David Nasaw

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David Nasaw
David Nasaw (2012)
Born David George Nasaw
(1945-07-18) July 18, 1945 (age 70)
Cortland, New York
Nationality American
Education Roslyn High School
Alma mater Bucknell University (B.A)
Columbia University (Ph.D)
Occupation Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History
Employer City University of New York
Known for Historian, author,
Home town Roslyn, New York
Religion Jewish
Spouse(s) Dinitia E.R. Smith
Children Peter Caleb Nasaw
Daniel Allen Nasaw
Relatives Jonathan Nasaw (brother)
Elizabeth Nasaw (deceased) (sister)

David Nasaw (born 18 July 1945 in Cortland, New York)[1] is an American author, biographer and historian who specializes in the cultural and social history of early 20th Century America.[2] Nasaw is on the faculty of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he is the Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History.[3]

In addition to writing numerous scholarly and popular books, he has written for publications such as the Columbia Journalism Review, American Historical Review, American Heritage, Dissent, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, The London Review of Books, and Condé Nast Traveler.

Nasaw has appeared in several documentaries, including The American Experience, 1996, and two episodes of the History Channel's April 2006 miniseries 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America: "The Homestead Strike" and "The Assassination of President McKinley".[1] He is cited extensively in the US and British media as an expert on the history of popular entertainment and the news media, and as a critic of American philanthropy.

Early life and education[edit]

David George Nasaw was born on July 18, 1945 in Cortland, New York, the oldest son of lawyer Joshua J. Nasaw (13 August 1909 – September 1970) and Beatrice "Bea" Kaplan Nasaw (1917 – 17 January 2010), an elementary school teacher.[4] Nasaw is the older brother of Jonathan Lewis Nasaw (b. 26 August 1947),[5] the prolific author of at least nine thrillers;[6][7][8] and Elizabeth Perl Nasaw (29 May 1956 – 28 February 2004),[9] who as "Elizabeth Was" (later "Lys Was" and finally "Lyx Ish") was a poet and publisher of avant-garde magazines,[4][10] and the cofounder of Xexoxial Editions and Dreamtime Village in West Lima, Wisconsin.[11][12]

Nasaw grew up in Roslyn, New York, and, after a year studying in Denmark as an exchange student,[13] graduated from Roslyn High School in 1963.[14] Nasaw graduated from Bucknell University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1967, before enrolling in Columbia University, where he was awarded a Ph.D. in 1972[1] for his dissertation "Jean-Paul Sartre: Apprenticeship in History (1925-45)".[15][16]

While studying at Columbia University, for more than two years from 1970 Nasaw was one of two full-time teachers in the Elizabeth Cleaners Street School,[17][18] a short-lived experimental alternative free high school founded in New York City. The experience gave rise to the book "Starting Your Own High School," written by the students and edited by Nasaw.[19]


Nasaw began teaching history at the College of Staten Island in 1978.[20] During the 1987-1988 academic year, he was as a Fulbright Professor of American Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.[21][22] Nasaw has been on the doctoral faculty of the City University of New York's Graduate Center since 1990,[20] where he also served as chairman. He was director of the CUNY Graduate Center's Center for the Humanities, and the chairman of the advisory board of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the university.[23][24]

Nasaw is a founder of the Radical History Review.

Personal life[edit]

Since June 10, 1978, Nasaw has been married to Dinitia E.R. Smith,[25][26] a novelist, Emmy award-winning filmmaker,[27] and journalist, who worked as a correspondent for The New York Times for 12 years.[28][29] They are the parents of twin sons: Peter Caleb Nasaw (b. 1980) and journalist Daniel Allen Nasaw (b. 1980).[1][30]


Although he has published three highly regarded, widely-selling full-length scholarly biographies, Nasaw describes himself as an academic historian, rather than a biographer.[31] A historian, he says, "sweeps away the fables, the myths, the stories" and places scholarly subjects "in time and over time", while for biographers, the organization of the work is laid out in advance. "Writing history is not an art but a craft," Nasaw has said.[32] "It requires interpretation and fifty sources and integrating and assembling this material into a story told by an individual voice."


  • Starting Your Own High School, editor (Random House, 1972).
  • Schooled to Order: A Social History of Public Schooling in United States (Oxford University Press, 1979, 1980).
  • Children of the City: At Work and at Play (Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1985; Oxford University Press, 1986).

In this Nasaw's highly cited history, Nasaw "unearthed the long-forgotten story of the Newsboy Strike."[33] The book inspired the Disney film Newsies and the subsequent Broadway musical.[34]

  • Course of United States History: To 1877, Vol. 1, ed. (Thomson Wadsworth, 1987)
  • Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements (Basic Books, 1993)

Going Out "unearths fascinating details about everything from the early history of the movies to pre-World War I dance crazes," wrote critic Jackson Lears in the New York Times.[35] Nasaw "raises fundamental questions about the web of connections joining commercial play, public space and cultural cohesion," he wrote.

  • The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst (Houghton Mifflin, 2000)

Nasaw's 2000 biography of the American newspaper baron was praised as "an absorbing and ingeniously organized biography... of the most powerful publisher America has ever known",[36] and for "immediacy that almost makes the reader forget that the author himself was not there as the story unfolded".[37] In 2001, The Chief won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize and the Bancroft Prize for American history. It was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award.

  • Andrew Carnegie (Penguin Press, 2006)

Nasaw's 2006 biography of the American steel mogul, was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for biography.[38] A reviewer praised Nasaw for "bringing to life the fascinating world of business moguls, statesmen, journalists and intellectuals in which Carnegie moved."[39] Praising Nasaw's "keen all-rounder’s eye", Christopher Hitchens wrote: "The great strength of this immense biography is the way in which David Nasaw causes these tributaries — capitalism, radicalism, and educational aspiration — to converge like the three rivers (the Allegheny, the Ohio, and the Monongahela) whose confluence makes the site of Pittsburgh possible."[40] The book was among The New York Times' 100 Notable Books of the Year, and among the Favorite Books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, which praised it as "a fresh and thorough assessment."

  • The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy (Penguin Press, forthcoming November 2012)

Following the success of Nasaw's 2000 biography of William Randolph Hearst, Senator Ted Kennedy approached Nasaw to write a biography of his father, Kennedy patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy. Nasaw told the family that as an academic historian, he had no interest in writing an "authorized biography".[41] "I told him I would undertake this project if I had guarantees to see all the documents at the Kennedy Library and elsewhere, and if I were free to write whatever I wanted, with no censorship or interference of any kind," Nasaw said. Senator Kennedy said he had read and admired Nasaw's book on Hearst and believed the historian would make a "fair evaluation of his life and contributions." The Kennedy family agreed to sit for interviews and to make Joseph Kennedy's private papers available.

Selected Other Writings[edit]

  • "Banking on the Future," The Wall Street Journal - 17 May 2011
  • "A Violent Regeneration," American Prospect 23 May 2009
  • "The Rich Threaten Democracy," Pittsburgh Tribune 14 October 2007
  • "We Can't Rely on the Kindness of Billionaires," Washington Post 23 September 2007
  • "Looking the Carnegie Gift Horse in the Mouth," Slate.com 10 November 2006
  • "Giving back, big time," Los Angeles Times - 2 November 2006
  • "Billionaires to the Rescue," New York Times 4 July 2006
  • "They Wanted to Shape Up America," New York Times 27 September 2003
  • "A Real Nice Clambécque," New York Times 21 September 2003
  • "Hitler, Stalin, O'Malley and Moses," New York Times 25 May 2003
  • "The Empire Builders," New York Times 24 November 2002
  • "Earthly Delights," The New Yorker 23 March 1998



