Donald Kagan

Donald Kagan
Donald Kagan

Born May 1, 1932 (1932-05-01) (age 79)
Kuršėnai, Lithuania
Nationality United States
Fields Classics
Institutions Yale University
Alma mater Brooklyn College
Brown University
Ohio State University
Known for History of the Peloponnesian War
Notable awards National Humanities Medal, 2002

Donald Kagan (born May 1, 1932) is an American historian at Yale University specializing in ancient Greece, notable for his four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War. 1987-1988 Acting Director of Athletics, Yale University. He was Dean of Yale College from 1989–1992. He formerly taught in the Department of History at Cornell University. In a review in The New Yorker, critic George Steiner said of Kagan's seminal four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War: "The temptation to acclaim Kagan's four volumes as the foremost work of history produced in North America in this century is vivid." Kagan is generally considered among the foremost scholars of Ancient Greek history at present.

Born into a Jewish family from Kuršėnai, Kagan grew up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, where his family emigrated when he was two years old, shortly after the death of his father. He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1954, received an MA from Brown University in 1955 and a PhD from the Ohio State University in 1958.[1]

Once a liberal Democrat, Professor Kagan changed his views in 1969 and became one of the original signers to the 1997 Statement of Principles by the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century.[2] According to Jim Lobe, cited in The Fall of the House of Bush by Craig Unger (p. 39, n.), Kagan's turn away from liberalism occurred in 1969 when Cornell University was pressured into starting a Black Studies program by gun-wielding students seizing a building on campus: "Watching administrators demonstrate all the courage of Neville Chamberlain had a great impact on me, and I became much more conservative." On the eve of the 2000 presidential elections, Kagan and his son, Frederick Kagan, published While America Sleeps, a call to increase defense spending. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded Donald Kagan the National Humanities Medal in 2002, and selected him to deliver the 2005 Jefferson Lecture, which the NEH calls "the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities."[3] Kagan's Jefferson Lecture was entitled "In Defense of History";[4] he argued that history is of primary importance in the study of the humanities.[5][6]

Kagan is currently Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale University — a title reserved for only the select few most accomplished academics at Yale. His course "The Origins of War" was one of the university's most popular courses for twenty-five years. He currently teaches "Introduction to Ancient Greek History" [7] and upper level History and Classical Civilization seminars focusing on topics from Thucydides to the Lakedaimonian hegemony. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

He is the father of Robert Kagan and Frederick Kagan, both well known writers. Robert Kagan's wife is Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the United States Department of State. Frederick Kagan's wife is Kimberly Kagan, a well known military historian and founder and president of the ISW.


  • Kagan, Donald. (1965). The Great Dialogue: A History of Greek Political Thought from Homer to Polybius. New York: Free Press.
  • Kagan, Donald. (1969). The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-0501-7.
  • Kagan, Donald. (1974). The Archidamian War. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-0889-X.
  • Kagan, Donald. (1981). The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-1367-2.
  • Kagan, Donald. (1987). The Fall of the Athenian Empire. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-1935-2
  • Kagan, Donald. (1991). Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy. New York: The Free Press. ISBN 0-684-86395-2.
  • Kagan, Donald. (1995). On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-42374-8.
  • Kagan, Donald and Kagan, Frederick. (2000). While America Sleeps. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-20624-0.
  • Kagan, Donald, Craig, Albert M., Graham, William A., Ozment, Steven, and Turner, Frank M. (2000). The Heritage of World Civilizations.
  • Kagan, Donald, Ozment, Steven, and Turner, Frank M.. (2003). The Western Heritage. New York: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-182839-8.
  • Kagan, Donald. (2003). The Peloponnesian War. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-03211-5.
  • Kagan, Donald. (2009). Thucydides: The Reinvention of History. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-02129-6.


  1. ^ "Lion in Winter". April 2002. Retrieved 2007-08-19. 
  2. ^ "Statement of Principles". Retrieved 2007-08-19. 
  3. ^ Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
  4. ^ Donald Kagan,"In Defense of History," text of Jefferson Lecture at NEH website.
  5. ^ Philip Kennicott, "Yale Historian Donald Kagan, Mixing the Old And the Neo," Washington Post, May 13, 2005.
  6. ^ George F. Will, "History's Higher Ground," Washington Post, May 19, 2005.
  7. ^ Donald Kagan's Course at Open Yale Courses

External links

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