Author/doctor Michael Crichton was born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in Roslyn, Long Island, New York. He attended Harvard College as an undergraduate, graduating summa cum laude in 1964. Crichton was Visiting Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom in 1965. He graduated from Harvard Medical School, in 1969, and did post-doctoral study at the Jonas Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, from 1969 to 1970. In 1988, he was Visiting Writer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
While in medical school, he wrote novels under the pen names John Lange and Jeffery Hudson. A Case of Need, written under the latter pseudonym, won the 1969 Edgar Award for Best Novel. He also co-authored Dealing with his younger brother Douglas under the shared pen name Michael Douglas. The back cover of the book contains a picture of young Michael and Douglas taken by their mother.
Crichton’s works are frequently cautionary in that his plots often portray scientific advancements going awry, commonly resulting in worst-case scenarios. A notable recurring theme in Crichton’s plots is the pathological failure of complex systems and their safeguards, whether biological (Jurassic Park), military/organizational (The Andromeda Strain), technical (Airframe) or cybernetic (Westworld).
This theme of the inevitable breakdown of “perfect” systems and the failure of “fail-safe measures” can be seen strongly in the poster for Westworld (slogan: “Where nothing can possibly go worng…”) and in the discussion of chaos theory in Jurassic Park.
Contrary to certain perceptions, Crichton was not anti-technology. Although his works often portray scientists and engineers as arrogant and closed-minded to the potential threat a technology represents, there is always a well-educated author surrogate who states that failures are simply part of the scientific process and one should simply maintain a state of awareness and preparation for their inevitable occurrence.
The use of author surrogate was a feature of Crichton’s writings from the beginning of his career. In A Case of Need, one of his pseudonymous whodunit stories, Crichton used first-person narrative to portray the hero, a Bostonian pathologist, who is running against the clock to clear a friend’s name from medical malpractice in a girl’s death from a hack-job abortion.
Some of Crichton’s fiction uses a literary technique called false document. For example, Eaters of the Dead is a fabricated recreation of the Old English epic Beowulf in the form of a scholarly translation of Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s 10th century manuscript.
Other novels, such as The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, incorporate fictionalized scientific documents in the form of diagrams, computer output, DNA sequences, footnotes and bibliography. However, some of his novels actually include authentic published scientific works to illustrate his point, as can be seen in The Terminal Man and the more recent State of Fear.
Michael has written over 25 novels, and 4 non-fiction books. He was also very active in television, ER being his most successful endeavor on the small screen. In December 1994, he achieved the unique distinction of having the #1 movie (Jurassic Park), the #1 TV show (ER), and the #1 book (Disclosure).
He’s even had a dinosaur named for him, Crichton’s ankylosaur. Crichton died on November 4, 2008 in Los Angeles at age 66 from cancer.