  1. ^ a b c d "Nasaw, David 1945-", Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series (January 1, 2007).
  2. ^ "What a difference a day makes". Scripps Howard News Service. 19 November 2001. 
  3. ^ a b "David Nasaw". City University of New York. Retrieved 31 July 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Donna Duffy, "Obituary - Beatrice Nasaw", The Roslyn News (March 24, 2010).
  5. ^ "Nasaw, Jonathan Lewis", Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series (January 1, 2006).
  6. ^ "Jonathan Nasaw".
  7. ^ "Jonathan Nasaw Revealed".
  8. ^ "Jonathan Nasaw Books"
  9. ^ "Radio WLYX".
  10. ^ "Nasaw, Beatrice", The New York Times (January 18, 2010).
  11. ^ Maria Damon, Postliterary America: From Bagel Shop Jazz to Micropoetries: Contemp North American Poetry (University of Iowa Press, 2011):201.
  12. ^ Matt Gross, "Into Middle America but Staying on the Fringe", The New York Times (June 20, 2007).
  13. ^ "Pupils Work to Make Exchange Program Success", The Milwaukee Sentinel (January 9, 1963), Page 8, part 2.
  14. ^ "Roslyn High School Class of 1963 50th Reunion".
  15. ^ "Jean-Paul Sartre: Apprenticeship in History (1925-45)".
  16. ^ Publication View
  17. ^ Elizabeth Cleaners Street School, Starting Your Own High School: The Story of an Alternative High School (Vintage Books, 1972):27.
  18. ^ "Another Look at Student Rights and the Function of Schooling: The Elizabeth Cleaners Street School", The Harvard Educational Review (Winter 1970).
  19. ^ Starting Your Own High School. Random House. 1972. 
  20. ^ a b "Nine Leading Scholars Named Distinguished Professors", CUNY Matters (October 2001).
  21. ^ David Nasaw, Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements (Harvard University Press, 1999):vii.
  22. ^ Mari Rich, Olivia J. Smith, and Clifford Thompson, eds., World Authors, 1995-2000 (H.W. Wilson, 2003):592.
  23. ^ "Board". Center for the Humanities. Retrieved 31 July 2012. 
  24. ^ "About us: Officers". Leon Levy Center for Biography. 
  25. ^ Cumberland Evening Times (June 26, 1967):9.
  26. ^ "Dinitia Smith"
  27. ^ "Dinitia Smith Leaves Full-Time Post at NYT" Galleycat (December 21, 2006).
  28. ^ Daniel Nasaw, "About"
  29. ^ "Making Books". New York Times. 5 April 2001. 
  30. ^ "About". Daniel Nasaw. Retrieved 31 July 2012. 
  31. ^ Gary Shapiro (5 June 2006). "The Taming Of the Story". New York Sun. 
  32. ^ Martin Arnold (28 February 2002). "Writers Beware: History Is an Art, Not a Toaster". New York Times. 
  33. ^ Barry, Dan (4 March 2012). "Read All About It! Kids Vex Titans!". New York Times. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  34. ^ Simonson, Robert (11 April 2012). "Joseph Pulitzer, the "Villain" of Newsies, Illuminated". Playbill. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  35. ^ Jackson Lears (9 January 1994). "Don't Get Around Much Anymore". The New York Times. 
  36. ^ Evans, Harold (2 July 2000). "Press Baron's Progress". New York Times. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  37. ^ Schell, Orville (28 June 2000). "Hearst, Man and Mogul: Going Beyond the Myths". New York Times. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  38. ^ a b Richard Ellmann. "The Pulitzer Prizes | Biography or Autobiography". Pulitzer.org. Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  39. ^ John, Richard R (4 March 2007). "Exploring the complex life of steelmaker Andrew Carnegie". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  40. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (December 2006). "Rich Man's Burden: The Steely Resolve of Andrew Carnegie". Atlantic Magazine. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  41. ^ David Mehegan (5 August 2006). "AUTHOR ENJOYS FULL ACCESS FOR BOOK ON KENNEDY PATRIARCH". Boston Globe. 
  42. ^ "The New-York Historical Society American History Book Prize". 
  43. ^ "J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project winners". Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  44. ^ "Sperber Prize Winners". 

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