I was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. After graduating “Outstanding Senior of the Year” from UCLA, I received a Marshall Scholarship to study at Oxford University, where I wrote my doctoral thesis on the mysterious Romantic traveller and philosopher John "Walking" Stewart (1747-1822).

I have written widely on the poetry of the British Romantics (especially William Wordsworth and John Keats) and am co-founder of European Romantic Review - a scholarly journal  devoted to the interdisciplinary study of nineteenth-century art and literature. 

I am the author of two books on contemporary art: the critically-acclaimed study 100 Works of Art That Will Define Our Age (Thames & Hudson) and Art Since 1989, which features in Thames & Hudson’s celebrated World of Art series.

My writing on culture appears frequently in the UK and abroad and has featured in The Art Newspaper, The Arts Desk, Art Quarterly, BBC Culture online, The Guardian newspaper, The Independent newspaper, The Observer, the RA Magazine, The School of Life blog, The Sunday TimesWIRED, and The Times Literary Supplement, to which I am a regular contributor. I frequently deliver lectures at universities, museums, and literary festivals. I am often a guest on the BBC in the UK and, in Ireland, on RTE Radio 1’s culture programme, Arena.

In 2014, I curated a unique exhibition at Oxford University, featuring a selection of works by the renowned contemporary artist Sean Scully alongside Medieval and Renaissance masterpieces from the Christ Church Picture Gallery's permanent collection, including paintings by Annibale Carracci, Jacopo Bassano, and Tintoretto. The show was described by critics as "curatorship of the first order” (Oxford Times). In 2015, I curated an exhibition of Scully’s work for Château La Coste, in France.

In 2015 I served as a judge for the Royal Academy of Art’s prestigious Charles Wollaston Award and was recently selected by Artlyst for its annual POWER 100 list of individuals internationally "who have made a major contribution to the discipline of Contemporary Art".

My popular history, The Gaol: The Story of Newgate, London's Most Notorious Prison, was BBC Radio 4's "Book of the Week" and serialized on air over five days. The abridgement was selected by both Radio Times and the BBC as "Pick of the Week".

I am the author of three collections of poetry with Carcanet Press and my poems regularly appear in literary magazines in the UK and abroad.

An online reading of my poems can be heard here: