I was a book critic at the Los Angeles Times for twenty-three years. I grew up in New York, and after college and graduate school I went to work for the quarterly journal, Foreign Affairs, in the beautiful old Pratt mansion on sixty-eighth street. For a whole summer I worked in the basement (think Eloise at the Plaza without room service) sorting letters from people like Winston Churchill and Indira Gandhi. Then they brought me, blinking, upstairs to the living, which was a little less interesting. For a few years I worked at the New York Review of Books as an assistant editor, which was a fine education. (We used to say that it was a great place to work if your parents could afford to send you there!) Each fact required three checked sources. I always seemed to get Lord Zuckerman's pieces on nuclear war.
When I moved to California I went to work for the Los Angeles Times, first doing the best seller list, then the In Brief column, which later became the much shorter Discoveries column. I also wrote features for travel, food, the Magazine and other sections. For many years I also wrote a series of over 100 profiles of writers and thinkers, including Norman Mailer, Richard Leakey, Elie Wiesel, Bill McKibben, Peter Hoeg, Reynolds Price, Isabel Allende and so many others. That was fun, since those were the days when the paper actually sent the writer to talk with the authors and artists. (Telephone interviews can be too stiff!) I felt like a witness on the front lines of the culture wars. It seemed important and useful—readers liked to know a bit about the people behind the books. The travel and food pieces were some of my favorites, and I continue to do those on a freelance basis for whoever will send me somewhere—usually carrying a load of books.
People always ask how I read so much and all I can say is—imagine getting paid to read! Also—never count on reading much at night—most people fall asleep. Early morning with a delicious cup of something hot and caffeinated is preferable. But be careful—keep one foot in the world if you can (food, travel, children, making things)—the best books are rabbit holes and it can be hard to squeeze yourself back into the plain old world.
Today I am the Editorial Director for Harp and Company, a graphic design firm in Hanover, New Hampshire. I've written a book with my friend Amy C. Edmondson, a professor at the Harvard Business School, called Building the Future: Big Teaming for Audacious Innovation, the Unlikely Journey of a Smart City Start Up. We call it Building the Future for short and it's coming out on April 1, 2016. It's a book about innovation on that grandest of scales: cities; why it seems so hard to build the cities of the future, even though we have this fabulous technology. (Hint: the experts that have to work together to build the cities of the future are not used to working together. They have different ways of doing things.) We followed a fascinating young company called Living PlanIT for six years--watched them stretch and stumble and stand on the brink of changing the world.