John Michael Crichton, M.D. pronounced /ˈkraɪtən/ , (October 23, 1942 – November 4, 2008) was an American author, film producer, film director, medical doctor, and television producer best known for his science fiction and techno-thriller novels, films, and television programs. His books have sold over 150 million copies worldwide. His works were usually based on the action genre and heavily feature technology.
Many of his future history novels have medical or scientific underpinnings, reflecting his medical training and science background. He was the author of The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Disclosure, Timeline, State of Fear, Prey, and Next. He was also the creator of ER, but most famous for being the author of Jurassic Park, and its sequel The Lost World, both adapted into high grossing films and leading to the very successful franchise.
Crichton was born in Chicago, Illinois, to John Henderson Crichton and Zula Miller Crichton, and raised in Roslyn, Long Island, New York. He has two sisters, Kimberly and Catherine, and a younger brother, Douglas.
He attended Harvard College as an undergraduate, graduating summa cum laude in 1964. Crichton was also initiated into the Phi Beta Kappa Society. He went on to become the Henry Russell Shaw Traveling Fellow from 1964 to 1965 and Visiting Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom in 1965. He graduated from Harvard Medical School, obtaining an M.D. in 1969, and did post-doctoral fellowship study at the Jonas Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, from 1969 to 1970. In 1988, he was Visiting Writer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
While in medical school, he wrote novels under the pen names John Lange and Jeffery Hudson. A Case of Need, written under the latter pseudonym, won the 1969 Edgar Award for Best Novel. He also co-authored Dealing with his younger brother Douglas under the shared pen name Michael Douglas. The back cover of that book contains a picture of Michael and Douglas at a very young age taken by their mother.
His two pen names were both created to reflect his above-average height. According to his own words, he was about 2.06 meters (6 feet 9 inches) tall in 1997. Lange is a familyname in Germany, meaning “tall one” and Sir Jeffrey Hudson was a famous 17th century dwarf in the court of Queen Consort Henrietta Maria of England.
Crichton has admitted to having once, during his undergraduate study, plagiarized a work by George Orwell and submitted it as his own. According to Crichton the paper was received by his professor with a mark of “B−”. Crichton has claimed that the plagiarism was not intended to defraud the school, but rather as an experiment. Crichton believed that the professor in question had been intentionally giving him abnormally low marks, and so as an experiment Crichton informed another professor of his idea and submitted Orwell’s paper as his own work.
Crichton was married five times and divorced four times. He was married to Suzanna Childs, Joan Radam (1965–1970), Kathy St. Johns (1978–1980) and Anne-Marie Martin, the mother of his only child, daughter Taylor Anne. At the time of his passing, Crichton was married to Sherri Alexander.
Crichton’s works are frequently cautionary in that his plots often portray scientific advancements going awry, commonly resulting in worst-case scenarios. A notable recurring theme in Crichton’s plots is the pathological failure of complex systems and their safeguards, whether biological (Jurassic Park), military/organizational (The Andromeda Strain) or cybernetic (Westworld). This theme of the inevitable breakdown of “perfect” systems and the failure of “fail-safe measures” can be seen strongly in the poster for Westworld (slogan: “Where nothing can possibly go worng ..” (sic) ) and in the discussion of chaos theory in Jurassic Park.
Contrary to certain perceptions, Crichton was not anti-technology. Although his works often portray scientists and engineers as arrogant and closed-minded to the potential threat a technology represents, there is always a well-educated author surrogate who states that failures are simply part of the scientific process and one should simply maintain a state of awareness and preparation for their inevitable occurrence.
The use of author surrogate was a feature of Crichton’s writings from the beginning of his career. In A Case of Need, one of his pseudonymous whodunit stories, Crichton used first-person narrative to portray the hero, a Bostonian pathologist, who is running against the clock to clear a friend’s name from medical malpractice in a girl’s death from a hack-job abortion.
Some of Crichton’s fiction uses a literary technique called false document. For example, Eaters of the Dead is a fabricated recreation of the Old English epic Beowulf in the form of a scholarly translation of Ahmad ibn Fadlan‘s 10th century manuscript. Other novels, such as The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, incorporate fictionalized scientific documents in the form of diagrams, computer output, DNA sequences, footnotes and bibliography. However, some of his novels actually include authentic published scientific works to illustrate his point, as can be seen in The Terminal Man and the more recent State of Fear.