My idea of a perfect day is walking an ancient battlefield and listening to the voices of the dead. Not that I was ever a soldier. But Caesar and Clausewitz somehow resonated with the in-your-face world of my south Brooklyn childhood, a feeling that moving to tonier neighborhoods has done nothing to change.
People ask me why I became a military historian. War came close enough to catch my eye without leaving scars. My father and grandfather were both US combat veterans of the World Wars. I grew up in the shadow of Vietnam, but I was young enough not to have to think about the draft. As a teenager I sat time and again in a friend’s living room and listened to his mother’s account of how she survived the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. As an adult, I heard the news that my cousin had died in the Twin Towers on 9-11.
Storytelling came naturally to me. Mine was a family of teachers, researchers, actors and singers, including a Yiddish crooner who moved President Calvin Coolidge to action.
I chose history as my college major. I received bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees from Cornell and Yale. I love languages, so European history was an easy choice. I’ve lived and studied in Greece, Germany, Israel and Italy, and I’ve traveled extensively in Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Jordan, Tunisia, Turkey and other countries with classical sites; I have also taken part in archaeological excavations. I speak or read eight foreign languages.
Aside from a brief stint as a newspaper reporter, I have made my career as a college teacher. Back at Cornell, I am chair and professor of history and professor of classics. A former director of Cornell’s Peace Studies Program, I am currently director as a well a founder of Cornell’s Program on Freedom and Free Societies.
I am the author of six books, including The Battle of Salamis, named one of the Best Books of 2004 by the Washington Post, and The Trojan War: A New History (2006). Writing in the Washington Post, Tom Holland hailed my book The Spartacus War (2009) for having “all the excitement of a thriller.” Books & Culture named it one of its favorite books of 2009. My Rowing Against the Current: On Learning to Scull at Forty (2002) enjoys a sort of underground existence as an account of athletic angst. The books have been translated into seven foreign languages, from French to Korean.
I am co-author of two other books, and co-editor of two more. I’ve written many scholarly articles, reviews, and book chapters. I am Series Editor of the Princeton History of the Ancient World and Contributing Editor of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.
My op-eds have appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and Newsday. I’ve been interviewed for A&E, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the BBC and PBS and I’ve spoken at many universities, institutes, and war colleges here and abroad. I hold fellowships from the American Academy at Rome, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, the American Enterprise Institute the German Academic Exchange Program, the Korea Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others. I am the recipient of Cornell’s Clark Award for Excellence in Teaching.
I live in Ithaca, New York with my wife, Marcia. Our two children are college students. My hobbies are rowing, cycling, and hiking. I love jazz and opera and watch too much television.