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What I'm Giving | November 19, 2013 1 comment
In this special series, we asked writers we admire to share a book they're giving to their friends and family this holiday season. Check back daily... Continue »
Eric RostonDescribe your latest project.
"Carbon" is the most important word that people know the least about.
I came to this conclusion toward the end of 2003, while covering climate and energy for Time magazine. Carbon had become a media buzzword, but remained an empty signifier. Eager to fill this gap, I left the magazine in early 2006 to write The Carbon Age, which was published this month. The Carbon Age posits that the fastest way to learn the most about ourselves and our world is through the carbon atom. A mainstream nonfiction book, it was designed to intrigue and entertain readers from high-school to retirement. The book embeds industrialization and its climate crisis into evolutionary and geological history — by design an after-the-fact "prequel" to An Inconvenient Truth.
The Carbon Age implicitly sets its sights on U.S. scientific illiteracy. In February 2001, the Hart-Rudman Commission laid out national security threats to the United States over the next 25 years. Seven months later, the commission's first warning, a major terrorist attack, looked eerily prescient. Less frequently remembered is the second threatening trend: Decline in U.S. science and education. Tom Friedman picked up on this thread in The World Is Flat, sorting through the long-term effects of scientific decline on a national economy. The National Academy of Sciences gave the topic a rigorous treatment in its 2005 report, Rising above the Gathering Storm. These three works raise, but do not answer, the question: What actual science is missing from public discourse that might make a dent in scientific illiteracy? The Carbon Age is a rigorous attempt to complement these works, too, by unifying at least a dozen scientific disciplines into one singular story.
Curiosity and the puzzle-solving nature of research and writing. The Carbon Age began with a simple question when I was covering energy and climate, and the steady tick of weekly stories for Time: "Why am I talking about 'carbon' all the time, across many different conversations, and yet no one can really explain what it is?" Once I identified that carbon's story was a missing volume on bookshelves, I was eager to figure out how to tell it. It became an obsession.
Writing a nonfiction book, particularly one that synthesizes an enormous amount of research, is something like a puzzle; you have to discover the pieces, and then discover how they fit together.
Describe your favorite childhood teacher and how that teacher influenced you.
Have you ever taken the Geek Test? How did you rate?
What do you do for relaxation?
What's your favorite blog right now?
Douglas Adams or Scott Adams?
What was your favorite book as a kid?
When I was a sophomore in high school, I read Catch-22 for the first time. That book taught me a lot about writing, comedy, and the world in general.
What new technology do you think may actually have the potential for making people's lives better?
If you could be reincarnated for one day to live the life of any scientist or writer, who would you choose and why?
What are some of the things you'd like your computer to do that it cannot now do?
By the end of your life, where do you think humankind will be in terms of new science and technological advancement?
Which country do you believe currently leads the world in science and technology? In 10 years?
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Eric Roston covered technology, international trade, and energy issues at Time magazine for six years and contributed to Time's special issue about September 11, which won a National Magazine Award in 2002. The Carbon Age is his first book. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and daughter.