Peter Marcuse was born in 1928 in Berlin, the son of book sales clerkHerbert Marcuseand mathematicianSophie Wertheim. They soon moved to Freiburg, where Herbert began to write his habilitation (thesis to become a professor) with Martin Heidegger. In 1933, in order to escape the Nazi persecution, they joined the FrankfurtInstitut für Sozialforschungand emigrated with it first to Geneva, then via Paris, to New York. When Herbert began working for the OSS (forerunner of the CIA) in Washington, DC, the family moved there, but Peter also lived with family friends in Santa Monica, California.
He attended Harvard University, where he received his BA in 1948, with a major in History and Literature of the 19th Century. In 1949 he married Frances Bessler (whom he met in the home of Franz and Inge Neumann, where she worked as an au pair while studying at NYU).
In 1952 he received his JD from Yale Law School and began practicing law in New Haven and Waterbury, Connecticut. Peter and Frances had 3 children, in 1953, 1957 and 1965.
He received an MA from Columbia University in 1963, and a Master of Urban Studies from the Yale School of Architecture in 1968. He received his PhD from the UC Berkeley Department of City and Regional Planning in 1972.
From 1972-1975 he was a Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, and since 1975 at Columbia University. Since 2003 he is semi-retired, with a reduced teaching load.