Tom Engelhardt was born and raised in New York City during the 1950s, the son of a cartoonist mother who was involved in the publishing industry. He studied Chinese history and culture as an undergraduate at Yale University and as a graduate student at Harvard.
Engelhardt recalls how the radical spirit of the 1960s shaped his personality and worldview in his youth: “Like a lot of people, [the Sixties] had the impact of turning me a little inside-out.… First, I organized: I was part of the draft resistance movement. I organized against the war. I was swept out of graduate school entirely and became a printer, a so-called ‘movement’ or underground printer, although we weren’t underground at all.” Around 1970, Engelhardt was recruited by professor Orville Schell to work for the latter’s newly created anti-Vietnam War project, Pacific News Service, in Berkeley, California.
Since the mid-1970s, Engelhardt has worked as an editor in the book-publishing industry, including a 15-year stint as senior editor at Pantheon Books. He is now a consulting editor with Metropolitan Books, based in New York City.
In November 2001 Engelhardt began disseminating (initially to his friends) an e-mail publication consisting of articles from the world press that he deemed significant. Describing his efforts at that time as “a clipping service,” he topped each of these articles with a line or two of his own commentary. As Engelhardt’s recipient list grew ever larger, sometime in 2002 Hamilton Fish V, then-president of the Nation Institute, suggested that he put this mass e-mail online as a blog. In December of that year, Engelhardt followed through on Fish’s suggestion and called the new entity TomDispatch. Engelhardt continues to administer and write for this blog, which has become an official project of the the Nation Institute (where Engelhardt himself is a “Fellow”).
Calling himself “a lifetime newspaper junkie,” Engelhardt describes how he goes about his work on TomDispatch: “I wander the web daily for hours, and I put together, in essence, another view of the world … how Iraq is dissolving, or the Bush assault on the environment, or whatever it might be, with a lot of places you can go to check it out. It’s kind of like doing large op-eds with suggested links. It’s an antidote to the mainstream media.” In 2006 Engelhardt said: “Every day I try to read the New York Times, my hometown paper, cover to cover. Sometimes the Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and several others on-line if I have the time. Then I check Juan Cole, a great, thoughtful collecting site for Iraq and the Middle East and start visiting what I call ‘riot sites’ like Antiwar.com or Commondreams or Truthout or ZNET or the War in Context that have a million headlines chosen by some interesting eye.”
In 2006 Engelhardt edited the book Mission Unaccomplished: Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters. Two years later he edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire—a collection of articles from Engelhardt’s website, devoted in large measure to criticisms of the George W. Bush administration. Engelhardt has also edited such books as Marx for Beginners (2003); History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past (1996); and The Unconquerable World (authored in 2004 by Jonathan Schell, brother of Orville Schell).
In addition to his regular publishing and editing duties, Engelhardt during the George W. Bush administration also headed Metropolitan Books’ newly established “American Empire Project,” which lamented that “[a]t this moment of unprecedented economic and military strength, the leaders of the United States have embraced imperial ambitions openly.” Engelhardt continues to serve as consulting editor for this Project.
According to Engelhardt, the U.S. under President Bush established an “offshore mini-gulag of penal camps.” “Everybody knows Guantanamo,” he said, “but it’s much more extensive than that, and almost unwritten about.” Characterizing the Bush administration’s war on terror as an ill-conceived, misguided venture against a largely imaginary enemy, Engelhardt wrote in 2008: “After 9/11, George W. Bush and his top advisers almost instantly launched their crusade against Islam and then their wars, all under the rubric of the ‘global war on terror.’ … In the process, they would treat bin Laden’s scattered al-Qaida network as if it were the Nazi or Soviet war machine (even comically dubbing his followers ‘Islamofascists’).”
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