Hilts, Philip J(ames) 1947-
HILTS, Philip J(ames) 1947-
PERSONAL: Born May 10, 1947, in Chicago, IL; son of Edward L. (a writer) and Katharine (Bonn) Hilts; married Mary Donna McKeown (a writer and editor), April 26, 1974; children: Benjamin, Alexis. Education: Attended Georgetown University, 1965-67 and 1969.
CAREER: Reiss Coal, Manitowaca, WI, merchant sailor on SS John A. Kling, 1967-68; bookstore clerk in Washington, DC, 1968-69; Washington Daily News, Washington, DC, reporter, 1970-72; Rocky Mountain News, Denver, CO, reporter, 1972; freelance writer, 1972-80; Washington Post, Washington, DC, national reporter, 1980-89; New York Times, New York, NY, health and science reporter, 1989—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Two Front Page awards from Newspaper Guild, both 1982; National Media Award, American Psychological Association, 1983; National Book Award finalist, c. 1983, for Scientific Temperaments: Three Lives in Contemporary Science.
Behavior Mod, Harper's Magazine Press, 1974.
Scientific Temperaments: Three Lives in Contemporary Science, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982.
Memory's Ghost: The Strange Tale of Mr. M and the Nature of Memory, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.
Smokescreen: The Truth behind the Tobacco Industry Cover-up, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1996.
Protecting America's Health: The FDA, Business, and One Hundred Years of Regulation, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor of more than one hundred articles to magazines, including Omni and Science 83.
SIDELIGHTS: In over twenty years as a reporter for the Washington Post and New York Times, Philip J. Hilts has covered many important health and science issues. He has brought his expertise to several nonfiction volumes as well, including the National Book Award finalist Scientific Temperaments: Three Lives in Contemporary Science. In this book he profiles a physicist, a molecular biologist, and a computer scientist, each prominent in his field, and explores how their personalities interact with their scientific work. "Hilts understands how scientists feel about their work, capturing the side they usually keep hidden beneath professionally cool exteriors," Lynn Hall observed in Technology Review. While the critic felt that the three "colorful" scientists Hilts profiles are not typical of all scientists, she concluded that "Scientific Temperaments is elegantly and gracefully written, colorful without being flashy, and precise without resorting to jargon. The progression of ideas, and the way in which biographical materials are interwoven with scientific information, is so natural that the style always serves the material."
Hilts was working at New York Times when he received an extraordinary package from a whistle-blower at the Brown and Williamson tobacco company. It contained documents demonstrating that the company knew more about the dangers of cigarette smoking than they had admitted, and Hilts covered this growing scandal in more than twenty front-page stories. His 1996 book Smokescreen: The Truth behind the Tobacco Industry Cover-Up "is less a single investigation than a fast-paced, rewarding tour . . . through the recent revelations that have Big Tobacco on the run," a Publishers Weekly critic noted. The author uses the Brown and Williamson documents and other research to show how tobacco companies have carefully controlled the levels of addictive nicotine in their products, as well as how they deliberately target teens. The result is "an excellent analysis of recent regulatory, political, and legal developments affecting the tobacco industry," according to E. Ripley Forbes in Public Health Reports. The critic added that "Hilts is at his best in explaining how tobacco advertising affects the young and sustains his points with documents straight from the industry's own files." New Republic contributor Malcolm Gladwell, however, found an "intemperance and righteousness" in parts of Hilts's book, particularly "the incredible moral and analytical simplification, the obliteration of notions of responsibility, that is required to compare the act of selling people cigarettes to the act of herding people into a gas chamber." "The issue of smoking aside, Hilts' is a troubling look at the abuses of corporate power," Booklist reviewer David Rouse stated, while Stephen D. Sugarman concluded in Science, "Most readers are likely to experience a growing outrage at the industry, and especially its lawyers and friendly scientists, as they read along."
Hilts takes on another subject of national importance in 2003's Protecting America's Health: The FDA, Business, and One Hundred Years of Regulation. He traces the various approaches government has taken towards safeguarding America's food and drug supply, from the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 to recent attempts to weaken the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by deregulating drug companies. The author reminds readers of the tragedies that spurred the government into action, from a 1930s antibiotic sold in a toxic solution to the Thalidomide babies of the 1960s. Hilts "writes both with a historian's attention to piecemeal dissection and analysis and with the flourish and vividness of an experienced journalist aware of the drama inherent in the story he is telling," Sherwin B. Nuland remarked in New York Times Book Review. John Crey similarly observed in Business Week that Hilts's book "is compelling, and it comes with a powerful message: that Americans are hugely in debt to the reformers who gave the 'FDA' its powers—and to the usually unappreciated bureaucrats toiling away in the trenches." Other reviewers hailed the author's defense of the FDA; as Noemie Maxwell concluded in Library Journal, Hilts "offers an important perspective" on the FDA's role in protecting the public, as well as "profound insight into issues emerging at the intersection of science, business, and ethics."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of Memory's Ghost: The Strange Tale of Mr. M. and the Nature of Memory, p. 1920; May 1, 1996, David Rouse, review of Smokescreen: The Truth behind the Tobacco Industry Cover-Up, p. 1466; April 15, 2003, David Siegfried, review of Protecting America's Health: The FDA, Business, and One Hundred Years of Regulation, p. 1431.
Business Week, July 28, 2003, John Crey, "The Hundred Years' War at the FDA," p. 20.
Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Noemie Maxwell, review of Protecting America's Health, p. 121.
Los Angeles Times, December 17, 1982, Carolyn See, review of Scientific Temperaments: Three Lives in Contemporary Science, sec. V-A, p. 1.
New Republic, November 4, 1996, Malcolm Gladwell, review of Smokescreen, p. 27.
New York Review of Books, July 11, 1996, Michael Massing, review of Smokescreen, p. 32.
New York Times Book Review, January 2, 1983, Peter Engel, review of Scientific Temperaments, p. 11; August 13, 1995, Howard Gardner, review of Memory's Ghost, p. 12; April, 27, 2003, Sherwin B. Nuland, "Don't Eat This Page," p. 17.
Public Health Reports, November-December, 1996, E. Ripley Forbes, review of Smokescreen, p. 556.
Publishers Weekly, July 3, 1995, review of Memory's Ghost, p. 43; May 6, 1996, review of Smokescreen, p. 61; February 4, 2003, review of Protecting America's Health, p. 60.
Reason, December, 1996, Jacob Sullum, review of Smokescreen, p. 46.
Science, August 9, 1996, Stephen D. Sugarman, review of Smokescreen, p. 744.
Technology Review, July, 1983, Lynn Hall, review of Scientific Temperaments, p. 66.
Washington Post, June 3, 1997, Mary Davis Suro, review of Smokescreen, p. WH11.
Frontline,http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline (February 20, 2004), interview with Philip J. Hilts.*