A famous writer, critic, editor, and Yale professor, he was known for works of literary criticism that address such topics as aestheticism, romanticism, and religion. His best-known works include The American Religion, The Western Canon, and The Anxiety of Influence.
He developed an interest in poetry at the age of eleven, after reading the works of Hart Crane and William Blake. He subsequently graduated from Cornell University and went on to receive his PhD from Yale.
He was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in New York City. With his wife, Jeanne Gould, he had two children.
His 1998 work, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, includes an analysis of each of the works of the famous playwright William Shakespeare.