Potok is most famous for his 1967 novel The Chosen which was a semi-autobiographical story about two boys. Reuven Malter, a Modern Orthodox Jew, becomes friends with Danny Saunders, an exceptionally brilliant young son of a Hasidic rabbi. The father, Reb Saunders, expects his son to succeed him as a rabbi, yet Danny wants to study psychology, a secular field of study.
Herman Harold Potok was born in the New York Bronx to Jewish immigrants from Poland. Following tradition, his parents also gave him a Hebraic name, Chaim Tvzi; "Chaim" is the Hebrew word for "life". His Orthodox education taught him Talmud as well as secular studies.
Potok edited Conservative Judaism and also served as editor of the Jewish Publication Society. In 1965, Potok was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.