Chiles, James R. 1955-
Chiles, James R. 1955-
Born 1955, in Springfield, MO. Education: Harvard College, graduated (with honors), 1977; University of Texas Law School, J.D., 1981; Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course, graduated, 1983.
Author specializing in history and science. During early career, worked in construction, logging, and mining; has served as commentator for assorted series for the History Channel, including Katrina: American Catastrophe, Engineering Disasters, and Megadisaster, as well as an adaptation of his own book, Inviting Disaster; appeared in Seconds from Disaster, National Geographic Channel; has lectured on safety for organizations, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center, Pacific Gas and Electric, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the National Society of Professional Engineers, the U.S. Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, and the American Society of Safety Engineers.
Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology: An Inside Look at Catastrophes and Why They Happen, HarperBusiness (New York, NY), 2001.
The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter, Bantam Dell (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including Smithsonian, Aviation Week, Texas Monthly, Audubon, Harvard, Air & Space, and Popular Science.
Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology was adapted into the television series Inviting Disaster, narrated by the author, History Channel, 2003.
James R. Chiles is a freelance writer and lecturer, specializing in the subjects of technology and history. His book Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology: An Inside Look at Catastrophes and Why They Happen was published in 2001. It was later adapted as a television series for the History Channel, and Chiles himself served as commentator. The program garnered sufficient favorable reviews to lead him to appear in a number of other series for the network, as well as for the National Geographic Channel. Inviting Disaster recounts the stories of numerous disastrous events, analyzing the various factors leading up to them and trying to determine just when events made catastrophe inevitable. Chiles explains that technological disasters are generally not unexpected accidents, but rather are preceded by warning events and develop from a combination of factors involving human error and mechanical malfunction. In some cases, simply understanding ahead of time what might go wrong can enable one to come up with potential solutions in the event of a disaster. Chiles, for instance, recounts the story of Captain Bryce McCormick, an airline pilot whose understanding of the structure of his DC-10 aircraft enabled him to safely land his plane even after its rudders ceased to function. Chiles goes on to discuss different ways to prepare for an emergency. Trevor Kletz, writing for the American Scientist, remarked: "Well-written and easy to read, Inviting Disaster should appeal to the general public as well as to serious students of the subject."
Prior to writing The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter, Chiles learned to fly one. His understanding of the machine and how difficult it is to control gave him a unique perspective that is evident through his writing as he offers readers an inside look into the helicopter's history and purpose. Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor declared: "Enthusiastic and knowledgeable, Chiles should take off with aviators." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly considered the book "an engaging blend of pop science and pop culture."
Chiles told CA: "I started writing as a freelancer for Texas Monthly in 1979. My first article was on the Pantex nuclear-weapons plant, and I decided I wanted to explain complex but important subjects so that the average reader could engage with the subject.
"I am influenced by the vivid, let-the-action-tell-the-story style that writers used in nonfiction features for The Saturday Evening Post and Collier's before World War II. My editors at Smithsonian magazine pointed me in that direction.
"Time-wise, my writing process involves at least five parts research, one part first-draft, and two parts follow-up work. When I write I try to hide in the basement with many stacks and boxes of research close at hand.
"The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer is that people will go out of their way to provide information if they believe your work will be thorough, accurate, and fair. The most important thing is to get as close to the event and talk to as many people as possible, by being at the scene or talking to those who were there—because accounts usually vary.
"I don't have a favorite book of mine, but the field work for The God Machine was particularly enjoyable.
"Inviting Disaster has connected me up with a network of experts. In passing along their wisdom about how to combine safety with effectiveness, I hope to make the world a little safer and more productive place."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scientist, May 1, 2002, Trevor Kletz, "Controlling Hazards," review of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology: An Inside Look at Catastrophes and Why They Happen, p. 290.
Booklist, August, 2001, David Rouse, review of Inviting Disaster, p. 2059; November 1, 2007, Gilbert Taylor, review of The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter, p. 11.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2001, review of Inviting Disaster, p. 911; September 1, 2007, review of The God Machine.
Library Journal, September 15, 2001, James Olson, review of Inviting Disaster, p. 107; September 15, 2007, Jim Agee, review of The God Machine, p. 84.
Personnel Psychology, spring, 2002, Gary B. Brumback, review of Inviting Disaster.
Publishers Weekly, June 18, 2001, review of Inviting Disaster, p. 71; August 20, 2007, review of The God Machine, p. 59.
Science, January 11, 2002, Lloyd J. Dumas, review of Inviting Disaster, p. 281.
Science Books & Films, July, 2002, review of Inviting Disaster, p. 448.
Science News, October 12, 2002, review of Inviting Disaster, p. 239.
SciTech Book News, December, 2001, review of Inviting Disaster, p. 137.
Technology and Culture, October, 2003, Bill Luckin, review of Inviting Disaster, p. 848.
Coast to Coast AM,http://www.coasttocoastam.com/ (January 15, 2008), profile of James R. Chiles.
Deseret Morning News Online,http://deseretnews.com/ (November 11, 2007), Dennis Lythgoe, review of The God Machine.
Entertainment Weekly Online,http://www.ew.com/ (November 1, 2007), Gilbert Cruz, review of The God Machine.
God Machine Home Page,http://www.thegodmachine.us (January 15, 2008).
Harvard Magazine Online,http://harvardmagazine.com/ (November 1, 2001), Edward Tenner, "When Systems Fracture: On the Tendency of Advanced Technology to Promote Self-Deception."
Inviting Disaster Home Page,http://www.invitingdisaster.com (January 15, 2008).
New York Post Online,http://www.nypost.com/ (November 11, 2007), Frederick J. Chiaventone, "Rotary Club: How Aerial Innovators Caught Some Serious Air."
PopMatters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (January 15, 2008), John Biggs, review of Inviting Disaster.