John graduated from Harvard in 1964, and took an Master of Arts in English from Columbia in 1966.
Thorndike spent two years in El Salvador in the Peace Corps. After seven years in Latin America, he returned to the U.S., settled in Ohio and farmed for ten years.
His first book was the novel "Anna Delaney’s Child", about a woman whose nine-year-old son dies in a car crash. His second novel was "The Potato Baron", about the owner of a large potato farm in northern Maine. Thorndike’s third book was a memoir, "Another Way Home", about raising his son after his wife became schizophrenic. His next book, "The Last of His Mind: A Year in The Shadow of Alzheimer’s", was published by Swallow Press in October 2009. It is a memoir of the year he spent looking after his father, as he lost his memory, language, self-awareness, and ultimately his life.
On March 9, 1969 he married Clarisa Rubio Betancourt, but they divorced in 1974. They had a daughter Janir Daniel.