Thomas Laqueur was born to German Jewish emigres in Istanbul nine months after the Battle of the Bulge had signaled the definitive defeat of Hitler. He grew up in the coal fields of southern West Virginia where his father was a pathologist in a hospital belong to the United Mine Workers. Laqueur studied philosophy, history and biology at Swarthmore College and modern history at Princeton and Nuffield College, Oxford. He began teaching at UC-Berkeley in 1973 and has never left. He was a founding editor of Representations and for five years the Director of the Townsend Center for the Humanities where, among other things, he started a human rights center and a series of graduate working groups which still thrive today. He has for more than forty years been a passionate graduate and undergraduate teacher.
Laqueur’s work has been focused on the history of popular religion and literacy; on the history the body— alive and dead; and on the history of death and memory. He writes regularly for the London Review of Books and the Threepenny Review, among other journals. He has won the usual fellowships but is most proud of the Mellon Distinguished Humanist Award, the proceeds from which he used as seed money for programs in religion, human rights, and science studies at Berkeley—all of which are now self-sustaining.