Robert Jay Lifton is an American psychiatrist and author whose subject has been holocaust, mass violence, and renewal in the 20th and 21st centuries. Lifton has written twenty-four books and edited eight others. His books include Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (winner of a National Book Award); The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (winner of a Los Angeles Times Book Prize); Home from the War: Learning from Vietnam Veterans (nominated for a National Book Award); Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China; The Protean Self: Human Resilience in an Age of Fragmentation; and Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir.
He has been a leading public intellectual and antinuclear activist and is a founding member of the Nobel Prize winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. He has been a strong voice in opposing American wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. More recently he has been active in the movement of psychological professionals to demonstrate the unfitness of Donald Trump for the presidency, and has written the foreword for the best-selling book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Experts Assess a President (edited by Bandy Lee), and other articles on Trump’s dangerous psychological characteristics.
He has been a research psychiatrist and teacher at the Washington School of Psychiatry, Yale University, Harvard University, the City University of New York, and Columbia University.
Together with his mentor, Erik Erikson, he convened the Wellfleet Psychohistory Group in 1966, and organized and hosted its annual meetings at his home on Cape Cod for 50 years until 2015. Over the years participants have included Charles Strozier, Kai Erikson, Peter Brooks, Raul Hilberg, Stuart Hampshire, Norman Mailer, Daniel Ellsberg, Howard Zinn, Jonathan Schell, Norman Birnbaum, Judith Herman, Harvey Cox, Ashis Nandy, James Carroll, and Margret Brenman, among many others.
Lifton was married to the writer and adoption reformer Betty Jean Lifton from 1952 until her death in 2010. He has two children, Kenneth Lifton and Natasha Lifton, and four grandchildren.
He was born on May 16, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York. He enrolled at Cornell University at the age of 16 and graduated from New York Medical College in 1948. He interned at the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn in 1948-49, and had his psychiatric residency at the Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn from 1949-51. From 1951 to 1953 Lifton served as an Air Force Psychiatrist in Massachusetts, Japan, and Korea.
Lifton’s avocation is that of a creating humorous bird cartoons, and has published two volumes, Birds and Psychobirds.
He lives in Wellfleet, Massachusetts and New York City with his partner, the political theorist and writer Nancy Rosenblum.