Richard Preston


Wellesley High School Author: Richard Preston (1972) 

          As a little boy in Wellesley, Richard Preston’s dream was to be a starship colonist heading for Alpha Centauri.  That child would have been astounded to know that, although he won’t make that trip, there is now an asteroid named for him (Asteroid3792Preston) which, as his adult self notes, “travels on a wild orbit near Mars, and could some day slam into the earth.” 

            Richard earned that improbable honor, signifying the respect of the scientific community, as the author of ten meticulously researched and compulsively readable books which mesmerize the general public with their brutal insights into urgent scientific crises, and have even pushed a president into action.  His first was the #1 New York Times bestseller The Hot Zone (one of his “non-fiction thrillers,” this one bringing the terrifying threat of the Ebola virus to the stunned consciousness of the world), which inspired the movie Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman. 

            Richard’s books, which explore dramatic, hidden worlds of nature and human experience, have been translated into 35 languages.  They include The Cobra Event (immediately after reading it, President Clinton ordered a review of bio-terror threats to the U.S.); The Demon in the Freezer (giving disquieting insights into the fights against smallpox and anthrax); First Light and American Steel (more non-fiction books, these about astrophysics and the steel industry); Panic in Level 4 (essays about researching his books); Micro (he completed the unfinished novel started by the late Michael Crichton); The Wild Trees (alerting the world to “the delicate forest canopy ecosystems”); and his latest, Crisis in the Red Zone

            In addition to the naming of the asteroid, he also received numerous international awards, including the American Institute of Physics science-writing award and the National Magazine Award.  He is the only non-physician to receive the Champion of Prevention Award from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. 

            Richard has taught nonfiction writing at the University of Iowa and Princeton University.  In 2006 he was a member of a four-person climbing team that made the first ascent and measurement of the world’s tallest tree, a California coast redwood named Hyperion (currently 380.1 feet tall).  Currently, he is Writer in Residence at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, in Cambridge. 

            Richard (WHS 1972), who grew up in town with his brother Douglas (also a best-selling writer of thrillers), recalls, “in the afternoons I would ride my bike to the town library, where I delved into Mark Twain, Robert Heinlein, Madeline L’Engle, Ernest Hemingway.”

            In writing about what was important in his Wellesley childhood, he says “I had some outstanding teachers in high school.  They included Jeanie Goddard, Gerry Murphy, and the late Wilbury A. Crockett.”  Richard was a panelist at the “Roots and Wings” event on October 12, 2022.