Richard Snow was born in New York City in 1947, raised in Westchester County, and returned to Manhattan to go to Columbia College, where he studied English and history, thereby inadvertently preparing himself for how he’d spend the rest of his life.
After he graduated from high school, he got a summer job as a mail boy at the American Heritage Publishing Company. He didn’t damage any mail, and so was asked back during succeeding summers, and given a staff job on the firm’s history magazine, American Heritage, upon graduating from college in 1970.
He worked there for the next 37 years, spending seventeen of them as editor-in-chief.
During that time he wrote several books, among them:
The Funny Place (J. Philip O’Hara): A narrative poem about Coney Island, about which the poet John Ashbery said, “An accomplished craftsman, Snow has revived “blank verse”—of a sort—as the appropriate medium for his tale; it moves forward on the waltz rhythms of carrousel organs as heard in intervals between the surf and the din of the boardwalk. Snow’s music is “light classical,” his strokes are broad and his colors the jubilant pastel ones of a poster announcing the imminent arrival of an astounding phenomenon. But there is something tragic here too: the power that snapshots of forgotten afternoons have to force the reader suddenly to confront the present with the past, life with death.”
Freelon Starbird (Houghton Mifflin): A novel set during the first year of the American Revolution, a New York Times notable book of the year for 1976.
The Burning (Doubleday): Another historical novel, this one about the devastating forest fire that destroyed the town of Hinckley, Minnesota, in the late summer of 1893. David McCullough said of it: “The Burning is a taut and thrilling tale wonderfully told by a writer who knows what he is doing. In its feeling for time and place, for the vernacular of the past, in every small detail, it rings exactly true and entirely American and yet, like the work of Thornton Wilder, its themes are universal—our inevitable preoccupation with things of the moment, the courage to be found in seemingly ordinary people...”
The Iron Road: A Portrait of American Railroading (Four Winds): A concise—or, at least, short—history of the great age of steam on our continent, illustrated by David Plowden’s somber and magnificent photographs documenting its passing.
Coney Island: A Postcard Visit to the City of Fire (Brightwaters): Coney again—a lifelong obsession—this time visited through postcards published during the great amusement resort’s turn-of-the-century zenith.
Snow has also consulted for historical motion pictures—among them Glory—and documentaries, including the Burns brothers’ The Civil War and Ken Burns’s World War II documentary. He revisited Coney one more time to work with Ric Burns on the PBS American Experience feature Coney Island, whose screenplay he wrote.
When American Heritage was sold in 2007, Snow began work on A Measureless Peril, a book about America’s part in the bitter, years-long struggle for the North Atlantic in World War II. It was published by Scribner in 2011; I Invented the Modern Age--which he completed with the generous help of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation--followed three years later.
To read the New York Times article about Richard Snow when American Heritage magazine suspended publication, click here.
He has a grown son, William, and lives in New York City with his wife, Carol, their daughter, Rebecca, and a picturesque but ill-tempered cat whom he alone likes.