Fleischman, John 1948-
Fleischman, John 1948-
Born November 29, 1948, in New York, NY; married; wife's name Mary; children: Clare, Thomas. Education: Antioch College, B.A., 1971.
Home—Cincinnati, OH. Office—American Society for Cell Biology, 8120 Woodmont Ave., Ste. 750, Bethesda, MD 20814. E-mail—[email protected]
Worked for various newspapers and magazines, including Yankee and Ohio, and for a public radio station. Science writer for Harvard Medical School and American Society for Cell Biology; freelance science writer, 1995—.
National Association of Science Writers.
Orbis Pictus Honor Award for Outstanding Nonfiction, National Council of Teachers of English, James Madison Honor Book, Notable Children's Book selection, American Library Association (ALA), and Best Book for Young Adults selection, ALA, all 2003, all for Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science; Orbis Pictus Honor Award for Outstanding Nonfiction, National Council of Teachers of English, James Madison Honor Book, Carter G. Woodson Honor Book, National Council for the Social Studies, all 2008, all for Black and White Air-men. fellowships from Alicia Patterson Foundation, Macy Foundation for Science Broadcast Journalism, Marine Biological Laboratory, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial.
The Ohio Lands (adult nonfiction), photographs by Ian Adams, BrownTrout Publishers (San Francisco, CA), 1995.
Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science (youth nonfiction), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
Free and Public: One Hundred and Fifty Years at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, 1853-2003 (adult nonfiction), Orange Frazer Press (Cincinnati, OH), 2003.
Mid-century City: Cincinnati at the Apex, Orange Frazer Press (Wilmington, OH), 2006.
Black and White Airmen: Their True History, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2007.
Contributor of science articles to magazines, including Discover, Muse, and Air & Space Smithsonian.
John Fleischman, a science writer for the American Society for Cell Biology, is the author of the critically acclaimed children's book Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science, as well as a number of books that focus on the history of Cincinnati, Ohio, where he lives.
While working as a journalist for newspapers and magazines, Fleischman found himself reporting more and more often on scientific topics. Although he was interested in many areas of science, he eventually specialized in medical topics, going so far as to take a special laboratory course for journalists who want to write about cell biology. On assignment in the fall of 1998, he visited the town of Cavendish, Vermont, where residents were honoring the 150th anniversary of an accident famous in the annals of medical history. The accident happened to a man named Phineas Gage, who had a metal rod shot through his frontal cortex during an explosion and miraculously survived. "As one doctor told me, Phineas should have been dead for at least five major reasons," Fleischman told an interviewer for the Scholastic Web site. Fleischman added: "Even today, the odds against surviving an injury that pierces the brain are stupendously high." At the time, scientists knew little about germs, let alone much about the brain, but Phineas's doctor fortuitously washed his hands before bandaging him. Young, strong, and lucky, Phineas recovered, but observers noticed significant changes in his behavior and personality. Eventually, scientists discovered that the part of the brain harmed in the blast controlled higher-order functions that have much to do with personality.
After writing a magazine article for adults about this case, Fleischman thought children might be interested in Phineas's story. "It took me another year, working on and off, to figure out what else kids would need to know about Phineas and then to write the book," Fleischman remarked in the same interview for the Scholastic Web site. He had to provide historical background on the state of science, on how the accident could have taken place, and on the aftermath, which included the eleven years Phineas lived following the injury. He also had to research photographs and other illustrations that might be used. In writing the text, Fleischman drew heavily on published writings by Phineas's physician that had been collected and republished by a doctor in 1999. Fleischman was also inspired by the fact that Phineas's actual skull was preserved at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, where Fleischman was working at the time as a science writer.
In 2002, Phineas Gage was published to strong reviews. Among the work's enthusiasts was Lolly Robinson of Horn Book, who praised Fleischman's "bold present-tense writing," adding that while the author sometimes addresses the reader directly, "the serious subject and the author's skill keep the writing from becoming jejune." Steven Engelfried, writing for School Library Journal, also praised Fleischman's ability to avoid sensationalizing "the fascinating story" and to bring "a scientific viewpoint" to the story. Booklist reviewer Randy Meyer found the text "vivid" but predicted that readers only looking for the "gruesome story" of the title will "get bogged down in heavier sections." Other reviewers commented on the variety of scientific subjects Fleischman treats in the course of the narrative. For example, Deborah Stevenson remarked in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that, with his "crisp" and "lucid" text, Fleischman "deftly introduces readers to a diverse range of relevant scientific history." In 2003, this "grisly but enlightening story," Science News writer Cait Goldberg stated, won an Orbis Pictus Honor Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.
Fleischman next wrote Free and Public: One Hundred and Fifty Years at the Public Library of Cincinnati andHamilton County, 1853-2003 and Mid-century City: Cincinnati at the Apex. In a later work, Black and White Airmen: Their True History, the author examines the unusual relationship between two Cincinnati natives whose lives paralleled in many ways. Though African American John Lear and Caucasian Herb Heilbrun attended the same third-grade classroom, worked at the same factory, and flew together on missions for the U.S. Air Force during World War II, they didn't discover their connections until 1997, while attending a military reunion. According to School Library Journal contributor Kristin Anderson, "the similarities in their backgrounds force the differences caused by race into stark relief." Writing in Booklist, John Peters described Black and White Airmen as "often thrilling and consistently absorbing," and Voice of Youth Advocates critic Anita Beaman called the book a "World War II story that is definitely worth remembering."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 2002, Randy Meyer, review of Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science, p. 1101; February 1, 2007, John Peters, review of Black and White Airmen: Their True History, p. 57.
Book Report, November-December, 2002, Edna Boardman, review of Phineas Gage, p. 66.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May 1, 2002, Deborah Stevenson, review of Phineas Gage, p. 321.
Discover, June, 2002, Deborah Hudson, review of Phineas Gage, p. 79.
Horn Book, May-June, 2002, Lolly Robinson, review of Phineas Gage, pp. 343-344.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2002, review of Phineas Gage, p. 254; June 1, 2007, review of Black and White Airmen.
Midwest Book Review, March, 2003, review of Free and Public: One Hundred and Fifty Years at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, 1853-2003.
Publishers Weekly, April 15, 2002, review of Phineas Gage, p. 66.
School Library Journal, March, 2002, Steven Engelfried, review of Phineas Gage, pp. 247-248; May, 2003, John Peters, review of Phineas Gage, p. 102; June, 2007, Kristin Anderson, review of Black and White Airmen, p. 168.
Science News, March 23, 2002, Cait Goldberg, review of Phineas Gage, p. 191.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 2007, Anita Beaman, review of Black and White Airmen.
Cincinnati CityBeat,http://citybeat.com/ (February 28, 2007), Jane Durrell, review of Mid-century City: Cincinnati at the Apex; (October 17, 2007), Jane Durrell, review of Black and White Airmen.
Cincinnati Enquirer Online,http://www.enquirer.com/ (April 20, 2003), Cliff Radel, "City Needs to Revive Spirit of 1853," review of Free and Public.
Scholastic,http://www2.scholastic.com/ (June 24, 2003), author interview transcript.