I grew up in the Midwest (to be precise, in Hutchinson, Kansas, which makes a comical cameo in one of my books, page 29) and, somehow, as a teenager, fell hard for movies, jazz, and Lenny Bruce. I went off to Oberlin College as a prospective lit major, with vague ambitions to become the Robert Warshow of my time. But the Watergate hearings, which I watched every day in the summer after my freshman year, switched me to poli-sci, initially with an activist bent (I worked the next summer for a tenants’ rights group in Harlem and spent a Winter Term with the Citizens Action Program in Chicago), until I was drawn to the chessboard allure of International Relations. In grad school, at M.I.T., I immersed myself in the still-headier world of nuclear strategy, arms control, and military force-planning, on which I then built a career.
In 1978, I moved to Washington and worked as Rep. Les Aspin’s defense-policy adviser in the House of Representatives. After two years, I realized that I wasn’t cut out for even the outskirts of officialdom, left the Hill, and wrote The Wizards of Armageddon, an inside history of nuclear strategy. By the time I finished the book, nukes were a big issue; the major newspapers were hiring “experts” as their defense correspondents; I got a call from the Boston Globe, and joined up. (I’d always thought it would be fun to be a newspaper reporter.) I stayed at the Globe for 20 years—in D.C. through the ‘80s, as Moscow bureau chief in the early post-Soviet era, then New York bureau chief for seven years during Giuliani Time and the attacks on 9/11—all the while doing occasional free-lance writing, too (including reviewing jazz and high-end audio, which I still do for Stereophile).
At the end of 2002, I quit the Globe and got hired by Slate to be the “War Stories” columnist. It was the best professional move I ever made. I found my voice as a writer, continued to do longer pieces for other publications, and churned out four more books—Daydream Believers, about American foreign policy in the early 21st century, 1959: The Year Everything Changed, (which fuses all my interests and passions), The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War (which was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist), Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, and, most recently, The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War.
Meanwhile, I’ve been happily married to Brooke Gladstone since 1983. For more than half that time, we’ve lived in Brooklyn and have never known a more convivial home. We have wonderful twin daughters, Maxine and Sophie.
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