Born in Minnesota (a setting which figures prominently in his novels), he earned his BA in Political Science in 1968. That same year he was drafted into the infantry, and was sent to Vietnam, where he served from 1969 to 1970. He served in the Americal division, infamous for its participation in the My Lai massacre, shortly before O'Brien arrived in Vietnam. That event also figures in his writing.
Upon completing his tour of duty, O'Brien went on to graduate school at Harvard and received an internship at the Washington Post. His writing career was launched in 1973 with the release of If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Send Me Home about his war experiences.
Books by Tim O'Brien include: