I have been a journalist for the past 35 years, which is to say, my entire adult life. I spent the first fifteen or so years as a knockabout freelancer, writing for magazines now long since defunct. I came to specialize in the sort of domestic, and especially urban, issues which dominated the national debate at that time—public education, affirmative action, economic development and the like. I wrote Too Good to Be True, a book about a scandal during the Reagan years which mixed together many of these issues, and then City On A Hill, a book about the clash between the ideals of meritocracy and “open admissions” at the fabled City College in New York. In 1993 I began working as a contract writer at the New Yorker, and in 1998 moved to the New York Times Magazine. My last book about New York, The Devil’s Playground, on the rise, fall and controversial renovation of Times Square, appeared in 2004.
At the Times Magazine, I continued to write about education as well as national politics, but starting with a 1999 profile of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, began increasingly to write about the UN and foreign policy. I spent a year more or less living inside the UN and traveling with Annan in order to write The Best Intentions, a book about the painful and sometimes ugly relationship between the U.S. and Annan and the UN. As I wrote about issues of peacekeeping and state-building, and repression and democracy, I traveled to remote and not-very-beguiling places: East Timor, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Egypt (more beguiling) and Georgia (much more). In 2008 I published The Freedom Agenda, a book about the Bush Administration’s ill-fated attempt to promote democracy in the Middle East. I began to travel to a new set of countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq. I also co-taught a seminar at New York University called “Baseball As A Road to God.” Go figure.
In 2009 I began “Terms of Engagement,” a weekly column which appears on the Website foreignpolicy.com, and which allows me to say anything I please about anything in the world of foreign policy which seems worth paying attention to. This is my idea of a good time. In 2010 I began teaching a class on U.S. foreign policy—more obviously my field of expertise—to Emirati students in Abu Dhabi as part of a program affiliated with NYU Abu Dhabi. This year I embarked on a venture even more exotic, at least to me: a biography of John Quincy Adams, tentatively titled Militant Spirit, and due to be delivered some time in 2014.
Over the years I have accumulated affiliations. I am a fellow at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and at the Center for International Cooperation. I’m a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. At these places and elsewhere, I am often asked to moderate panels, or to sit on them. I speak regularly about foreign affairs, and I appear regularly on the CNN show “In The Arena.” This is also my idea of a good time. I’m an ardent baseball fan: last year I wrote a cover story in the Times Magazine on Mariano Rivera, the Yankees’ living immortal, which stood me in very good stead with Yankee-loving solders in Afghanistan. In my spare time I read fiction, or at least I did until John Quincy Adams swallowed up my spare time. Now I read journal entries.
My wife of 26 years, Elizabeth Easton, is an art historian who for many years served as chairman of the department of European Painting and Sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum. In 2007 she created the Center for Curatorial Leadership, a program which offers intensive training in leadership skills to ten curators every year. Our son, Alexander, is 20, a sophomore at Harvard, and Arts editor at The Crimson, Harvard’s daily newspaper—which is to say that his parents’ varied passions converge in him