Peck was born on May 22, 1936, in New York City, the son of Zabeth (née Saville) and David Warner Peck, an attorney and judge. His parents were Quakers. Peck was raised a Protestant (his paternal grandmother was from a Jewish family, but Peck’s father identified himself as a WASP and not as Jewish).
His parents sent him to the prestigious boarding school Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, when he was 13. In his book, The Road Less Traveled, he confides the story of his brief stay at Exeter, and admits that it was a most miserable time. Finally, at age 15, during the spring holiday of his third year, he came home and refused to return to the school, whereupon his parents sought psychiatric help for him and he was (much to his amusement in later life) diagnosed with depression and recommended for a month’s stay in a psychiatric hospital (unless he chose to return to school). He then transferred to Friends Seminary (a private K–12 school) in late 1952, and graduated in 1954, after which he received a BA from Harvard in 1958, and an MD degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1963.
Peck served in administrative posts in the government during his career as a psychiatrist. He also served in the US Army and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. His army assignments included stints as chief of psychology at the Army Medical Center in Okinawa, Japan, and assistant chief of psychiatry and neurology in the office of the surgeon general in Washington, DC. He was the medical director of the New Milford Hospital Mental Health Clinic and a psychiatrist in private practice in New Milford, Connecticut. His first and best-known book, The Road Less Traveled, sold more than 10 million copies.
Peck’s works combined his experiences from his private psychiatric practice with a distinctly religious point of view. In his second book, People of the Lie, he wrote, “After many years of vague identification with Buddhist and Islamic mysticism, I ultimately made a firm Christian commitment – signified by my non-denominational baptism on the ninth of March 1980…” (Peck, 1983/1988, p11). One of his views was that people who are evil attack others rather than face their own failures.
In December 1984, Peck co-founded the Foundation for Community Encouragement (FCE), a tax-exempt, nonprofit, public educational foundation, whose stated mission is “to teach the principles of community to individuals and organizations.” FCE ceased day-to-day operations from 2002 to 2009. In late 2009, almost 25 years after FCE was first founded, the organization resumed functioning, and began offering community building and training events in 2010.
Books in order of publication:
The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth (Simon & Schuster, 1978)
People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil (Simon & Schuster, 1983)
What Return Can I Make? Dimensions of the Christian Experience (Simon & Schuster, 1985)
The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace (Simon & Schuster, 1987)
A Bed By the Window: A Novel of Mystery and Redemption (Bantam Books, 1990)
The Friendly Snowflake: A Fable of Faith, Love and Family (Turner Publishing, 1992)
A World Waiting To Be Born: Civility Rediscovered (Bantam, 1993)
Meditations From the Road (Simon & Schuster, 1993)
Further Along the Road Less Traveled (Simon & Schuster, 1993)
In Search of Stones: A Pilgrimage of Faith, Reason and Discovery (Hyperion Books 1995)
In Heaven As on Earth: A Vision of the Afterlife (Hyperion, 1996)
The Road Less Traveled and Beyond: Spiritual Growth in an Age of Anxiety (Simon & Schuster, 1997)
Denial of the Soul: Spiritual and Medical Perspectives in Euthanasia and Mortality (Harmony Books (Crown), 1997)
Golf and the Spirit: Lessons for the Journey (Harmony Books, 1999) Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist’s Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption (Free Press, January 19, 2005)