Toby Lester

I'm a journalist, an editor, and an independent scholar. Most recently, I'm the author of Da Vinci's Ghost (2012), about Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, and The Fourth Part of the World (2009), about the map that gave America its name. I'm also a longtime contributor to The Atlantic, for whom I've written extensively, on such topics as the reconstruction of ancient Greek music, the revisionist study of the Qur'an, and the attempt to change alphabets in Azerbaijan. Between 1995 and 2005 I worked for The Atlantic in a number of different editorial capacities—as a staff editor, as the executive editor of the Web site, as a senior editor, and as a managing editor. During those years I also served briefly as the editor of Country Journal and the executive editor of DoubleTake. My writing has appeared in not only The Atlantic but also Smithsonian, The Boston Globe, The American Scholar, The Wilson Quarterly, BBC News Magazine, and the London Times, as well as a number of anthologies, including the lead chapter of the recent New Literary History of America. Prior to 1995, I worked in international relief and development: monitoring intifada-related activity in the West Bank, as a refugee-affairs officer for the United Nations; helping establish programs in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, as a Peace Corps country desk officer; and teaching English in a mountain school, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Yemen. I graduated from the University of Virginia in 1987 with degrees in English and French, and now live in the Boston area with my wife and three daughters.I come from a family of writers. My father, James Lester, was a member of the first successful American Everest expedition, and is the author of Too Marvelous for Words (1994), the only biography of the jazz pianist Art Tatum. My mother, Valerie Lester, is the author of, among other works, Fasten Your Seat Belts: History and Heroism in the Pan Am Cabin (1995), and Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens (2004)—a biography of her great-great grandfather, Hablot Knight Browne, who was Charles Dickens’s principal illustrator. And my sister, Alison Lester, is the author of Locked Out (2007), a collection of short stories about expatriate life.
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