Nathaniel Philbrick was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he attended Linden Elementary School and Taylor Allderdice High School. He earned a BA in English from Brown University and an MA in America Literature from Duke University, where he was a James B. Duke Fellow. He was Brown University’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978, the same year he won the Sunfish North Americans in Barrington, RI. After working as an editor at Sailing World magazine, he wrote and edited several books about sailing, including The Passionate Sailor, Second Wind, and Yaahting: A Parody.
In 1986, Philbrick moved to Nantucket with his wife Melissa and their two children. In 1994, he published his first book about the island’s history, Away Off Shore, followed in 1998 by a study of the Nantucket’s native legacy, Abram’s Eyes. He was the founding director of Nantucket’s Egan Maritime Institute and is still a research fellow at the Nantucket Historical Association.
In 2000, Philbrick published the New York Times bestseller, In the Heart of the Sea, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction. The book was the basis of the 2015 movie of the same title directed by Ron Howard. The book also inspired a 2001 Dateline special on NBC as well as the 2010 PBS American Experience film “Into the Deep” by Ric Burns.
His next book Sea of Glory was published in 2003 and won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize and the Albion-Monroe Award from the National Maritime Historical Society.
The New York Times Bestseller Mayflower was a finalist for both the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, won the Massachusetts Book Award for nonfiction, and was named one the ten “Best Books of 2006” by the New York Times Book Review.
In 2010, he published the New York Times bestseller The Last Stand, which was named a New York Times Notable book, a 2010 Montana Book Award Honor Book, and a 2011 ALA Notable Book. Philbrick was an on-camera consultant to the 2-hour PBS American Experience film “Custer’s Last Stand” by Stephen Ives.
In 2011 Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick? was a finalist for the New England Society Book Award and was named to the 2012 Listen List for Outstanding Audiobook Narration from the Reference and User Services Association, a division of the ALA. That year Penguin also published a new edition of his first work of history, Away Off Shore.
In 2013 Philbrick published the New York Times bestseller, Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution, which was awarded both the 2013 New England Book Award for Non-Fiction and the 2014 New England Society Book Award as well as the 2014 Distinguished Book Award of the Society of Colonial Wars.
In 2016, he published the New York Times bestselling Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, winner of the 2017 George Washington Book prize, the James P. Hanlan Book Award, and the Harry M. Ward Book Prize.
Philbrick has also received the Byrne Waterman Award from the Kendall Whaling Museum, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award from the USS Constitution Museum, the Nathaniel Bowditch Award from the American Merchant Marine Museum, the William Bradford Award from the Pilgrim Society, the Boston History Award from the Bostonian Society, the Cushing Award from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the Ruth Ratner Miller Memorial Award from the Friends of the Concord Free Public Library, the America and Sea Award from Mystic Seaport, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New England Historic Genealogical Society, the Walter Cronkite Award from Sail Martha’s Vineyard, the Harris Collection Literary Award from the Brown University Library, and the Jennie F. McLauthlen Award from the Kingston Public Library. He has received honorary doctorates from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and Roger Williams University.
Philbrick’s writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe. He has appeared on the Today Show, the Morning Show, Dateline, PBS’s American Experience, C-SPAN, and NPR. He and his wife Melissa still live on Nantucket.