Tom Downey writes about the worlds of Brooklyn firemen, Yemeni jihadis, Chinese internet vigilantes, Malagasy river guides, and Barcelona private eyes—anyone whose story moves him. A year before 9/11, Downey began producing a television documentary and reporting a book about a group of elite rescue firemen in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. Downey’s nonfiction narrative The Last Men Out: Life on the Edge at Rescue 2 Firehouse, published by Henry Holt, follows ten years in the life of their company, from the high of knocking down a wall of flames to the low of losing a brother. Downey’s related documentary, Still Riding, aired on TLC and the Discovery New York Times network.
In addition to a starred review from Kirkus and an “Editor’s Choice” designation from Reader’s Digest, the book also got great reviews: “Downey’s descriptions burn into the pages with searing intensity.” —Publisher’s Weekly. “The bonds the author formed with his subjects are evident, but Downey ultimately is a storyteller, not a firefighter. He keeps his distance, and that allows him to tell an insightful, dramatic and emotional tale.”—Terry Golway, New York Post. “This isn’t the first unvarnished portrayal of city firemen. It may be the most stark and at times unsettling. But like the firemen, Downey sees no need for apologies.” –New York Daily News.
Downey now writes for a variety of publications including WSJ. Magazine, Afar, Smithsonian, The New York Times, and many others. Notable articles include “China’s Cyberposse” for the New York Times Magazine, about an internet vigilante justice phenomenon and “The Insurgent’s Tale” for Rolling Stone, a profile of a Yemeni jihadi Downey met in Sana’a. That piece was selected for The Best American Nonrequired Reading series. Downey’s “The Case of the Stolen Starter: A Naples Mystery” for Condé Nast Traveler is the latest in a series of stories in graphic novel form that take readers into the heart of a great metropolis. His story about the classic cocktail bartenders of Japan, for Outside’s GO, won a Lowell Thomas award.
HBO bought a scripted show from Downey and his television writing partner. Downey and his partner created the show, entitled Business of America, a fictional episodic series about the world of private military contractors.
Downey has worked as a freelance documentary producer for Discovery International, Court TV, TruTV and the Open Society Institute, a job that has brought him to locales as exotic as Haiti, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Mongolia and the Bronx. TV projects include a documentary for Court TV about the murder of an American student in Seoul, South Korea and a documentary for TruTV about the death of banking billionaire Edmond Safra in Monaco.
Downey studied English Literature at Princeton University, spent a semester abroad at the American University in Cairo, and taught filmmaking at a film school in Singapore. He lives in New York.