James Bradley was born in Wisconsin to Betty and John Bradley, the fourth of eight children. John Bradley was one of the six men photographed raising the American flag on Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. John then settled in Wisconsin as the director of a funeral parlor and an upstanding, respected citizen.
At the age of nineteen, James Bradley studied for a year in Tokyo at Sophia University. In the following years, he traveled to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, France, Germany, Italy, and England. After earning his degree in East Asian History from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he worked in the corporate communications industry in the United States, Japan, England, and South Africa.
After the death of his father, John, James Bradley wrote Flags of Our Fathers in 2000. It became a bestseller, and since then, Bradley has written two more books. Flyboys, published in 2003, documents the lives of eight airmen whose deaths on the Japanese island of Chichi Jima were kept secret by the U.S. government; the eighth airman, who lived, was George Herbert Walker Bush. In his 2009 book The Imperial Cruise, Bradley investigates President Theodore Roosevelt's policy with regard to Japan.
Inspired by his own experience studying in Tokyo as a teenager, Bradley founded the James Bradley Peace Foundation, which sends American students to live in homes overseas. He is currently the president of this foundation, as well as a public speaker, and is working on his fourth book.