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 went to college at Brown University I wanted to become a marine biologist or more specifically a malacologist (seashell scientist). At Brown 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 the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 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).

In addition to awards for my books (see below), 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 next book--on privateering in the American Revolution--is being written now.

Other Works

  • Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates

  • Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse

  • When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail

  • Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America

  • Political Waters: The Long, Dirty, Contentious, Incredibly Expensive but Eventually Triumphant History of Boston Harbor-A Unique Environmental Success Story

  • Leviathan: The History of Whaling In America

  • The Ph.D. Survival Guide

  • Snakehead: A Fish Out of Water

  • Smithsonian Book of National Wildlife Refuges

  • The Duck Stamp Story: Art, Conservation, History

  • International Environmental Treaty Making

  • Dirty Water Clean Water A Chronology of Events Surrounding the Degradation and Cleanup of Boston Harbor

  • The United States Fish and Wildlife Service


Awards and Recognition

  • Leviathan, chosen as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, and Providence Journal
  • When America First Met China chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of 2012
  • Black Flags, Blue Waters chosen as a Massachusetts Center for the Book “Must-Read” book for 2019, and was a finalist for the 2019 Julia Ward Howe Award given by the Boston Author’s Club.
  • Outdoor Writer’s Association, Best Book Award, for Fur, Fortune, and Empire
  • John Lyman Book Award, U.S. Maritime History, by the North American Society for Oceanic History, for Leviathan
  • Massachusetts Book Award, Nonfiction Honors, for Leviathan
  • The 23rd annual L. Byrne Waterman Award, for “Outstanding contributions to research and pedagogy in the Arts, Humanities, and Sciences,” by the New Bedford Whaling Museum, for Leviathan
  • Brilliant Beacons chosen by gCaptain and Classic Boat as one of the best nautical books of 2016.
  • Brilliant Beacons Chosen a "Must-Read" book for 2017 by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.
  • Fur, Fortune, and Empire, winner 2011 James P. Hanlan Book Award, given by the New England Historical Association, and chosen one of the best books of 2010 by The Seattle Times.