Iagnemma, Karl 1972–

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Iagnemma, Karl 1972–


Born October 19, 1972, in MI. Education: University of Michigan, B.S., 1994, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, M.S., 1997, Ph.D., 2001.


Home—Cambridge, MA. Office—Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139-4307. Agent—Bess Reed Currence, Regal Literary, Inc., 1140 Broadway, Penthouse, New York, NY 10001. E-mail—[email protected].


Engineer. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA; National Science Foundation, research scientist, principal investigator of the Robotic Mobility Group.

Visiting researcher, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory and National Technical University of Athens, Athens, Greece.


Paris Review Discovery Prize; Pushcart Prize; Playboy college fiction prize; Massachusetts Cultural Council artist grant; graduate fellow, National Science Foundation; fiction/creative nonfiction fellow, Massachusetts Cultural Council, 2002.


On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction (short stories), Dial (New York, NY), 2003.

(With S. Dubowsky) Mobile Robots in Rough Terrain: Estimation, Motion Planning, and Control with Application to Planetary Rovers, Springer (New York, NY), 2004.

(Editor, with Martin Buehler and Sanjiv Singh) The 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge: The Great Robot Race, Springer (New York, NY), 2007.

The Expeditions: A Novel, Dial Press (New York, NY), 2008.

Work anthologized in Best American Short Stories. Contributor of stories to Tin House, Seed, One Story, Paris Review, and Zoetrope.


Warner Bros., Inc., purchased the feature rights to On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction to adapt it as a screenplay.


Karl Iagnemma's collection of short stories, On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, describes characters who are involved in scientific pursuits and who hope to use scientific methods to further their understanding of personal relations. Iagnemma combines the role of an academic research scientist—he specializes in robotics—with that of a writer of literary fiction. Barbara Hoffert, in a review for Library Journal, stated: "These disparate aspects of [Iagnemma's] personality work together; he seamlessly blends the lyrical and the precise to create gem-like little portraits of individuals."

The stories in On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction demonstrate the impossibility of applying scientific precision to human emotions. In the col- lection's title story, Joseph, an engineering school dropout, hopes to marry his former advisor's daughter. Joseph's love interest, though, is a woman engaged in sexual relationships with several men who is not interested in changing her ways. Joseph creates a mathematical equation that he hopes will explain the nature of his romantic relationship, but the equation ultimately fails him. In "The Phrenologist's Dream," a nineteenth-century phrenologist tours the American Midwest, examining the skulls of the rural people he meets, convinced that the shape of a person's skull holds the key to his or her personality. When he falls in love with a bald woman, she makes him rethink his theory of human nature in an unsuspected manner. Jim Holt, a contributor to the New York Times, stated that both of these stories are "richly imagined and laced with delicate ironies." Addressing the collection as a whole, Booklist contributor James Klise called the works "intelligent, quirky, and suspenseful." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews found that "Iagnemma's prose is always lively, well suited to the quirky characters and odd subjects he tends toward."

Iagnemma explained in a statement for his home page: "Many people view science as a chilly, rational exploration of facts, but scientific discovery is often shaped by emotion. Jealousy, fear, and desire can play as much a role in research as quiet contemplation. I wanted to write about people who long to uncover the mysteries of science, which are so often entangled with their own lives and the lives of people around them."

In 2008, Iagnemma published a novel titled The Expeditions: A Novel, set in the mid-nineteenth century. Sixteen-year-old Elisha Stone runs away from his religious household in Massachusetts with a dream of becoming a naturalist. He joins an expedition group to the Michigan Upper Peninsula and sends a letter to his mother to inform her of his condition, unaware that she has passed away. His father, wanting to reconcile with Elisha, sets off to find him, with news of his mother's death. In an interview published on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Web site, Iagnemma explained the difference between being a writer and a robotics scientist: "A lot of people, when they think about writers, probably imagine people wasting time in cafés, drinking a lot and smoking too many cigarettes, and working when the inspiration—whatever that is—seizes them. But writing is rigorous. Writing, for me at least, takes a lot of concentrated work and effort. It takes dedication and the willingness to do the work even when that feeling of inspiration isn't there at all." Iagnemma continued: "Research is no different. You sit down and you work at a problem, you work at a problem, and you get nowhere, until finally one day the answer is there. But it wasn't a matter of inspiration; all the work you've done up to that point allowed you to find the answer."

