Mary Roach, 2005
March 20, 1959 |
Etna, New Hampshire
Mary Roach is an American author, specializing in popular science. She currently resides in Oakland, California. To date, she has published six books: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003), Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (2005) (published in some markets as Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife), Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (2008), Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (2010), My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places, and Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (2013).
Roach was raised in Etna, New Hampshire. Her father was 65 years old when she was born. She received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Wesleyan University in 1981. After college, Roach moved to San Francisco, California and spent a few years working as a freelance copy editor. She worked as a columnist and also worked in public relations for a brief time. Her writing career began while working part-time at the San Francisco Zoological Society, producing press releases on topics such as elephant wart surgery. On her days off from the SFZS, she wrote freelance articles for the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday Magazine.
From 1996 to 2005 Roach was part of The Grotto, a San Francisco-based project and community of working writers and filmmakers. It was in this community that Roach would get the push she needed to break into book writing. While being interviewed by Alex C. Telander of BookBanter, Roach answers the question of how she got started on her first book:
A few of us every year [from The Grotto] would make predictions for other people, where they'll be in a year. So someone made the prediction that, 'Mary will have a book contract.' I forgot about it and when October came around I thought, I have three months to pull together a book proposal and have a book contract. This is what literally lit the fire under my butt.
Roach began her long career in writing soon after she graduated from Wesleyan University in the summer of 1981.  Once she graduated she drove off to California with a few friends and quickly became a freelance copy editor. Roach continued to write articles for her local newspaper after he landed a half-time PR job at the San Francisco Zoo. Eventually, the editors she wrote for started to become a part of bigger projects (as was Roach) and they took Roach along with them. 
At this time, she wrote a humorous, almost satirical article about the IRS, which led to writing articles for The New York Times, New Scientist, Vogue, GQ, National Geographic, Discover Magazine, Wired and Outside Magazine. Roach was even a National Magazine Award finalist for one of her articles. And by 1996, she had won an Engineering Journalism Award for her research into bamboo homes that could withstand earthquakes. Although Mary Roach has moved on to write books, she still continues to write articles every now and then. Her most recent one was for Clinical Anatomy, titled The C Word: Dead Man Driving. The article asks why cadavers are considered to be dishonored if they are being used to test explosives or crash testing.  Roach has also had monthly columns in both Readers Digest and Sports Illustrated.
Although Mary Roach writes primarily about science, she never intended to make it her career. Roach stated in an interview with TheVerge.com when asked what exactly got her hooked on writing about science “To be honest, it turned out that science stories were always, consistently the most interesting stories I was assigned to cover. I didn’t plan it like this, and I don’t have a formal background in science, or any education in science journalism. Actually I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology.” This interesting fact about Roach brought on quite a few questions. So TV and radio shows began to ask her to appear as guests so they can get into the mind of Mary Roach. She has been a guest on things like Coast to Coast AM, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and so on. 
In 1986, she sold a humor piece about the IRS to the San Francisco Chronicle. That piece led to a number of humorous, first-person essays and feature articles for such publications as Vogue, GQ, The New York Times Magazine, Discover Magazine, National Geographic, Outside Magazine, and Wired. She has also written articles for Salon.com and tech-gadget reviews for Inc.com. An article by Roach, entitled "The C word: Dead man driving," was published in the Journal of Clinical Anatomy. Roach has had monthly columns in Reader's Digest (“My Planet”) and Sports Illustrated for Women (“The Slightly Wider World of Sports”).
Besides being a best selling author, Roach is involved in many other projects on the side. Roach reviews books for The New York Times and was the guest editor of the Best American Science and Nature Writing's 2011 edition. She also serves as a member of the Mars Institute's Advisory Board and was recently asked to join the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.
While it is clear that Roach has a wide variety of somewhat unusual interests, her interest is not limited to observation alone. While researching material for her book Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Roach came across Dr. Jing Deng, a University College London Medical School senior lecturer in medical physics. Dr. Deng was experimenting with 4-D ultrasound imaging and was in need of test subjects to engage in intercourse while wearing the ultrasound equipment so that real-time images could be captured. Roach and her husband Ed were the first participants to volunteer in this study. When asked how she was able to convince her husband to participate, Roach said, "He’s crazy supportive. It was much harder for him, it was nothing for me. I was just a receptacle. I was just taking notes."
While Roach has often been quoted saying that she does not have much free time between writing books, she is very fond of backpacking and travel. The latter she has been able to do a great deal of while doing research for her articles and books. Roach has visited all seven continents twice. Roach has been to Antarctica a few times as part of the National Science Foundation's Polar Program. In 1997, she visited Antarctica to write an article for Discover Magazine on meteorite hunting with meteorite hunter Ralph Harvey.
|2003||Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers||W. W. Norton & Company||Cadavers|
|2005||Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife||W. W. Norton & Company||Afterlife|
|2008||Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex||W. W. Norton & Company||Human sexuality, Sexology|
|2010||Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void||W. W. Norton & Company||Interplanetary spaceflight, Life support system|
|2010||The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011 (editor)||Mariner Books|
|2013||Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal||W. W. Norton & Company||Human gastrointestinal tract|
|2013||My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places||Penguin Publishing|
Awards and recognition
In 1995, Roach's article "How to Win at Germ Warfare" was a National Magazine Award Finalist. In the article, Roach conducts an interview with microbiologist Chuck Gerba of the University of Arizona who describes a scientific study where bacteria and virus particles become aerosolized upon flushing a toilet: "Upon flushing, as many as 28,000 virus particles and 660,000 bacteria [are] jettisoned from the bowl."
In 1996, her article on earthquake-proof, bamboo houses, "The Bamboo Solution", took the American Engineering Societies' Engineering Journalism Award in the general interest magazine category. In this article the reader learns from Jules Janssen, a civil engineer, that bamboo is "stronger than wood, brick, and concrete...A short, straight column of bamboo with a top surface area of 10 square centimeters could support an 11,000-pound elephant."
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers was a New York Times Bestseller, a 2003 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, and one of Entertainment Weekly's Best Books of 2003. Stiff also won the Amazon.com Editor's Choice award in 2003, was voted as a Borders Original Voices book, and was the winner of the Elle Reader's Prize. The book has been translated into 17 languages, including Hungarian (Hullamerev) and Lithuanian (Negyvėliai). Stiff was also selected for Washington State University's Common Reading Program in 2008-09.
Roach's column "My Planet" (Reader's Digest) was runner-up in the humor category of the 2005 National Press Club awards. Roach's second book, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, was the recipient of the Elle Reader's Prize in October 2005. Spook was also listed as a New York Times Notable Books pick in 2005, as well as a New York Times Bestseller. In 2008, Roach's book, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, was chosen as the New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, it was in The Boston Globe's Top 5 Science Books, and it was listed as a bestseller in several other publications.
In 2011, Roach's book, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, was chosen as the book of the year for the 7th annual One City One Book: San Francisco Reads literary event program. Packing for Mars was also 6th on the New York Times Best Seller list.
In 2012, Roach was the recipient of the Harvard Secular Society's Rushdie Award for her outstanding lifetime achievement in cultural humanism. The same year, she received a Special Citation in Scientific inquiry from Maximum Fun.
Throughout her extensive research done to attain information on her various publications Roach has developed unusual research methods. She has joined environmental photojournalist and writer Gary Braasch on a trip to Antarctica to uncover clues about global warming. To study the reproductive effect of sexual arousal in pigs she studied a pig researcher's experimentation techniques in order to identify if there was a positive correlation between stimulation and quantity of offspring. She volunteered herself and her husband in an MRI coital imaging experiment to study the effects of cuddling. Working with sensory analyst Sue Langstoff she studied beer taste-testing methods used in detecting impurities. All the way up in polar regions of the world she has followed meteorite hunter, Ralph Harvey, to study space debris and uncover clues about their space origins. She has also consulted neuromuscular expert, Dr Van der Bilt, to analyze the jaws' complex ability to breakdown food and protect the mouth whilst chewing food.
The common theme throughout all of Roach's books is a literary treatment of the human body. Roach says of her publication history, "My books are all [about the human body], Spook is a little bit of departure because it's more about the soul rather than the flesh and blood body, but most of my books are about human bodies in unusual circumstances." When asked by Peter Sagal, of NPR, specifically how she picks her topics, she replied, "Well, it's got to have a little science, it's got to have a little history, a little humor - and something gross." 
While Roach does not possess a science degree, she attempts to take complex ideas and turn them into something that the average reader can understand. She takes the reader with her through the steps of her research, from learning about the material to getting to know the people who study it, as she described in a public dialog with Adam Savage. According to Roach, "Make no mistake, good science writing is medicine. It is a cure for ignorance and fallacy. Good science writing peels away the blindness, generates wonder, and brings the open palm to the forehead: 'Oh! Now I get it!'" Regarding her skepticism about the world around her, Roach states in her book Spook, "Flawed as it is, science remains the most solid god I've got. And so I've decided to turn to it, to see what it had to say on the topic of life after death. Because I know what religion says, and it perplexes me. It doesn't deliver a single, coherent, scientifically sensible or provable scenario… Science seemed the better bet." Style Reviewers believe in Packing for Mars, Roach brings courageous curiosity and sauciness. People magazine said that she has a great tone; it is a conversation type format so it is great to follow along with and is remarkable on knowing how to bring objects she used to life while mentioning them. From the Library Journal Bonk got a star review because it was packed with information from physical, chemical, and emotional about sex research with high quality concern and attention to detail showing.
Mary Roach, the author of Packing for Mars, writes in a comical yet informative way volunteering herself as a guinea pig for the benefit of her readers. An interview found on Light Speed expresses that Mary Roach’s comical writing voice and her personality are similar if not identical, allowing her to keep a conversational tone in her books. For example, she was asked to clarify certain moments in the book she was asked whether or not the astronauts she interviewed meant that the sunrise behind earth was beautiful or if they were referring to the sight of their crystallizing urine as beautiful, to which she replies, “Yeah, I read that description in at least two memoirs. When they eject the liquid urine it sublimates, and if the sun is hitting it it’s this beautiful—I mean, I haven’t seen it myself, but it sounded almost like fireworks or this sparkly beautiful thing, and they would remark on how beautiful this was”, portraying her intelligence and comfort with uncomfortable topics.
Writing Packing for Mars however, was not a random adventure that Mary Roach decided to embark on, she was always interested in topics relating to space, and space travel itself, she was not however, always as knowledgeable on the subject, “I had no idea until I started this book that when you’re heading to the moon or to Mars, you’re essentially coasting. I thought it was like a car where you’d have your foot on the gas the entire time, and I used to think, “Jesus, that’s a lot of gas",. By the end of her book, she is able to vividly describe many nitty-gritty details that are typically overlooked. Mary Roach uses potty humor to make Packing for Mars understandable to those not even remotely interested in anything space related. Mary Roach describes the book and her works as a whole as, “…not really books; they're endless chains of distraction shoved inside a cover. Many of them begin at the search box of Pub Med, an Internet database of medical journal articles", indicating that Mary Roach uses a sort of “real life” voice to write her best sellers in hopes to captivate humor and intrigue her audience while simultaneously educating them on topics that she feels strongly enough about. She does so by addressing and answering the more practical and technical questions that an audience member may have, such as, how the astronauts go to the bathroom, eat, and sleep, as well as, question the effects of zero gravity on the bodies of the space travelers.
- Roach, Mary. "About Mary". Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- "Former Grotto Inhabitants". Retrieved 22 July 2012.
- Telander, Alex (9). "BookBanter Audio Episodes". BookBanter.net. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
- Roach, Mary (October 2010). "The C Word: Dead Man Driving". Clinical Anatomy. Wiley-Liss. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- Roach, Mary. "About Mary". Retrieved 5 July 2012.
- Roach, Mary. "Mary Roach". KQED. p. KQED Arts. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- Roach, Mary (28 June 2012). "Mary Roach". Twitter. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
- "Mary Roach". Coast to Coast AM. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
- "Hanover High School Wikipedia". Wikipedia. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- Lundell Garver, Beth (23). "The Curious Charm of a Writer's Pad". Retrieved 5 July 2012.
- "Sex Research, the Video". Slate V. 23. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
- Murphy, Joel (24 April 2008). "Getting to Know Mary Roach". HoboTrashcan.
- Birnbaum, Robert (1). "Mary Roach" (Audio/Transcription). The Morning News. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- Roach, Mary (May 1997). "Meteorite Hunters" (Print). Online Magazine: Discover Magazine. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- Lipschultz, Michael. "Meteorite Studies: Terrestrial and extraterrestrial applications, 1997". Antarctic Journal. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
- Roach, Mary. "How to Win at Germ Warfare". slhspapbio. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
- Roach, Mary (June 1996). "The Bamboo Solution" (Magazine). Discover Magazine. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
- Roach, Mary. "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers". Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- Pullman (12). "WSU News Center". WSU News Center. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
- Roach, Mary. "Spook:Science Tackles the Afterlife". Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- "One City One Book 2011". San Francisco Public Library. 2011. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
- Roach, Mary. "Packing for Mars". Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- Chandonnet, Sarah (29 March 2012). "Author Mary Roach to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award". Humanist Community Project At Harvard. Harvardhumanist.org. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
- Braasch, Gary. "Antarctica's Hot Spot". Discover. Discover Magazine. Retrieved 13 November 2013.
- Maslin, Janet. "A Sex Researcher Walks Into a Lab, and Then Things Start to Get Comical". The New York Times. Books of the Times.
- Shepard, Kim. "Mary Roach's not-so-serious study of the piehole in 'Gulp'.". MYnorthwest.com. Kirio.
- Roach, Mary. "Meteorite". Discover Magazine. Discover.
- Roach, Mary. "The Marvel in your Mouth". Health. The New York Times.
- McCarthy, Robynn Swoopy (24). "Packing for Mars" (Audio). Skepticality Podcast. Skeptic Magazine. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- Siegal, Peter (18). "Science Writer Mary Roach Plays Not My Job" (Audio/Transcript). NPR Radio. NPR. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- Savage, Adam. "Mary Roach in Conversation with Adam Savage". San Francisco Public Library. SFPL. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- Doughty, Bill (4). "Critical Curious Thinking: Mary Roach" (Blog). Navy Reads Blog. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- The Marvels in Your Mouth, New York Times. By Mary Roach. Published: March 25, 2013. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
- "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, by Mary Roach". Retrieved 2013-11-13.
- "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach". Retrieved 2013-11-13.
- "Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, by Mary Roach". Retrieved 2013-11-13.
- "Nonfiction review: 'Packing for Mars' by Mary Roach".
- "Interview: Mary Roach".
- "Mary Roach Quotes".
- De Silver, Drew. "'Packing for Mars': Mary Roach's take on life in the void". Seattle times.
|By Mary Roach|
Selected media coverage
|2005||Colbert Report||Roach on Spook||Stephen Colbert and Roach contact a spirit|
|2008||Authors@Google||Roach on Bonk|
|2008||Los Angeles Public Library||ForaTV||In Conversation with Beth Lapides|
|2009||TED Talks||10 Things You Didn't Know About Orgasm||Roach shares what she learned writing Bonk|
|August 2010||The Daily Show||Roach on Packing for Mars||Jon Stewart and Roach discuss space shuttle toilets|
|August 2010||Commonwealth Club of California||Roach on Packing for Mars||"Journey Through Outer Space Without Leaving Earth"|
|November 2011||San Francisco Public Library||Roach in Conversation with Adam Savage||One City One Book author event, interviewed by Adam Savage|
|April 2013||The Daily Show||Roach on Gulp||Jon Stewart and Roach discuss the human digestive system|
|April 2013||W.W. Norton & Company||Video Trailer for Gulp||Comedy short, advertisement|
|July 7, 2013||C-SPAN's In Depth||In Depth interview||Three-hour interview about all of her writings|
|2003||All Things Considered||Roach on Stiff||NPR's Robert Siegel Interviews Roach on her first book|
|2010||Skepticality||On Packing for Mars and Science||Roach on Skepticality podcast, the official podcast of Skeptic Magazine|
|2011||The Morning News (online magazine)||On Packing for Mars||Interviewed by Robert Birnbaum on PFM and other topics|
|2011||Star Talk Radio||"Spooky Science"||Interviewed by Neil deGrasse Tyson w/guests Phil Plait and Joe Nickell|
|2012||QUITit||General Interview||Roach is interviewed by Brian Thompson at Maximum Fun's Maxfuncon|
|March 2013||NPR Fresh Air||Roach on Gulp||Roach, interviewed by Terry Gross, talks about what happens in our bodies during digestion|
|May 2013||Big Picture Science||Roach on Gulp||Roach, interviewed by astronomer Seth Shostak, takes us on a tour of the alimentary canal|
|2000-2001||Inc. Magazine||On tech gadgets|
|2010||Boing Boing||Various topics|
|2001-2012||Outside Magazine||Various topics|
|Various||Byliner||Comprehensive Article List|