Richard Preston may be the only literary journalist who has had an asteroid named after him. Discovered by Carolyn and Eugene Shoemaker—the astronomers who were the subject of First Light (1987)—Asteroid Preston measures between three and five miles across. In a scenario that could come from one of his own books, Asteroid Preston will likely collide with Mars or the Earth during the next hundred thousand years.
Preston has developed a genre of literary journalism that lends scientific subjects—virology, astronomy, gene theory—the drama and excitement more often associated with great travel or adventure writing. His characters are pioneers, extending the boundaries of knowledge in much the way that the early American explorers did.
Preston was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 5, 1954. A mediocre high school student, he was rejected by every college to which he applied. He desperately wanted to attend Pomona College in California and badgered the dean into accepting him in time for the second semester.
In 1977, Preston was graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and continued on to Princeton for graduate school. In 1979, he took John McPhee's "Literature of Fact" writing course—a famous incubator for literary journalists. "McPhee taught us precision in shaping words and sentences. He taught us absolute respect for facts."
In 1985, he received an advance from Atlantic Monthly Press to write about the astronomers at Caltech's seven-story-tall Hale telescope. First Light was praised for covering a difficult technical subject without either distorting or oversimpifying the facts and won the 1988 American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award.
American Steel (1991) tells the story of the Nucor Corporation's search for a new way to pour sheet steel, and the building of a new steel mill in the middle of a cornfield outside Crawfordsville, Indiana. "In the best tradition of John McPhee and Tracy Kidder, Preston captures the feel of the project through direct observation of people at work," writes Mark Reutter in The Washington Post.
In the early 1990s, Preston feared that AIDS was only the tip of the iceberg—that other deadly viruses would soon begin emerging from once-remote forests around the world. He learned of an outbreak of Ebola among monkeys in Reston, Virginia and reconstructed the events, tracking the virus from a cave in Uganda to Virginia. His expanded his New Yorker article, "Crisis In the Hot Zone," into The Hot Zone, which became an international bestseller. Stephen King called it "one of the most horrifying things I've ever read in my life."
Preston continued his exploration in two further volumes of what he calls his "dark biology" series. The first was a novel, The Cobra Event (1997). The third, The Demon in the Freezer (2002), about smallpox and other deadly viruses, was developed from a New Yorker article of the same title, which won the 2000 National Magazine Award for public interest writing.
Most recently, Preston learned little-known tree-climbing techniques in order to write about a botanist who studies the ecology of the California Redwood forest canopy, thirty-five stories above ground. http://www.newnewjournalism.com/bio.p...