I grew up in New York City in a Russian émigré family and wanted to be a scientist from an early age. However, after getting bachelor's and master's degrees in geology, I decided that I'd learned enough about the natural world but didn't understand myself or other people. My solution was to switch to studying literature and the humanities, which resulted in my getting a Ph. D. in Comparative Literature from Princeton. This helped, and the quest continues. After teaching in the Slavic Department at Harvard, I moved to Yale in 1986, where I continue to teach courses on Russian literature and culture. I’ve published academic books and many articles on various Russian writers and topics. The Black Russian was my first book for a general audience, and I found the process of researching and writing it so fascinating and compelling that I want to do another one like it. I’m now investigating several topics: some involve the American Civil War; others--the Russian Revolution and the civil war that followed it.