Kazin was born in New York City in 1948 and grew up in Englewood, New Jersey. He is the son of literary critic Alfred Kazin. He received a B.A. in Social Studies from Harvard University, an M.A. in History from Portland State University, and a Ph.D. in History from Stanford University. As a Harvard student he was a leader in Students for a Democratic Society and briefly a member of the Weatherman faction.
Kazin's research interests are American social movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, and he has authored books on labor history (Barons of Labor: The San Francisco Building Trades and Union Power in the Progressive Era); populism (The Populist Persuasion: An American History), and William Jennings Bryan, (A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan).
His latest book American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation, was published by Knopf on August 23, 2011.
Kazin married physician Beth C. Horowitz in 1980. They have two children.
- Rebecca E. Klatch, A Generation Divided: The New Left, the New Right, and the 1960s, University of California Press, 1999, p. 210.
- Michael Kazin, The Populist Persuasion: An American History, Cornell University Press, 1998, p. 222–224.