Dr. Melanson was born in Perth Amboy, NJ, and raised in Woodbridge, NJ. After graduating from Woodbridge High School, he attended Rutgers College from 1962 to 1966 where he studied political science. He discusses completing his undergraduate research thesis and representing Rutgers at the Student Conference on US Affairs at West Point in 1965. He also recalls debating gubernatorial candidate Wayne Dumont over the Eugene Genovese controversy at the Woodbridge Kiwanis Club.
After graduation, he studied law at Harvard for one year before transferring to Johns Hopkins to pursue a Ph.D. in political science. He began his academic career as an instructor at UCLA, then, served on the faculty of Kenyon College from 1974 to 1990. He then served as Acting Director of the International Relations Program at Brown University before spending the remainder of his career (1992-2010) at the National War College. He discusses his major works, including Writing History and Making Policy and American Foreign Policy since the Vietnam War: The Search for Consensus from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush. In retirement, he continues to teach at the Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning.