Nat Hentoff was born in Boston on June 10, 1925. In an interview for Something about the Author he says that as a child he looked forward to his Saturday visits to the library even though it was a foreboding place. He called it a "cornucopia" where he marveled "at the continual surprises that came with [his] library card." "And unlike school, the library was—and still is—a place where one can find and keep on finding one's own surprises." He suggests that children might profit more by an education in the library than in the school system.
He obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from Northeastern University with highest honors and did graduate work at Harvard University and the Sorbonne in Paris. After graduation, he worked in Boston as a writer, producer, and announcer for station WMEX for nine years. Then he became associate editor of Downbeat in New York City. He was a reviewer for the New York Herald Tribune Book Week, Peace News in London, Reporter, and Hi Fi Stereo Review, a columnist for Village Voice, and a staff writer for the New Yorker. Besides all his work with newspapers and magazines, he was an adjunct professor at New York University and a lecturer at many other schools and universities.
His strong interest in music is evidenced by books such as Hear Me Talking to Ya: The Story of Jazz by the Men Who Made It, The Jazz Makers, Jazz: New Perspectives on the History of Jazz by Twelve of the World's Foremost Jazz Critics and Scholars, The Jazz Life and Journey into Jazz. His study of jazz made him more aware of the racial problems experienced by the musicians who produced it. Other issues which interest him are freedom of the press, problems in education, police surveillance, the draft, and drugs.
Reflecting his strong social beliefs, he belongs to the Authors League of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Freedom to Write Committee of P.E.N. He served on the steering committee of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
He has two daughters, Jessica and Miranda, by his first marriage, and two sons, Nicholas and Thomas, by his second marriage. He presently lives in New York City.
His book, Jazz Country, earned him the Nancy Bloch Memorial Award, the New York Herald Tribune Spring Book Festival Award, and the Woodward Park School Book Award. He received the Golden Archer Annual Book Award for This School Is Driving Me Crazy and the Hugh M. Heffner First Amendment Award for The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America. The Day They Came to Arrest the Book won the Action Public Library Cranberry Award. This book was also an American Library Association Notable Book.