Reihan Salam (b. December 29, 1979) is an American non-fiction writer and policy analyst.
Raised by two exceptionally intelligent, cool, and eccentric parents, he was the third of three children, and by all accounts a taciturn shut-in as a small child, primarily interested in LEGO and reruns of Full House. He did, however, rock a stylish bowl cut for most of his youth. His heroes as a small boy were his sisters, various superheroes, and his sisters’ high school friends, one of whom was notorious for casually carrying around a machete. His middle sister, Anjum, would regularly send him mixtapes from California, with a heavy emphasis on monologues by Jim Carroll and Jello Biafra and music from the Pharcyde and the Beastie Boys. Basically, she played an essential role in informing and shaping his emerging tastes and sensibilities. His oldest sister Rifat sparked his interest in comic books, film, and all things foreign. And though his parents worked near-constantly, they provided the family with a constant stream of magazines, books, and charged conversation about race, culture, politics, and the virtues of a balanced diet.
As a student at Stuyvesant High School, he had a checkered academic record, redeemed in part by a mostly untutored intellectual curiosity. Fortunately, his best friend, now a distinguished economist, shamed him into not actually flunking out by being a pretty amazing example of dedication, creativity, and general dopeness.
He had the good fortune to attend the Telluride Association Summer Program, an experience he credits with “lighting a fire under his ass” and convincing him that the pursuit of academic excellence was not, in fact, “for the birds.”
After an intellectually fruitful but socially problematic year at Cornell University, where he’d often spend Friday nights reading biographies of Walter Reuther in the stacks, he transferred to Harvard, where he concentrated in Social Studies. His senior thesis, on the normative implications of pervasive public ignorance, was written hastily and under extreme duress, reflecting what was fast becoming a lifelong pattern. His intellectual development was for the most part self-directed, though he profited immensely from having taken two seminars with the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, a fellow Stuyvesant alumnus and an unfailingly generous scholar.
Having graduated in 2001, a year that coincided with what in hindsight looks more and more like a minor economic speed bump, he was quite confident that in lieu of finding suitable employment, he’d become a handsome grifter, roaming the countryside in search of easy marks. The trouble, alas, was the handsome part. And so he instead spent a short period of time as a reporter-researcher at The New Republic, influenced in part by his admiration for the work of senior editor and pioneering political blogger Andrew Sullivan. This was followed by a similarly brief stint as a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Shortly after David Brooks had been hired as a columnist at the New York Times, he pluckily decided to apply for a position as Brooks’s editorial researcher, where he spent the next two years. Having admired Brooks for some years, he was impressed to learn that the newly-minted columnist was exactly as kind, humble, and insightful as he seemed to be from a distance. For a few short months, he served as a junior editor for the New York Times op-ed page before leaving (a bit too abruptly) to become a producer for NBC Universal’s The Chris Matthews Show. Roughly two years on, he served for a time as an associate editor at The Atlantic before accepting a fellowship at the New America Foundation. At some point during this stretch, he decided to start shaving his head, not realizing that this would lead at some of his detractors to conclude that he was a beardless Barbary Corsair hellbent on seizing treasure on the high seas. He also co-authored a book, which you can indeed purchase for the astonishingly low price of $0.01, with one of his very good friends, Ross Douthat.
He is the executive editor of National Review and a fellow at the National Review Institute. He is also a columnist for Slate, a contributing editor at National Affairs, a CNN contributor, and an interviewer for VICE.com. Despite his controversial eyebrows, he has appeared on CNN, ABC, PBS, FOX, NBC, MSNBC, BBC, CBC, TVO, AJE, RT, HBO, and a number of other television networks that may or may not exist outside of his imagination. He also appears on the radio, where listeners are less likely to be alarmed by his disconcertingly shiny pate.
He has given talks at PopTech (an unmitigated disaster), Georgetown, the National Constitution Center, Yale, Zócalo Public Square, the National Defense University, Macalester College, the Personal Democracy Forum, Duke, and points beyond. To put it crudely, he’ll go anywhere there is delicious free food.
He has a long-standing interest in, among other things, economic geography, the history of ideas, diasporas and migration, comparative politics, political economy, cities, and diets rich in saturated fats. To the surprise of many, he has suddenly started writing a lot of long-form stuff.
Though born in New York, NY, at Bellevue Hospital, he spent his formative years in Brooklyn, first in Borough Park and then in the shadowy borderland between Kensington and Ditmas Park. At present, he lives in Dumbo, though he often works from other cities as part of an ongoing effort to stay one step ahead of “The Fuzz.”