I grew up near the coasts of New York and Connecticut, and since an early age I was fascinated by the natural world, especially the ocean. I spent many days wandering the beaches on the edge of Long Island Sound and the Atlantic, collecting seashells and exploring tidepools. When I left for college I wanted to become a marine biologist or more specifically a malacologist (seashell scientist). At Brown University I quickly realized that although I loved learning about science, I wasn't cut out for a career in science, mainly because I wasn't very good in the lab, and I didn't particularly enjoy reading or writing scientific research papers. So, after taking a year off and exploring a range of career options, I shifted course turning toward the field of environmental policy, first earning a double-major in biology and environmental studies, then getting a masters degree in environmental management from Yale, and a Ph.D. in environmental policy and planning from MIT, where my dissertation focused on the role of the courts in the cleanup of Boston Harbor.
I have held a variety of jobs, including stints as a fisheries policy analyst at the National Marine Fisheries Service, a program manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an environmental consultant stateside and in London, an American Association for the Advancement of Science writing fellow at Business Week, a curatorial assistant in the Mollusk Department at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, and an intern at the National Wildlife Federation, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, and the U.S. Senate.
Throughout my career, one thing remained constant--I enjoyed writing and telling stories. And that's why I started writing books--to share the stories that I find most intriguing (I have also published more than 60 articles for magazines, newspapers, and professional journals). My most recent books include:
***A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America's Hurricanes (Liveright, 2020), which made the following 2020 year-end best book lists: The Washington Post -- One of 50 Notable works of Nonfiction for 2020; Library Journal -- One of the Best Science & Technology Books of 2020; Kirkus Reviews -- One of the top 100 nonfiction books of 2020; Booklist -- 10 Top Sci-Tech Books of 2020; and Amazon.com -- One of the Best Science Books of 2020. It was also an Editor's Choice for The New York Times Book Review.
***Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates (Liveright, 2018), which was chosen as a "Must-Read" book for 2019 by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, was a finalist for the 2019 Julia Ward Howe Award given by the Boston Author's Club, and was selected by Goodreads as one of September’s top five History/Biography titles recommended in their monthly New Releases e-mail;
***Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse (Liveright, 2016), which was chosen by gCaptain and Classic Boat as one of the best nautical books of 2016;
***When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail (Liveright, September 2012), which was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the ten best non-fiction books of Fall 2012;
***Fur, Fortune, and Empire: the Epic History of the Fur Trade in America (W. W. Norton, 2010), a national bestseller, which was chosen by New West, The Seattle Times, and The Rocky Mountain Land Library as one of the top non-fiction books of 2010. It also won the 2011 James P. Hanlan Book Award, given by the New England Historical Association, and was awarded first place in the Outdoor Writers Association of America, Excellence in Craft Contest;
***Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (W. W. Norton, 2007), which was selected as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The Providence Journal. Leviathan was also chosen by Amazon.com's editors as one of the 10 best history books of 2007. Leviathan garnered the the 23rd annual (2007) L. Byrne Waterman Award, given by the New Bedford Whaling Museum, for outstanding contributions to whaling research and history. Leviathan also received the 2007 John Lyman Award for U. S. Maritime History, given by the North American Society for Oceanic History, was named an Honors book in nonfiction for the 8th annual Massachusetts Book Awards (2008-2009), and was awarded a silver medal for history in the Independent Publisher Book Awards (2008).
In addition to awards for my books, I have also been the recipient of other honors, including the Switzer Environmental Fellowship, the Dean John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, and the Starr Fellowship for Public Service from Brown University. I am also a Nantucket Historical Society Research Fellow, and was awarded a special commendation from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for "Contributing to the Award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC."
My family and I live in Marblehead, Massachusetts.