John Sedgwick is an American historian best known for his best-selling family memoir, In My Blood: Six Generations of Madness and Desire in an American Family and his acclaimed co-biography, War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Duel that Stunned the Nation, which won the Society of Cincinnati Prize and was a finalist for the George Washington Prize, both given for the year’s best book on the Founders. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik declared that his latest book, From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War that Made the West, “demands a big-screen treatment.” His previous, Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation is in development with Cynthia Sikes Yorkin Productions for a limited cable television series; an early work, The Peaceable Kingdom, on the Philadelphia Zoo was the basis of a dramatic television series on CBS. John has published fourteen books altogether. To judge by the critical reception, his work is characterized by its psychological insight, skillful story-telling, vitality, cinematic vividness, and the wide range of its subjects.
John is a member of the storied Sedgwick clan that first arrived in America in 1636, and has produced such notables as the Federalist Speaker of the House of Representatives Theodore Sedgwick, the nineteenth century novelist Catharine Maria Sedgwick, and the sixties fashion icon Edie Sedgwick. The family has yielded deep connections for his books—the American history of his family memoir In My Blood, the deep friendship of Theodore Sedgwick with Hamilton and Burr behind War of Two, the marriage of a Sedgwick to the nephew of one of the two Cherokee chiefs in Blood Moon, and the historical quirk that his mother’s family backed the first transcontinental that inspired the second one that is the subject of his new book, From the River to the Sea. Born in 1954, John is the youngest child of the Boston investment advisor R. Minturn Sedgwick, and his wife, the former Emily Ames Lincoln. Proper Bostonians, they were also avid athletes. John’s father played for Harvard in the Rose Bowl game of 1920, and his mother won the Massachusetts State Ladies Tennis Championship in 1936. John grew up in the Boston suburb of Dedham, and like countless Sedgwick males before him, attended Groton School and Harvard College, from which he graduated magna cum laude in English in 1977.
He began his professional writing career as a Harvard senior, publishing a story about Minoan archaeology in Harvard Magazine and, with Anne Fadiman, a humorous survey of Harvard bathroom graffiti in Esquire. At twenty-six, he wrote his first book, Night Vision, an extended profile of the private investigator Gil Lewis. Two more non-fiction works followed--Rich Kids, about America’s troubled young heirs and heiresses, and The Peaceable Kingdom. Then came a psychological thriller The Dark House, about a man who likes to follow people in his car, and the peril that leads him into; and the psychological mystery The Education of Mrs. Bemis, about an elderly dowager who enters an old-line psychiatric hospital, burdened by a terrible secret. The novels were followed by the family memoir and the three works of American history. There is more on all these books at the tabs above.
John has had a flourishing magazine career, in which he has been a contributing editor for GQ, Self,Worth, and Newsweek, and published frequently in Esquire, Vanity Fair and the Atlantic, among many other publications. The topics have been diverse: the history, aesthetics, and commercial prospects of concrete (Atlantic), the presidential hopes of Massachusetts Governor William Weld (GQ), the inner life of boxer Mike Tyson (Newsweek), the WASP heritage of President George H. W. Bush (GQ) the nature of risk (Self), the gender politics of prostate cancer (GQ), the spectacular murder-suicide of Charles Stuart (Esquire), the miseries of Linux co-inventor Richard Stallman (Boston), the twisted tale of gangster James “Whitey” Bulger and his brother, William, the long-time president of the Massachusetts Senate (GQ), an account of Harvard’s tortured relationship with its Final Clubs (Vanity Fair). John’s article in Worth Magazine on the nation’s finest nonprofit organizations was nominated for a National Magazine Award. He has published several hundred articles altogether, many of them archived on this site, and his work has been widely anthologized. Click on the Journalism tab for more.
John has also co-written five books, including two on philanthropy with Charles Bronfman, the Seagram’s heir who co-founded Birthright; one with Tom Foley, former superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, on his epic investigation of Whitey Bulger; and one with the Boston divorce attorney Gerald Nissenbaum on some of his more spectacular cases. Click on Other Work for more.
On the home front, he was first married to the writer Megan Marshall, a fellow English major at Harvard who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize in biography. With her, he has two grown children, Sara and Josephine, and two grandchildren, Logan and Kyla. He is now married to the CNN analyst, Financial Times columnist and author Rana Foroohar. He lives with her and her two children, Darya and Alex, in Brooklyn, New York.