Thant Myint-U was born 31 January 1966 in New York City and was educated at Harvard (AB '87 in Government and Economics), the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (MA '91 in International Relations and International Economics) and Cambridge University (PhD '96 in History).
He has served on three United Nations peacekeeping operations, in Cambodia (United Nations Transition Authority in Cambodia 1992-3) and in the former Yugoslavia (United Nations Protection Force 1994-5 and United Nations Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina 1996), including as the UN's spokesman in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War.
From 1996-1999 he taught Asian and British imperial history as a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He was also a Research Associate of the Cambridge Centre for History and Economics.
From 2000-2007 Thant Myint-U worked at the UN Secretariat in New York. He worked first for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and then in Department of Political Affairs and the Executive Office of the Secretary-General. From 2004-6 he was the Chief of the Policy Planning Unit in the Department of Political Affairs. He was also the Senior Officer attached to the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change, formed in the aftermath of the Iraq War, whose recommendations on issues from counter-terrorism to nuclear non-proliferation, to mediation and peacekeeping, led to the 2005 World Summit.
From 2007-2011 Thant Myint-U held visiting fellowships at Harvard, the International Peace Institute in New York, and the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
During this time he was also deeply involved in efforts related to reform in Burma (Myanmar), working with international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and others, in particular on issues related to humanitarian access in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis and the transition from military dictatorship. From 2009 he served on the board of the Myanmar Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund.
In 2012 Thant Myint-U was appointed a member of the President of Myanmar's National Economic and Social Advisory Council and a special advisor at the Myanmar Peace Center, the body responsible for the 2011-2015 peace process and the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. He was also a senior advisor to the Beyond Ceasefires Initiative, a joint programme between the government and Ethnic Armed Organizations designed to bring external experiences in support of domestic peace negotiations. During this time he also established the Yangon Heritage Trust to protect the city's architectural heritage and encourage new ideas in urban planning.
Thant Myint-U is the author of four books: The Making of Modern Burma (2000), the River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma (2006), Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia (2011 and short-listed for the Asia Society's Bernard Schwartz Prize), and The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century (2019), selected one of Foreign Affairs magazine's Top Books of 2020 and as a New York Times Critics Top Books of 2019.
He has also written several book chapters and monographs, as well as articles for the New York Times, the Financial Times, the London Review of Books, the Nikkei Asian Review, and many other publications.
In December 2013 Thant Myint-U was named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the "100 Leading Global Thinkers" for the year, and in April 2014 was voted 15th in an online poll from Prospect Magazine's list of 50 "World Thinkers". In September 2015 he was selected for the Fukuoka "Grand Prize", Japan's leading cultural award. In December that year he received the President of Myanmar's award for Outstanding National Service. In January 2018 he received the Padma Shri award, one of India's highest civilian honours, from the Government of India.
Thant Myint-U was a Visiting Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge from 2021-2022. He is currently the Chairman of U Thant House, a leading education and discussion centre in Yangon, United Nations Special Adviser on Humanitarian Diplomacy, and a senior adviser to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Over 2023-24 he will be a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Christ's College, Cambridge and a Visiting Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School, National University of Singapore. His next book, on the global history of the 1960s, will be published in 2025.