Thomas B. Allen's writings range from articles for National Geographic Magazine to books on American history. His latest project involved publication of a perfect reproduction of a historic treasure: A copy of Acts of Congress of 1789. The book contains the record of the first session of the First Congress, enhanced by marginal notes written by President George Washington. The Ladies of Mount Vernon Association bought Acts at auction for $9.8 million, the highest price ever paid for an American book. Accompanying Acts in a slipcase is Allen's guide to the contents and provenance of the book. The slipcase edition is published by Andrews McMeel.
Allen's Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War, is a narrative history of Loyalists in the American Revolution. Tories, a History Book Club selection, was described by The Economist as “an original and copiously sourced history of the war’s losers.” The New York Times review focused on the grim side of the narrative, saying Tories is “not for the faint of heart or for those who prefer revolutions in ideas. Recruiters of spies as well as the spies themselves faced the gallows, and Allen tells us who kicked the box and how the body swayed. Bayonets in these pages run with blood.”
Allen and his writer-son Roger MacBride Allen are the authors of the National Geographic’s Mr. Lincoln’s High-Tech War. The authors were chosen to take part in a Smithsonian lecture on Lincoln and Science at the National Museum of American History. Also on the panel was Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology. The book was selected by Voice of Youth Advocates Magazine as one of the best non-fiction young adult books of 2009.
Another recent book, published jointly by the National Geographic Society and the International Spy Museum, is Declassified: 50 Secret Documents that Changed History, a History Book Club selection, which The Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies called “an original, valuable, and informative book.”
Allen served in 2012 on the panel assessing writing in American schools for the U.S. Department of Education.
He is the co-author, with Norman Polmar, of World War II, 1941-1945, an encyclopedia of the war; Spy Book, The Encyclopedia of Espionage; Code-name Downfall, the plan to invade Japan; Rickover, Controversy and Genius; and Merchants of Treason, a study of spies of the 1980s, which Tom Clancy said “should be required reading for every security officer in the United States.”
Allen has done On-Line web page editing and writing for the National Museum of American History, the National Portrait Gallery, National Geographic On-Line, and the Central Intelligence Agency (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/additional-publications/civil-war/index.html).
He has also appeared frequently on the History Channel as a participant in shows about war and espionage. He has lectured for the National Geographic on trips to the sites of historic events, such as Pearl Harbor and the D-Day beaches of Normandy, as well as on Geographic Travel’s expeditions in Europe and Cuba. His Geographic articles have been published in the Japanese, Israeli, Greek, and Latin American editions of the Magazine.
Allen is the author of the Geographic’s Civil War book, The Blue and Gray, and co-author, with Paul Dickson, of The Bonus Army: An American Epic, the story of the ill-fated World War I veterans who marched on Washington in 1932 and were driven out by Army troops under command of General Douglas MacArthur. The book was named as the Spring 2005 History Top Ten by the History Channel and Book Sense, an association of independent U.S. booksellers. The Los Angeles Times called the book “a haunting, compellingly written and marvelously researched book” and “an important contribution to American history.” Taylor Branch, writing in the New York Review of Books said the book “recalls the subliminal force of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men with gaunt stories of character at the limits of dignity.” Allen and Dickson were co-authors of a script for a Bonus Army documentary on PBS.
Other recent publications are National Geographic children’s books (ages 10 to 14): Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent; George Washington, Spymaster, Remember Valley Forge, and Remember Pearl Harbor, which was selected as one of the Notable Books of 2001 by the American Library Association. Spymaster’s citations include “Honor Book” by the 2005 James Madison Book Awards; the 2005 American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults; 2005 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People; the New York Public Library’s top 100 Titles for the year; and the highest recommendations from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.
Allen writes frequently on military and intelligence subjects. He was named by the U.S. Naval Institute as 2004 Naval History Author of the Year “for the sustained high quality of his literary contributions to Naval History magazine.” His writing for National Geographic Magazine includes articles on Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway, the Eighth Air Force, and the sinking of the battleship Maine. He contributed to “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War,” an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. He was also a contributor to The World War II Memorial: A Grateful Nation Remembers, published in conjunction with the dedication of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall.
Allen was Associate Chief of the National Geographic Society’s Book Service from 1974 until 1981, when he left the Society to freelance as a writer and editor. After leaving the Society he edited and wrote for several Society books, including Field Guide to North American Birds, Inventors and Discoverers, Journey Into China, Into the Unknown, Exploring England and Ireland, Liberty: the Statue and the American Dream; America’s Outdoor Wonders, Photography Then and Now, and We Americans. During his career at the National Geographic Society, Allen worked as an editor and writer on more than thirty Society books.
Allen’s book Possessed revealed in detail the real exorcism that was the basis for the movie “The Exorcist.” Possessed was adapted for a Showtime movie of the same name. He co-wrote the script for “In the Grip of Evil,” a documentary based on the book.
Besides writing for the Geographic’s Traveler, he edited and wrote a portion of America’s Hidden Wilderness, was an editor and writer on the Society’s Guide to U.S. National Parks; editor of National Geographic: The Photographs, a Book-of-the-Month selection; and editor of Orbit, a book on space photography published by the Society and Random House. We Americans, which Allen edited, had been continually reprinted from 1975 to 1995, for a total number of 1,225,000 copies. Allen produced a millennium edition of We Americans in 1999; it was a Book of the Month selection. He was also editor of America from Space and Looking at Earth, published in cooperation with the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.
He and his wife Scottie, a potter and member of the Waverly Street Gallery, live in Bethesda, Maryland.