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Ian Buruma was educated in Holland and Japan, where he studied history, Chinese literature, and Japanese cinema.
In 1970s Tokyo, he acted in Kara Juro's Jokyo Gekijo and participated in Maro Akaji's butoh dancing company Dairakudakan, followed by a career in documentary filmmaking and photography. In the 1980s, he worked as a journalist, and spent much of his early writing career travelling and reporting from all over Asia.
Buruma now writes about a broad range of political and cultural subjects for major publications, most frequently for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times,and The Guardian, La Repubblica, NRC Handelsblad.
He was Cultural Editor of The Far Eastern Economic Review, Hong Kong (1983-86) and Foreign Editor of The Spectator, London (1990-91), and has been a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin, the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington D.C., St. Antony's College, Oxford, and Remarque Institute, NYU.
He has delivered lectures at various academic and cultural institutions world-wide, including Oxford, Princeton, and Harvard universities. He is currently Henry R. Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.
Ian Buruma was awarded the 2008 international Erasmus Prize for making "an especially important contribution to culture, society or social science in Europe."
He was voted as one of the Top 100 Public Intellectuals by the Foreign Policy/Prospect magazines in 2008, and in 2010.
Ian Buruma was awarded the 2008 Shorenstein Journalism Award, an annual award which "honors a journalist not only for a distinguished body of work, but also for the particular way that work has helped American readers to understand the complexities of Asia." It is awarded jointly by the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Center in the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University, and the Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics, and Public Policy in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance (Penguin USA) was the winner of The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for the Best Current Interest Book.
In April 2012 Ian Buruma was awarded the Abraham Kuyper Prize at the Princeton Theological Seminary.
Princeton University Press has published Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents in March 2010, in the US and the UK. This book is based on the Stafford Little lectures given at Princeton in 2008.
Grenzen aan de vrijheid: van De Sade tot Wilders was published in April, 2010 by Lemniscaat. It was written in Dutch as the 2010 essay for the Maand van de Filosofie. In October 2011 it was published by Arcadia in Barcelona, entitled Limits a la llibertat.
See his monthly columns for Project Syndicate.
From September 2011 till May 2012, Ian Buruma was a fellow of the Cullman Center of the New York Public Library.
His latest book, Theater of Cruelty, was published by NYRB in the fall of 2014.
Year Zero is a New York Times 'Notable Book of 2013'.
Among the best books of 2013 in the Los Angeles Times, the Economist, Amazon, the Daily Beast.
Theater of Cruelty won the 2015 PEN/Diamondstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay.