Book and magazine writer, science fan and saucy speaker, Mary Roach brings humor and a bottomless pit of back-stories to Pierce County READS.
Mary Roach takes delight in writing about gross stuff
Author, adventurer, citizen scientist and lover of all-things-gross Mary Roach follows her nose to discover the gritty behind-the-scenes details every reader didn’t know they were curious about.
Roach’s books have explored sex, the afterlife, digestion, life in space, the fates of cadavers and the science of keeping our military safe. The common thread throughout Roach’s books, according to her: human bodies in unusual circumstances.
When asked by NPR’s Robert Siegel, host of “All Things Considered,” how she picks the topics of her books, Roach said, “Well, it’s going to have a little science, it’s got to have a little history, a little humor—and something gross.”
From elephant warts to The Daily Show
Roach grew up in Etna, New Hampshire, and attended Wesleyan University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology. After college, she moved to San Francisco with some friends and worked a part-time public relations job at the San Francisco Zoo, where her office was in a trailer next to Gorilla World. She wrote news releases about important zoological matters, such as elephant wart removal surgeries and baby koala births. On the side, she wrote articles for the “San Francisco Chronicle.”
Since then, “National Geographic,” “The New York Times Magazine,” “Wired,” “New Scientist,” “GQ,” “Outside, Salon,” “The New York Times Book Review” and the “Journal of Clinical Anatomy,” among others, published her articles. Her previous monthly column in Reader’s Digest, “My Planet,” was compiled into a book. She primarily sticks to writing books these days.
She appeared on TV programs such as “The Daily Show” to answer Jon Stewart’s many questions about digestion and “The Colbert Report” to weigh in with her research on the afterlife.
Fake it ‘til you make it
Though Roach views the world through a scientific lens, she does not have a formal background in science.
“I often write about science, though I don’t have a science degree,” she said. “And [I] must fake my way through interviews with experts I can’t understand.”
She serves as a member of the Mars Institute’s Advisory Board and the Usage Panel of American Heritage Dictionary. Her 2009 TED Talk made the organization’s 2011 Twenty Most-Watched to Date list. She was the guest editor of the 2011 Best American Science and Nature Writing, and a winner of the American Engineering Society’s Engineering Journalism Award, in a category for which she was the sole entrant.