Adelaida Lower, in a review of The Expeditions for the Historical Novel Society Web site, called the book "altogether a stunning work" and "one of the best novels I have read in years." Jennifer Rohn, however, a Nature contributor, found that "The Expeditions may please fans of Wild West adventures, but it says little about science or a person's reasons for loving it—or leaving it." A reviewer for the New Yorker similarly remarked that "Elisha is more paragon than person, and the thrill of discovery seems curiously unfelt." Michael Upchurch, by contrast, in a review of the book for the Seattle Times, lauded that "Iagnemma is a born writer the way some musicians are born concert prodigies. He's attuned to the poetry of specialist vocabularies … and to the mysteries of our surroundings." Upchurch also observed that "with its rich characterizations, its lively action, its supple thought and its fine, rhythmic prose, this book is a pleasure from cover to cover."

Max Winter, a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle, summarized that "The Expeditions winds itself up neatly, if sadly, giving us the satisfaction that comes from seeing a story begun, pursued and concluded in exactly the amount of time it deserves. Though uneven, it delivers from the first page, in increments, and does not stop before all possible stones have been turned to reveal the ground beneath in its filth and purity." A contributor to Publishers Weekly claimed: "Beautifully written and outstandingly researched, Iagnemma's first novel is a keeper." Booklist contributor Kevin Clouther noted that the novel "distinguishes itself not only through its intricate descriptions of nature but also through the energy and wonder" Elisha provides to the account.



Booklist, April 15, 2003, James Klise, review of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, p. 1449; December 1, 2007, Kevin Clouther, review of The Expeditions: A Novel, p. 21.

Entertainment Weekly, January 18, 2008, Troy Patterson, review of The Expeditions, p. 85.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, p. 335.

Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Barbara Hoffert, review of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, pp. 132-133; January 1, 2008, Christopher Bussmann, review of The Expeditions, p. 83.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) News, May 12, 2003, Darren Clarke, "MIT Author Examines Love-Science Relationships," review of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction.

Nature, January 10, 2008, Jennifer Rohn, review of The Expeditions.

New Yorker, February 4, 2008, review of The Expeditions.

New York Times, May 18, 2003, Jim Holt, review of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, p. 31.

Otium (University of Chicago, Chicago, IL), January 31, 2007, Terry Huang, author interview.

Publishers Weekly, April 21, 2003, review of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, p. 40; October 15, 2007, review of The Expeditions, p. 39.

San Francisco Chronicle, January 28, 2008, Max Winter, review of The Expeditions, p. 2.

Seattle Times, February 1, 2008, Michael Upchurch, review of The Expeditions.

Spectrum (MIT), spring, 2005, Liz Karagianis, "Research Scientist Writes Book, Set to Be Hollywood Film," review of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction.


American Scientist Online,http://www.americanscientist.org/ (August 25, 2008), Frank Diller, author interview.

Art Sake,http://artsake.massculturalcouncil.org/ (August 25, 2008), Brian Knep, author interview.

Boston Phoenix Online,http://www.thephoenix.com/ (August 25, 2008), Tamara Wieder, author inter view.

Good Reads,http://www.goodreads.com/ (August 25, 2008), review of The Expeditions.

Historical Novel Society Web site,http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/ (August 25, 2008), Adelaida Lower, review of The Expeditions.

Identity Theory,http://www.identitytheory.com/ (July 16, 2003), Robert Birnbaum, author interview.

Karl Iagnemma Home Page,http://www.karliagnemma.com (October 1, 2003).

Public Broadcasting Service Web site,http://www.pbs.org/ (August 25, 2008), author interview.

Robotic Mobility Group, MIT Web site,http://web.mit.edu/mobility/ (August 25, 2008), author profile.

Rose and Thorn,http://www.theroseandthornezine.com/ (August 25, 2008), Nannette Croce, author interview.