Place of Birth
New York, NY
B.A., Amherst College
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
It was much more random than it should have been. I was applying from a small town in Washington State and had never seen any colleges on the East Coast. I applied to several and chose the cheapest school that didn't turn me down. It turned out to be a good choice, lucky for me. My father went to Amherst, but I didn't choose it for that reason. My father was the reason I'd ever heard of the school, though. And I assume that being an alumni son had something to do with my acceptance.
Favorite (most memorable or most influential) class at Amherst:
History (Weary), Ecology (Brower), Creative Writing (Stone), Mathematics independent study (Starr)
Favorite (most memorable or most influential) professor:
The professors who taught those classes. Long after college, I also got to know and admire Jan Dizard, from whom I wish I had taken classes
I'm currently interested in the intersection of ecology and economics
Awards and Prizes:
Awards and prizes from the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Physics, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Margaret Sanger Foundation, the Lannan Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences.
Too many to list -- it's wonderful how many terrific writers are out there
Tips for aspiring writers?
Occasionally I am asked to speak to classes and read student work. Much too often, aspiring writers forget that somebody is actually going to have to read their stuff.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author
All through college, I really enjoyed writing, but couldn't imagine that I could make a living at it. I assumed that I would get some kind of tech-related job, maybe as an engineer. But after sixteen years of school, I couldn't bear the thought of being in another classroom. Rather than apply to graduate school, I traveled around Europe, where I ended up getting a job as a sportswriter on an English-language daily in Rome. I spent a couple years there, then returned to the USA with the vague notion of getting a job in journalism. While I was looking for work, I thought I'd freelance a few articles to pay the rent. I never did find a job.
Since the 1980s I've been writing mainly for Science, Wired and the Atlantic Monthly. I wrote or co-wrote seven books, most recently 1491 and 1493. Almost everything I've worked on has been science-related, one way or another. Not the stuff I did for Law and Order, though. My current project is about two men who tried, each in his separate way, to save the world.