Biography

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Tom ShachtmanI consider myself fortunate in that I always wanted to write, have been able to do so since my undergraduate days, and have had my work published and produced in many forms – histories, novels, children’s books, documentaries, fictional programs, poetry, plays, songs, newspaper columns, magazine articles, even a comic book.

In my early adulthood I worked at CBS News for three years, learning the documentary craft on a wonderful series, THE 21ST CENTURY, and then as Assistant Chief of the TV division of the National Geographic Society. After that I made documentaries for networks, local stations, syndicators, and other outlets, working as writer, and often as writer-producer-director. My best-known work was a trilogy of one-hour films. CHILDREN OF POVERTY, CHILDREN OF TROUBLE, and CHILDREN OF VIOLENCE. These won top prizes at San Francisco, New York International, and other festivals. My films have also won a half-dozen New York area Emmys, and been shown at the White House and in Congress.

My first book, THE DAY AMERICA CRASHED, was published in 1979, and since then I’ve written nearly three dozen others. Currently I’m working on a new one, GENTLEMAN SCIENTISTS AND REVOLUTIONARIES: THE FOUNDING FATHERS IN THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT, to be published by Palgrave Macmillan. Research on this book is being partly underwritten by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

My best-known recent book is RUMSPRINGA: TO BE OR NOT TO BE AMISH. Several more are detailed on this website’s home page, and many others, on following pages.

I’m delighted that my 1999 book, ABSOLUTE ZERO AND THE CONQUEST OF COLD, became the basis for a two-hour documentary special for BBC and PBS, broadcast in 2008. The program and my script for it won the American Institute of Physics’ science writing award for 2009. The programs were made possible by a major grant from the National Science Foundation, with additional funding from Sloan. The book itself was praised by The New York Times Book Review as written “with passion and clarity,” by the Library Journal as “truly wonderful,” and by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as “an absolute delight.”

Many of my other books have also received welcome critical praise. The Economist called AROUND THE BLOCK (1997) “a near-classic,” The New Yorker “A grand idea, splendidly executed,” and The Washington Post Book World “thoughtful, interesting … a good and useful book.” THE INARTICULATE SOCIETY (paperback, 2007) was judged as “perceptive and disturbing” by The Washington Post, and by The Wall Street Journal, as “a provocative examination of the American way with words.” Business Week labeled SKYSCRAPER DREAMS (1991) “fascinating history … the stuff of grand comedy,” and The New York Times cited it for “superb reporting on the industry’s wheeling and dealing.” “Fascinating … illuminating … stunning detail,” the Chicago Tribune wrote of THE GILDED LEAF (written with Patrick Reynolds, 1989). All of these books are in print in various editions.

I’ve also written books for children, including three novels, BEACHMASTER, WAVEBENDER and DRIFTWHISTLER, (1988-1991) now published in several languages. My non-fiction children’s books include THE PRESIDENT BUILDS A HOUSE, about the work of Habitat for Humanity (1989), and, with Harriet Shelare, VIDEO POWER (1988).

My collaborations with criminologist Robert K. Ressler, the former FBI agent who coined the term “serial killers” and knows more about them than anyone else in the world, include WHOEVER FIGHTS MONSTERS and I HAVE LIVED IN THE MONSTER, both multi-million copy best-sellers overseas.

In addition to books, I have written articles for The New York Times, Newsday, Smithsonian, and the Hoover Digest, as well as for Huffington Post, History News Network, and the Washington Post’s book blog. My occasional column for THE LAKEVILLE JOURNAL (CT), “The Long View,’ provides historical context to current events.

I am proud to be a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, a longtime member of The Authors Guild, and a former president of the board and current trustee of The Writers Room in New York City, an urban writers’ colony. I’ve recently stepped down from trusteeships at two other non-profits that I admire, the Connecticut Humanities Council, and The Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area.

I hold a B.S. in experimental psychology from Tufts University, an M.F.A. in theater from Carnegie Mellon, and have taught writing at New York University and at Harvard University Extension, and lectured on topics based on my books at more than a dozen other colleges and universities around the country.