Writer, born in New York City, New York, USA. A foundling, he was raised by his adoptive parents, Edwin and Mabel Michener, in Doylesville, PA. He studied at Swarthmore College (1929 BA) and at European universities (1931-3), taught in Pennsylvania, then took his MA at Colorado State College (now University of Northern Colorado) in 1936, where he taught history until 1939. With a reputation as both a theorist and teacher of social studies, he was a visiting professor at Harvard (1939-41), then became a book editor in New York City (1941-9), with time out for service with the US Navy in the Pacific (1944-5).
This experience provided him with the material for his first popular success, Tales of the South Pacific (1947), adapted by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the even more successful musical, South Pacific (1949). He was now free to devote himself to writing his trademark epics of fictionalized histories of such places as Hawaii, Africa, Afghanistan, America, and Israel, as well as straightforward non-fiction works on such topics as Japanese prints (1959) and the role of sports in modern life.
To keep up his vast output, he employed teams of researchers, and although critics complained that his later works revealed the seams of his methods, his books continued to satisfy a large public. An outspoken liberal Democrat, he gave generously of his immense earnings.