The New New Journalism
Robert S. Boynton
Ted Conover
Richard Ben Cramer
Leon Dash
William Finnegan
Jonathan Harr
Alex Kotlowitz
Jon Krakauer
Jane Kramer
William Langewiesche
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Michael Lewis
Susan Orlean
Richard Preston
Ron Rosenbaum
Eric Schlosser
Gay Talese
Calvin Trillin
Lawrence Weschler
Lawrence Wright
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by Robert S. Boynton


           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.



BOOKS

Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science, Random House, 2008
buy
buy
The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring, Random House, 2007
buy
buy
The Boat of Dreams: A Christmas Story, Touchstone, 2003
buy
buy
The Demon in the Freezer, Random House, 2003
buy
buy
The Cobra Event, Random House, 1997
buy
buy
The Hot Zone, Random House, 1994
buy
buy
American Steel, Simon & Schuster, 1991
buy
buy
First Light, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987
buy
buy

ARTICLES

"Inside the Ebola Wars", The New Yorker, October 27, 2014

"Kenema Postcard: Outbreak", The New Yorker, August 11, 2014

"Letter From North Carolina: A Death in the Forest", The New Yorker, December 10, 2007

"Annals of Medicine: An Error in the Code", The New Yorker, August 13, 2007

"Department of Amplification: Tall for Its Age", The New Yorker, October 9, 2006

"Art and Science: Capturing the Unicorn", The New Yorker, April 11, 2005

"A Reporter At Large: Climbing the Redwoods", The New Yorker, February 14, 2005

"Profiles: The Genome Warrior", The New Yorker, June 5, 2000

"Department of Amplification: Smallpox Vaccine", The New Yorker, January 17, 2000

"What New Things Are Going to Kill Me?,”", Time, November 8, 1999

"Dispatches: West Nile Mystery", The New Yorker, October 11, 1999

"A Reporter At Large: The Demon in the Freezer", The New Yorker, July 7, 1999

"It’s Been a Cosmic Half-Century for Palomar’s 200-inch Telescope", The New York Times, June 2, 1998

"Taming the Biological Beast", The New York Times, April 21, 1998

"Annals of Warfare: The Bioweaponeers", The New Yorker, March 9, 1998

"A Reporter At Large: Return to the Hot Zone", The New Yorker, May 22, 1995

"The Vaccine Debacle", The New York Times, Sunday, October 2, 1994

"A Reporter At Large: Crisis in the Hot Zone", The New Yorker, October 26, 1992

"The Talk of the Town: Blobs", The New Yorker, August 3, 1992

"The Talk of the Town: Heaven", The New Yorker, July 13, 1992

"The Talk of the Town: Walt", The New Yorker, April 13, 1992

"America’s Egypt: John Lloyd Stephens and the Discovery of the Maya", Princeton University Library Chronicle, Volume LII, Number 3, Spring 1992

"Profiles: The Mountains of Pi", The New Yorker, March 2, 1992

"The Talk of the Town: Hairless", The New Yorker, (with Richard O’Brien), March 2, 1992

"Lean, Mean, and American", The New York Times, January 14, 1992

"American Heroes", 33 Metal Producing, September 1991

"The Talk of the Town: Humpty Restored", The New Yorker, August 26, 1991

"The Talk of the Town: Sea Hunt", The New Yorker, May 13, 1991

"Annals of Enterprise: Hot Metal I & II", The New Yorker, February 25, 1991 and March 4, 1991

"The Talk of the Town: Pogies", The New Yorker, September 5, 1988

"The Eclipsing Death Star", Discover, August 1988

"Football & Neutron Stars", Princeton Alumni Weekly, February 10, 1988

"The Talk of the Town: Notes and Comment", The New Yorker, January 18, 1988

"Beacons in Time: Maarten Schmidt and the Discovery of Quasars", Mercury, January/February 1988

"'The Big Eye' and 'First Light: Explorers at the End of the Sky'", Science Illustrated, December/January 1988

"Searching for the Edge of the Universe", The Discovery Channel, January 1988

"The Talk of the Town: Notes and Comment", The New Yorker, November 2, 1987

"A Reporter At Large: Dark Time", The New Yorker, October 26, 1987

"Four Walls Eight Windows", Princeton Alumni Weekly, October 1, 1987

"The Talk of the Town: Notes and Comment", The New Yorker, August 10, 1987

"The Talk of the Town: Wimps", The New Yorker, July 13, 1987

"The Mountain with Many Eyes", National Geographic Traveler, Winter 1986/1987

"Books: Tales from the Gridiron", The New Yorker, March 31, 1986

"Bed & Breakfast", Blair & Ketchum’s Country Journal, June 1984

"Ice", Blair & Ketchum’s Country Journal, January 1983

"The Blue-Green Wonder", Blair & Ketchum’s Country Journal, February 1982

"Life of a Snowflake", Blair & Ketchum’s Country Journal,

"Antiques are Hot", Blair & Ketchum’s Country Journal, December 1980

"Dynamite Man", Blair & Ketchum’s Country Journal, November 1980

"A Yearning for Great Teachers", The Washington Post, March 27, 1979



Interviews and Reviews

You can thank this man for your Ebola nightmares A Q&A with Richard Preston, Vox, October 21, 2014

Ebola Man Richard Preston on the Outbreak of the World’s Most Terrifying Virus, The New York Observer, October 21, 2014

A Word with Richard Preston Updating a Chronicle of Suffering: Author of ‘The Hot Zone’ Tracks Ebola’s Evolution, the New York Times, October 20, 2014

Stephen Colbert interview with Richard Preston,

“Smallpox” Talk of the Nation, NPR, November 8, 2002

“Journalist Richard Preston,” Fresh Air, NPR, October 7, 2002

Writer Richard Preston talks with Barbara Bogaev about the emerging threat of biological weapons,” Fresh Air, NPR, March 9, 1998

Whittemore, Katherine, “The Cobra Event,” Salon, November 20, 1997

“Author Richard Preston,” Fresh Air, NPR, March 10, 1995



© Robert S. Boynton