Richard Preston (born August 5, 1954) is a New Yorker writer and bestselling author who has written books about infectious disease, bioterrorism, redwoods and other subjects, as well as fiction. Whether journalistic or fictional, his writings are based on extensive background research and interviews.
His 1992 New Yorker article "Crisis in the Hot Zone" was expanded into his breakout book, The Hot Zone (1994). It is classified as a "non-fiction thriller" about the Ebola virus. He came to know the virus through such contacts as U.S. Army researchers Drs. C.J. Peters and Nancy Jaax. His fascination began during a visit to Africa where he was an eyewitness to epidemics. The book served as the (very loose) basis of the Hollywood movie Outbreak (1995) about military machinations surrounding a fictional "Motaba virus".
Preston's novel The Cobra Event (1998), about a terrorism release of a fictional virus combining various qualities of different diseases upon New York City, alarmed even then-President Bill Clinton who, shortly after reading it, instigated a review of bio-terror threats to the U.S. The book strove to tell a fast-paced thriller narrative within the bounds of well-researched bio-terrorism possibility, and was reportedly pressed upon Clinton by a molecular biologist when he was attending a Renaissance Weekend event.
The Demon in the Freezer (2002) covers the story of the eradication of smallpox, perhaps the most destructive virus to have plagued mankind. It details the survival of the virus in research labs and bio-weapon programs of Russia and other nations, despite its eradication in the human population. The narrative continues with anthrax, a bacterial disease of cattle and humans, used in a failed attack against former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
First Light and American Steel are non-fiction books addressing astrophysics and the steel industry. First Light centers around the history of the Hale telescope on Palomar Mountain, and the astronomers who work there. American Steel chronicles the history of the Nucor steel company, and focuses on its newest steel plant in Indiana, whose success depends on a new steel-sheet making machine engineered in West Germany.
Preston's personal hobby of recreational tree climbing is introduced in The Wild Trees (2007). His climbing experience likely led him to write about the largest known redwoods like Lost Monarch in the Grove of Titans, or Iluvatar, described in that book along with delicate forest canopy ecosystems.
Preston's Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science is a collection of essays related to his experiences researching his previous books.
In November 2009, Preston was selected by Harper-Collins and the Michael Crichton estate to complete his unfinished novel Micro after Crichton's death in November 2008. The book was released on November 22, 2011. Approximately a third of Micro was completed by Crichton. Preston completed the book according to the author's remaining outline, notes, and research.
- 1998: The Cobra Event. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-45714-3.
- 2003: The Boat of Dreams: A Christmas Story. illus. George Henry Jennings. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-4592-X.
- 2011: Micro. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-087302-8. Co-written with Michael Crichton; completed after Crichton's death.
- 1987: First Light: The Search for the Edge of the Universe. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 9780871132000; OCLC 16004290
- 1991: American Steel: Hot Metal Men and the Resurrection of the Rust Belt. New York: Prentice Hall Press. ISBN 0-13-029604-X.
- 1994: The Hot Zone. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-43094-6.
- 2002: The Demon in the Freezer. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-50856-2.
- 2007: The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-6489-2.
- 2008: Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-6490-8.
- Preston, Richard (December 3, 2012). "The Talk of the Town: Gone South: Flight of the Dragonflies". The New Yorker. 88 (38): 40, 42. Retrieved 2014-12-10.
- Judith Miller and William J. Broad (April 26, 1998). "EXERCISE FINDS U.S. UNABLE TO HANDLE GERM WAR THREAT". New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
- Review of Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, by Judith Miller, et al., in Washington Monthly, 2001
- Preston, Richard (2007), The Wild Trees: A Story Of Passion And Daring. Allen Lane Publishers.
- Donahue, Deirdre. "Richard Preston will press your buttons in 'Panic in Level 4'", USA Today, June 16, 2008. Accessed February 15, 2011. "Author Richard Preston at the 75-acre farm where he lives in Hopewell, N.J."