Thurow was born in Livingston, Montana. He received his B.A. in political economy from Williams College in 1960, where he was Phi Beta Kappa as a junior, and a Tyng Scholar. Thurow was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, and went to Balliol College, Oxford to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics, graduating in 1962 with first class honors. He received a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University in 1964.
Thurow is currently an economics columnist for, among others, the Boston Globe and USA Today. He was previously an economics columnist for and on the editorial board of the New York Times, and was a contributing editor to Newsweek.
Thurow is a longtime advocate of a political and economic system of the Japanese and European type, in which governmental involvement in the direction of the economy is far more extensive than is presently the case in the United States – a model that has come to be known as "Third Way" philosophy. He has achieved some notoriety for books he wrote in the 1980s suggesting that the Soviet Union, due to their command economy, posed a significant economic threat to the United States. In 1989, two years before the USSR imploded, he wrote, "Can economic command significantly... accelerate the growth process? The remarkable performance of the Soviet Union suggests that it can... Today the Soviet Union is a country whose economic achievements bear comparison with those of the United States."
His best selling book, Head to Head: The Coming Economic Battle Among Japan, Europe and America published in 1993, compares economic growth and living standards among Japan, Europe, and the USA.
His other books include: