Richard Preston was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on August 5, 1954. He grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and was drawn to books throughout his childhood, particularly scientific works. He writes, “. . . I read, at age ten, about astronomer Edwin Hubble’s discovery that the galaxies are moving away from one another, that the universe is expanding, and that it began with the Big Bang. It impressed me no end.”
Preston graduated from Wellesley High School in 1972 but was initially rejected from every college to which he applied. Preston became determined to attend Pomona College in Southern California, despite having missed the application deadline by several months. Not to be dissuaded, Preston contacted the Dean of the University on a weekly basis until he was finally accepted. As an English major at Pomona, Preston was inspired intellectually and ultimately graduated summa cum laude. After his undergraduate work, Preston attended Princeton University where he earned a Ph.D. in English. He wrote his dissertation on 19th century American narrative nonfiction writing.
Shortly after graduating from Princeton, Preston published First Light: The Search for the Edge of the Universe (1987), a non-fiction book about astronomers and the Hale telescope on Palomar Mountain. Largely considered to be one of the best literary works about astronomers, “First Light” was excerpted in The New Yorker and won the 1988 American Institute of Physics award in science writing. Preston’s next book was American Steel (1991), a non-fiction work about the building of an Indiana steel mill, which was also excerpted in The New Yorker.
In 1992, Preston become fascinated by the Ebola virus and wrote "Crisis in the Hot Zone” for The New Yorker. This article was later expanded into The Hot Zone (1994). Preston’s interest in viruses and bio-containment was further demonstrated in the works, The Cobra Event (1998) and The Demon in the Freezer (2002), which, along with The Hot Zone, form his Dark Biology trio. Other works by Preston include The Boat of Dreams: A Christmas Story (2003), The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring (2007), and Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science (2008). In 2009, Preston was chosen to complete Michael Crichton’s unfinished novel, Micro, which was published in 2011.
Preston currently lives in Hopewell, New Jersey with his wife, Michelle Parham Preston, who he met during his graduate studies at Princeton. They have two daughters and one son.
Study Guides on Works by Richard Preston
The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story is based on a non-fiction article by Richard Preston that was published in The New Yorker on October 26, 1992. Titled “Crisis in the Hot Zone,” the article chronicled an outbreak of a mutated strain of the...