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Tech Q&A

Jeffrey Kluger

Describe your latest project.
Simplexity, which is being released in June, is about how things that seem simple are actually complex and those that seem to be complex can often be quite simple. The idea for it occurred to me a number of years ago when I kept tropical fish tanks and was looking at a tiny neon tetra, contemplating what a seemingly inconsequential little critter it was. Compared to a star, which is infinitely larger, infinitely more powerful, and infinitely longer-lived, it might as well not exist at all. But, of course, a guppy is far, far more complex than a star, which is just three layers of burning gasses. That counterintuitive idea stuck with me.

  1. Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple)
    $5.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist
    "Like Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, [Kluger] uses a single idea to offer readers a peek inside a wide variety of familiar occurrences, taking us on a fascinating journey." Library Journal

    "Kluger makes the modern world comprehensible..." Publishers Weekly


  2. Splendid Solution
    $1.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

    Splendid Solution

    Jeffrey Kluger
    "Tense and gripping....Tells how polio was beaten fifty years ago in one of the triumphs of modern medicine." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
What inspires you to sit down and write?
Fear, for one. Writing for a magazine — and thus on deadline — is very much the same as writing books, which also proceeds against a ticking clock. The knowledge that the work must be done is enough for me to get it done. What inspires me in a deeper way is a good idea or a fun turn of phrase. Many of my moments of inspiration have occurred when I'm either on the treadmill at my gym or in the shower. The idea for my novel occurred to me, quite literally, in a dream.

Describe your favorite childhood teacher and how that teacher influenced you.
That's an easy one to answer. She was Cynthia Cohen, my sixth grade teacher, who saw my academic weaknesses (principally math) and my disciplinary weaknesses (too little classroom focus) as well as my key academic strength — I liked language and seemed to have some facility with it. She encouraged me to write and brought the best out of me that year, and to some extent in all later years.

Have you ever taken the Geek Test? How did you rate?
I haven't taken it, but I suspect I'd score high. I've been a science writer for a long time, and it doesn't get geekier than that.

Chess or video games?
Chess when I was 8, video games when I was 28. Unfortunately, I haven't dabbled much with either since then.

What do you do for relaxation?
I like to walk; I like to cook (though I don't do it nearly enough); I like British TV series. I have two daughters and I love talking to them; their world view is so funny and uncluttered.

What's your favorite Blog right now?
I'm not sure I have one, though if I can be partisan, I'd recommend Time's Swampland blog — the political site of Time.com. I'm something of a politics junkie and that one's pure, uncut stuff to someone like me.

Douglas Adams or Scott Adams?
Scott Adams, definitely. In fact, I think I'd answer the same way if the question was Scott, Douglas, or John Adams.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
A Wrinkle in Time. Brilliant, and also brave since it dared to touch obliquely on Einsteinian relativity and trust that it could be woven into a story kids would like.

What new technology do you think may actually have the potential for making people's lives better?
Deep brain stimulation, an ingenious new surgery that I observed when I was writing a story for Time. It's sort of a pacemaker for the brain, is already being used to control the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, and may have applications in treating a whole range of behavioral, mood, and cognitive conditions.

If you could be reincarnated for one day to live the life of any scientist or writer, who would you choose and why?
Scientist: Galileo. Writer: Mark Twain. And even though this wasn't part of the question, if I could live one day as anyone in human history, I think it would be FDR.

What was your best subject in high school? Your worst?
Best was English. Worst was Trigonometry; I still have no idea what it is.

What are some of the things you'd like your computer to do that it cannot now do?
My aspirations for my computer are kind of limited, and since I'm a huge Apple partisan, I confess I'm thrilled with almost everything it does. If Apple makes it, I want to own it.

Describe the best museum of science and/or industry you've ever visited and what made it great.
The National Air and Space Museum in Washington, by several lengths. The place just bristles with spacecraft, boosters, and airplanes, and those that aren't close enough to touch are displayed in such a way that they seem like they are.

By the end of your life, where do you think humankind will be in terms of new science and technological advancement?
I do believe science advances exponentially and so I have great hopes for computer and consumer technology. Space tech depends on courageous governments, and I think the U.S. is getting its aerospace mojo back. But it's medical science that I find the most thrilling. We're now at the point of engineering vaccines and drugs at the molecular level and we're not past the first decade of the 21st century. Who knows where we'll be in a few more decades?

Which country do you believe currently leads the world in science and technology? In ten years?
The U.S. still, by a little. In ten years? The U.S. by less than a little. After that it's hard to say, but I'm not prepared to make the popular guess and say China. It feels like there's more ferment in India. Progress is messier there, and mess can produce genius.

÷ ÷ ÷

Jeffrey Kluger is a senior editor and writer for Time magazine. With astronaut Jim Lovell, he wrote Apollo 13, on which the 1995 movie was based. His other books include the critically acclaimed Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio. Kluger lives in New York City with his wife and daughters.

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