Richard Sennett grew up in the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago. At an early age he became engaged with music, particularly the cello and progressed to the Julliard School in New York to work with Claus Adam, cellist of the Julliard Quartet. A hand injury put an end to his musical career. He then entered Harvard, studying sociology with David Riesman, receiving a Ph.d in 1969.
Over the course of the last five decades, he has written about social life in cities, changes in labour,
and social theory. He has also had a public career, first as founder of the New York Institute for the Humanities, then as President of the American Council of Work, and hasor the last three decades served as a consultant to various bodies in the United Nations. Most recently, he wrote the mission statement for Habitat III, the United Nation's environmental congress.
His books include The Hidden Injuries of Class, The Fall of Public Man, Authority, The Corrosion of Character, The Craftsman, and the forthcoming Building and Dwelling. Among other awards, he has received the Hegel Prize, the Spinoza Prize, an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge, and the Centennial Medal from Harvard University.
In private life he is married to the sociologist Saskia Sassen. He gardens and cooks, as well as playing the cello. He belongs to support groups for survivors of strokes.