Tanenhaus received his B.A. in English from Grinnell College in 1977 and a M.A. in English Literature from Yale University in 1978. His siblings include psycholinguist Michael Tanenhaus, filmmaker Beth Tanenhaus Winsten, and legal historian David S. Tanenhaus.
Tanenhaus was an assistant editor at The New York Times from 1997 to 1999, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair from 1999 until 2004. From April 2004 to April 2013 he was the editor of The New York Times Book Review. He has written many featured articles for that publication, including a 10-year retrospective on the politics of radical centrism. His 1997 biography of Whittaker Chambers won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was a finalist for both the National Book Award for Nonfiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.
- Tanenhaus, Sam (1986). Literature Unbound. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-33297-0.
- Tanenhaus, Sam (1988). Louis Armstrong (Black Americans of Achievement). Chelsea House Publications. ISBN 0-7910-0221-7.
- Tanenhaus, Sam and Gross, Steve (Photographer) (1995). Old Greenwich Village: An Architectural Portrait. Wiley, John & Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-14405-3.
- Tanenhaus, Sam (1997). Whittaker Chambers: A Biography. Modern Library. ISBN 0-375-75145-9.
- Tanenhaus, Sam (2009). The Death of Conservatism. Random House. ISBN 1-4000-6884-3.
- "NYT memo on Schacter's new position". poynter.org. March 12, 2004. Archived from the original on 2004-03-13. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
- "Pamela Paul is named New York Times Book Review editor". jimromenesko.com. April 9, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
- "Sam Tanenhaus". City University of New York. Archived from the original on 2008-06-08.
- Neyfakh, Leon (March 11, 2009). "Random House Signs Up a Little Sam Tanenhaus Book on the Future of Conservatism". The New York Observer. Retrieved 2009-03-12.
- Tanenhaus, Sam (14 April 2010). "The Radical Center: The History of an Idea". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
- "National Book Awards – 1997". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-04-13.
- "Biography or Autobiography". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-04-13.
- Noah Charney (August 8, 2012). "Inside the NYT Book Review: ‘How I Write’ Interviews Sam Tanenhaus". The Daily Beast. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Will the Tea Get Cold? (March 8, 2012 New York Review of Books issue)
- Interview with Sam Tanenhaus from Oxford American
- Sam Tanenhaus's review of "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen in The New York Times Book Review
- Sam Tanenhaus's review of "Going Rogue" by Sarah Palin in The New Yorker
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