Nugent, 56, was born in New York. He graduated from Williams College and went to sea aboard freighters and canvas-fliers. He made his bones as a singlehanded sailor and completed 4.5 solo ocean voyages, the fraction including shipwreck in the middle of the drink and rescue 5 days later and 28 pounds lighter. Not wanting to swim anymore, he took to field research and writing. His stories on nature's numinous wonders and the threats to their existence appeared in periodicals around the world.
In the early 1990s, he began working full-time as a journalist. For nearly ten years, he tracked generals and wars in Europe, Africa, and Asia. His field reports for Spin and Men's Journal magazines merited routine inclusion on short-lists for Hack Awards and some remain standards. In 2002, he returned to freelance work and refocused on America, assembling notes for his third book, Down at the Docks.