Richard Zacks grew up in New York City, wandering to Times Square when it was still evil. His mother sought to refine his manners with white-glove dance lessons at the Pierre Hotel but that effort failed miserably. As a teenager, he gambled on the horses, played blackjack in illegal Manhattan card parlors and bought his first drink at age fifteen at the Plaza Hotel. He also attended elite schools such as Horace Mann ('73), University of Michigan ('79) and Columbia Journalism School ('81). He majored in Classical Greek and studied Arabic, Italian and French.
His whole life he has felt torn between the seedy and the high brow. He is a born contrarian. His books reflect that, with topics ranging from Joan of Arc's virginity tests to a vindication of Captain Kidd, from Edison's electric chair to Mark Twain's erotic writings. .
Zacks spent the decade of the 1980s as a journalist, writing a widely syndicated newspaper column, as well as freelance pieces for the likes of The Atlantic, Sports Illustrated, and he brings a who, what, when, where and an occasional why to his writing of historical narrative. The N.Y. Times, commenting on his first book, "History Laid Bare", stated that Zacks "specializes in the raunchy and perverse." That was two decades ago; he has perhaps evolved since then. His second book, "An Underground Education" became a cult hit; his third book "Pirate Hunter" has sold more than 175,000 copies and TIME magazine chose it among the five best non-fiction books of the year. Zacks has also appeared in four documentaries.
Tall, bald, spry, he still plays full court basketball at age fifty-six, and does his writing in an office, overlooking Union Square Park in Manhattan.