I grew up in New York City in a Russian emigre family and wanted to be a scientist from an early age. However, after getting Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Geology from Queens College and The City College of New York (the name of the field has changed and become more grand since those distant days), I decided that I'd learned enough about the natural world but didn't understand myself or other people. My solution was to switch to studying literature and the humanities, which resulted in my getting a Ph. D. in Comparative Literature from Princeton. This helped, and the quest continues. After teaching in the Slavic Department at Harvard, I moved to Yale's Slavic Department in 1986, where I taught undergraduate and graduate courses on Russian literature and culture until retiring in 2018 as B. E. Bensinger Professor Emeritus to write full time.
I live in Hamden, a semi-rural town in Connecticut (our back yard is visited by raccoons, possums, foxes, hawks, deer, and even bears), with my wife, who teaches Spanish at Yale, and have a son who works for a non-profit in the Midwest and a daughter who works in an art museum in NYC. I used to be an avid tennis player before I started to work on The Black Russian, my biography of Frederick Bruce Thomas. But he proved to be such a fascinating character, and the search for information about him through a labyrinth of archives and libraries so engrossing and time-consuming (with lots of research trips both in the United States and abroad; I describe some of this in my archived The Black Russian blog on this site), that tennis began to feel increasingly like a distraction from what I wanted to do. I switched to a gym and hiking instead (the latter lets me think about what I'm writing).
The process of writing up my findings was as compelling as the detective-like hunt for information that occupied me earlier. It's a fascinating challenge to remain absolutely faithful to the facts while you try to squeeze every drop of information out of them and bring them to life in your imagination and on the page. It's also a daunting but a very seductive challenge to find a way to tell the story in a way that is vivid, compelling, and true.
Writing The Black Russian changed my life in ways that fed directly into my latest book, To Break Russia's Chains: Boris Savinkov and His Wars Against the Tsar and the Bolsheviks, and several works-in-progress about which I hope to say a few words soon.