Yogan Altman was born in 1900 in the town of Orgeev in Bessarabia (which is currently the administrative center of Orhei District, Moldova).
The country was going through revolutionary upheavals, and the young Altman was a member of the Left SR (Socialist-Revolutionary) Party in 1917-1918, before joining the Bolsheviks in 1920.
In 1921, Yogan Altman moved to Moscow and began to attend Moscow State University, from which he graduated in 1926.
In 1932, Altman graduated from the Literature Department of the Institute of Red Professors, which trained senior ideological Party cadres and social science teachers for institutions of higher education.
A year later, Altman was working as a reviewer of Moscow theater productions, writing about the works of Soviet playwrights and covering cultural developments in the Soviet republics. In the second half of the 1930s, Altman headed the literature and art section of the Izvestia daily. He was editor-in-chief of the Sovetskoye Iskusstvo newspaper – and, later, of the Teatr magazine. In January 1941, he was fired from his job at the latter periodical for publishing a critical review of a play by a high-ranking Soviet dramatist.
In late June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Altman was called up, and served as a military editor. As part of his job, he wrote uplifting articles and sketches meant to raise the morale of the people. He worked in the editorial office of the Unichtozhim Vraga newspaper. His wife and 15-year-old son accompanied him during his term of service. His wife worked at the editorial office, as well, and was eventually decorated. His son was killed while carrying out an editorial assignment. In the course of the war, Yogan Altman was awarded the Order of the Red Star; the Order of the Patriotic War, 2nd Class, and some medals.
After the end of the war, Altman returned to Moscow.
In 1947, Yogan Altman, who did not know Yiddish, became head of the Literature Department of the Moscow State Jewish Theater. This appointment came about at the request of Solomon Mikhoels and at the insistence of Alexander Fadeyev, chairman of the Union of Soviet Writers. In 1949, the theater was closed down. These months saw the beginning of an antisemitic campaign against theater critics, and Yogan Altman became one of its key targets. While reviewing his case, the same Fadeyev accused him of anti-patriotic activities and nepotism, recalling the fact that his wife and son had served alongside him; his former membership in the Left SR Party was dredged up, as well. Altman was expelled from the Party and from the Union of Soviet Writers, and this came as a major blow to him. Altman was arrested in early March 1953. However, he was released and rehabilitated shortly after Stalin's death on March 5, 1953. Yogan Altman walked out of jail an utterly broken and ailing man, and he died shortly thereafter, in 1955.
In 1957, a posthumous collection of Altman's literary criticism was published under the title Selected Articles.