Chandler has earned degrees from Harvard College, Yale University, and the University of Michigan, where he wrote his dissertation on pre-colonial Cambodia. Chandler was a United States Foreign Service officer from 1958 to 1966, serving in Phnom Penh (1960-1962), Bogotá, Santiago de Cali, and Washington, D.C. He has held professorial positions at Monash University, University of Wisconsin, John Hopkins University, and Cornell University. He has been a Senior Advisor at the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap, a USAID consultant evaluating Cambodia's democracy and governance programs, and an Asia Foundation consultant assessing Phnom Penh election activities. He has also accompanied Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on Cambodian research and fact finding missions, and has been a researcher in Cambodia archives for the US Department of Defense Office of POW/MIA Affairs. Chandler is a professor emeritus at Monash University, where he currently works an honorary research associate.
His books include A History of Cambodia (1983), The Tragedy of Cambodian History (1991), Brother Number One (1992), and Facing the Cambodian Past (1996). A room in the US Embassy in Phnom Penh is named in his honor.