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, high-end audio, and movies, which I still do for Stereophile and Sound & Vision).
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), and, most recently, Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber 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.