Guttenplan was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, and lived there, Springfield, Massachusetts, and Port Chester, New York, before attending the Philadelphia, Hollywood, Florida, and Memphis public school systems. He has a degree in philosophy from Columbia University, a degree in English literature from Cambridge University, and a doctorate in history from the University of London.
During the 1980s he worked in New York City politics and in publishing, drafting the bill to name a portion of Central Park “Strawberry Fields,” commissioning a biography of the anarchist Emma Goldman, and reissuing the WPA Guide to New York City. He was also a junior editor and pop music critic at Vanity Fair (during the magazine’s early, unpopular incarnation as “the New York Review of Books with pictures”), and a writer on the foreign desk at Newsweek.
After working as a senior editor at the Village Voice, editing that paper’s political and news coverage, and writing a cover story exposing the corrupt politics behind the proposed redevelopment of Times Square, he moved to New York Newsday, where he wrote a weekly media column and covered the 1988 presidential campaign. His reporting on the 1990 Happy Land Social Club fire in the Bronx won a Page One award from the New York Newspaper Guild and his investigative reporting on New York City’s ineffectual fire code was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Following a year as a fellow at the Freedom Forum Media Studies center at Columbia researching his biography of longtime Nation Washington correspondent I.F. Stone, Guttenplan moved to London in 1994. He has taught American history at University College and at Birkbeck College and has been a frequent commentator on American culture and politics on the BBC.
In 2001 Guttenplan’s interest in the use of the British libel laws to silence criticism lead him to write about the suit brought by the British author David Irving, who claimed no Jews were killed in gas chambers at Auschwitz, against the American academic Deborah Lipstadt, who had called Irving “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial.” Guttenplan’s account of the case, The Holocaust on Trial, was described in The New Yorker as “a mixture of superb reportage and serious reflection—about the role of Jewish identity politics in the United States, anti-Semitism in Britain, the historiography of the Cold War, and so on.” Neal Ascherson wrote: “Guttenplan sat through every day of the trial, and no wiser, more honest, or more melancholy book will ever be written about it.”
When his friend and former teacher Edward Said became too ill to continue lecturing, Guttenplan arranged to film a series of lengthy conversations which, after Said’s death in 2003, became Edward Said: The Last Interview. The British journal Sight and Sound described the film as “the kind of portrait of an intellectual which is very rare,” while the Times (London) called it “enthralling, touching, melancholic and fierce.” The New York Times pronounced it “riveting,” adding “Edward Said: The Last Interview proves that a couch, a camera and a great mind can be all the inspiration a filmmaker needs.”
Noam Chomsky described Guttenplan’s latest book, The Next Republic: The Rise of a New Radical Majority as “a timely and instructive call to action.”
“It’s high time,” said Chomsky, “that someone resurrected authentic populism from below, and showed how it can be the path to a better future.”
Guttenplan and his wife, longtime Nation London correspondent Maria Margaronis, have three grown children. Follow him on twitter, @ddguttenplan.