Legend has it that a king once set out with his legions to cut back a magical forest that was swiftly approaching his kingdom only to discover that the roots of the rampant trees originated in the ground beneath his bed. So it was for James Chace, scribe of distant wars, editor of Foreign Affairs, professor of international relations, who found, after a lifetime of following the strands of modern global events, that he kept being led to a presidential campaign in his own country. Chace's most recent book, 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft, and Debs -- The Election That Changed the Country, posits that the highly contested race of that year launched a battle between progressive idealism and conservative values that gripped the 20th century, radiated throughout the world and continues to absorb us.

For Chace, the past has always been a siren. He was born, after all, in a city that once called itself Troy: Fall River, Mass., where Lizzie Borden's double ax murder still haunts the streets, where the demise of America's great cotton mills created a whole new industry out of nostalgia.

He hails from what he calls "a classical Yankee family." His grandfather, born to wealth, was the president of the Massachusetts senate; his father, a textile salesman, was the youngest of 21 children. By the time the Depression hit, the Chaces had no money at all. It didn't seem to matter. Chace sailed on the Quequechan River, attended public schools, read voraciously, got himself into Harvard, was drafted into the the postwar army and ended up traveling the world.

At 28, fresh out of the military and writing "fashion captions" for Gentleman's Quarterly, he published a coming-of-age novel, Rules of the Game. Some years later, he married the poet Jean Valentine, produced two children and began his international work in earnest: He became editor of a Radio Free Europe magazine, East Europe, and later started a diplomatic journal of his own called Interplay. By 1970, Hamilton Fish Armstrong was courting him to lead the masthead at Foreign Affairs.

He has taught at Yale, covered the wars in Nicaragua and Honduras, served as an editor at World Policy Journal. Currently, he is Paul W. Williams Professor of Government at Bard College. He has written many books, among them, Endless War: How We Got Involved in Central America (1984), America Invulnerable (with Caleb Carr, 1988), his memoir What We Had (1990), and a biography of a U.S. secretary of state, Acheson (1999).

Now at work on a biography of the Marquis de Lafayette, in whose life the histories of continents converge, Chace continues to wrestle with what it means to be a citizen of the world. Like the king of the old legend, he keeps finding the answers beneath his own floor.

-- Marie Arana