He graduated from Wesleyan University, and from Yale University, with a Ph.D. He teaches American Studies at Boston College.
In 2006 he gave lectures in Bosnia and Herzegovina on a U.S. Speaker and Specialist Grant from the State Department. He is an editor of the "Chicago Visions and Revisions" series at the University of Chicago Press.
He writes for the New York Times Magazine and the Washington Post Magazine. His work appeared in Critical Inquiry, American Quarterly, The American Scholar, Raritan, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, Transition, Harper's, DoubleTake, Boston, Slate, The Believer, TriQuarterly, Yale Alumni Magazine, and The Best American Essays.