I graduated from Princeton University in 1990 and became a journalist, which was invaluable training to me as a writer. I occasionally miss my life as a reporter, the quotidian and bizarre jostling against one another. But I found that I wanted to pursue my interests more deeply than a twelve-inch news story allowed, so I returned to graduate school at the University of Virginia, where I specialized in late eighteenth-century American history. My Ph.D. dissertation (later published by Princeton University Press) focused on the founders as writers. In studying the founders, I became fascinated by the literary self-invention at the heart of the nation, and my book teases out the literary and rhetorical methods that the founders used to construct new identities for themselves in the wake of the American Revolution.
I eventually became a teacher at Horace Mann High School in New York. Although impressed by the intelligence and diligence of the students, I was increasingly disenchanted with the subversion of educational values I cherished in the pursuit of college admissions. In the spirit of Jonathan Swift and with the quixotic hope of reform, I published a satirical novel about high school life, Academy X, in 2006. The school fired me the following year, and my novel failed to undermine the place of college admissions at the center of school life. On the positive side, my dismissal showed that the novel can still have a provocative place in our increasingly digital world. It was the first novel I had written, and while I cannot claim that it is a literary masterpiece, Michiko Kakutani wrote in The New York Times that I showed “a Kingsley Amis-like ability to extract humor from the travails of his hapless hero,” and Jonathan Yardley wrote in The Washington Post that my book was “delicious, malicious stuff.... 'Academy X' is smart, on-target and very funny.”
After failing to find a teaching job, I decided to devote myself full time to writing. My father had given me a popular work on economics, and I was reading a chapter on how game theory was being used to run more effective auctions when I had a strange thought: Why couldn’t you use game theory to study human attraction? My logic was not quite as crooked as it might seem. I had spent years having my sisters foist the latest dating advice book on me and had grown increasingly disgusted with the swindle that most of them represented. I decided to write the book that I kept waiting for someone else to write: the latest scientific evidence about the nature of attraction. Decoding Love was published by Penguin Press this past February. Delving into fields such as evolutionary psychology, game theory, economics, and neurochemistry, I explore the various answers that researchers have come up with for how and why one person is attracted to another. Along the way, I discovered that our pursuit of romance may be the key to what makes us human and even plays a central role in something as important as the size and sophistication of our brains.
I have a new novel, Club Rules, being published by St. Martin's Press in 2010.
Movies, plays, and novels.
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