An American novelist, journalist, and short story writer, he is known for his Prostitution trilogy and his Seven Dreams series. For his 2005 novel, Europe Central, he won the National Book Award for Fiction.
He grew up in both California and Indiana. He studied at Deep Springs College and went on to receive a B.A. in comparative literature from Cornell University.
His non-fiction works focus on topics such as Afghanistan, Japan, astronomy, violence, and poverty.
He was deeply affected by the drowning death of his six-year-old sister, an event that inspired much of his literary work. He later had a daughter with his oncologist wife.
He contributed articles to Granta, a publication that John Simpson once edited.