama needs to act now to prevent the worst.
  • Not Enough?
    Foreign Policy (August 13, 2009)
    Susan Rice’s speech was a good start toward global re-engagement. But it was only that—a start.
  • Congo’s electronic blood diamonds
    The Guardian (May 8, 2009) Our demand for phones, laptops and digital cameras has fueled an illicit minerals trade and violence in eastern Congo.


The Disaster Gypsies
Preager Press 2007

Chatting with notorious war criminal Charles Taylor on the lawn of his presidential mansion as ostriches and armed teenagers strut in the background. Landing in snow-covered Afghanistan weeks after the fall of the Taliban and trying to make sense of a country shattered by years of war. Being held at gunpoint by young soldiers amid the tragedy of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Standing in the middle of a violent riot in the streets of Kathmandu. Having hushed conversations with the widows of Europe’s largest massacre since World War II. These are all scenes from The Disaster Gypsies, a compelling personal memoir by a relief worker and conflict specialist who has worked on the ground in a host of war-torn countries.

“John Norris is the rare individual who has worked on all sides of the front lines. He has done so both as a U.S. government in-house emergency responder and, more recently, as an influential, roving critic of U.S. foreign policy. But what makes Norris truly rare is that he is both a doer–a dispenser of food aid, a demobilizer of soldiers, a negotiator of life-altering deals–and he is a writer. Disaster Gypsies is a highly readable tour of the sights, scares, and moral tradeoffs that Norris encountered in the earth’s most troubled places. With a meticulous eye for detail, he offers a kind of ‘biography of a humanitarian,’ casting insight on democracy promotion and nation building at a time when we desperately need his hard-won wisdom.” —Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

“The book is an engrossing read, providing a vivid memoir of John Norris’s stints—for the United States Agency for International Development, the International Crisis Group, and the UN—in a number of the world’s most difficult humanitarian emergencies and civil wars over the past two decades… Even as the book is about these itinerant humanitarian workers, Norris does an exceptionally good job of encapsulating the political context of each of these conflicts and emergencies in a few short pages… authentic and authoritative.” —Political Science Quarterly


Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo 
Praeger Press, 2005

This book offers seminal insight into the negotiations that took place between the United States and Russia in an effort to set the terms for ending the Kosovo conflict in 1999. This study in brinksmanship and deception is an essential background for anyone trying to understand Russia’s uneasy relations with the West. From smoky late-night sessions at dachas outside of Moscow to meetings in the White House Situation Room, Norris captures the feel of a war that repeatedly threatened to spin out of control. He offers a vivid portrait of some of the larger-than-life characters involved in the conflict, including U.S. president Bill Clinton, General Wesley Clark, Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, and Russian president Boris Yeltsin. New information includes backstage efforts to open a direct negotiating channel between Milosevic and Washington at the height of the conflict. The book reaches a dramatic crescendo against the backdrop of the war’s final days, when Russia unleashed a secret plan to push its forces into Kosovo, ahead of NATO peacekeepers.

“The definitive book on one of the most important American military actions since the end of the Cold War. Norris has told the story with a cinematic eye for details of a roller coaster, high-stakes, ride – climaxed by the astonishing confrontation that almost led to fighting between NATO and the Russians.” —Richard Holbrook