Elif Batuman was born in New York City to Turkish parents, and grew up in New Jersey. She graduated from Harvard College, and received her doctorate in comparative literature from Stanford University. While in graduate school, Batuman studied the Uzbek language in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Her dissertation, The Windmill and the Giant: Double-Entry Bookkeeping in the Novel, is about the process of social research and solitary construction undertaken by novelists.
In February, 2010, she published her first book, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, based on material she previously published in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and n+1, which details her experiences as a graduate student. Her writing has been described as "almost helplessly epigrammatical."
Batuman was writer-in-residence at Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey from 2010 to 2013. Now she lives in New York