Susan Jacoby

On this date in 1945, scholar and author Susan Jacoby was born in Okemos, Michigan. Her father was a secular Jew of German heritage who converted to Catholicism when Jacoby was a child and her mother was Irish Catholic. She graduated from Michigan State University in 1965 and started her writing career as a Washington Post reporter. Her first book, Moscow Conversations (1972), was based on articles she contributed to the Post from the Soviet Union between 1969-71. She then wrote Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge (a 1984 Pulitzer Prize finalist) and The Possible She (1979).

Among the best-known of the prolific Jacoby’s 13 books are Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (2004) and The Age of American Unreason (2008). The latter was updated in 2018 with the title The Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies, which expanded on how the trends she analyzed in 2008 contributed to Donald Trump’s election in 2016.

In Half-Jew: A Daughter’s Search for Her Family’s Buried Past (2000), Jacoby detailed her quest to learn more about her family’s real history. In 2013 she published The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought. Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion (2016) explored religious conversion, a topic of particular interest because of her father’s conversion to Catholicism. Her newest book, as of this writing, is Why Baseball Matters (2018), described by Yale University Press as “a love letter to the game and a tough-minded analysis of the current challenges to its special position — in reality and myth — in American culture.”

Jacoby lectures extensively, often on the links between feminism and secularism. Her reviews, articles and essays have appeared in a wide variety of prestigious national publications, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. She has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards from institutions such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim, Rockefeller and Ford foundations. She was the recipient in 2019 of the Richard Dawkins Award from Atheist Alliance International. 

She is a member of the honorary boards of the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Center for Inquiry, where she was also program director for the New York City branch. She received FFRF’s Freethought Heroine Award in 2004. Her acceptance speech, “How Secularism Became a Dirty Word,” is here

PHOTO: Courtesy of

Freedom From Religion Foundation