A cultural historian who is a pioneer in the field of studying the history of books, Robert Darnton has written or edited about two dozen books. Robert Darnton is the Director of the Harvard University Library. He is a trustee of the New York Public Library and the Oxford University Press (USA).
Robert Darnton is the son of New York Times war correspondent Byron Darnton (1897-1942), who was killed by friendly fire during World War II. He is the brother of the best-selling novelist John Darnton, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist who retired as an editor in 2005.
A Rhodes Scholar, Robert Darnton was educated at Harvard University (where he earned his A.B. in 1960) and Oxford University (where he earned his B.Phil. in 1962 and his D.Phil. in 1964). After he briefly worked as a reporter for The New York Times, of course, he became a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard.
In 1968, he joined the faculty of Princeton University, where he was appointed Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of European History. Eleven years later, his book The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie was published. In 1982, he won a MacArthur Fellowship.
In 1983, he delivered the Huizinga Lecture in Leiden, Netherlands, with the title “The Meaning of Mother Goose.” The Huizinga Lecture, named in honor of the historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945), is organized by the daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad, the Humanities Faculty of Leiden University, and the Society of Dutch Literature.
His book The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History was published in 1984. His most popular work, it has been translated into sixteen languages.
In 1991, his book Berlin Journal, 1989-1990, an account of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of East Germany, was published. Four years later, his book The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Prerevolutionary France, a study of the underground book trade, was published. He contributed a chapter to The Darnton Debate: Books and Revolution in the Eighteenth Century, published in 1998.
In 1999, he was elected President of the American Historical Association. His AHA Presidential Address was “An Early Information Society: News and the Media in Eighteenth-Century Paris.” In 2004, The International Gutenberg Society and the City of Mainz awarded him the Gutenberg Prize.
In 2007, he became a professor emeritus at Princeton and accepted an appointment as Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library at Harvard. He succeeded the political scientist Sidney Verba, who retired in 2007, having served as library director since 1984. A frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, Darnton has written several pieces in defense of the New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan.