James Gleick (//; born August 1, 1954) is an American author and historian of science whose work has chronicled the cultural impact of modern technology. Recognized for his writing about complex subjects through the techniques of narrative nonfiction, he has been called "one of the great science writers of all time".
Gleick's books include the international bestsellers Chaos: Making a New Science (1987) and The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (2011). Three of his books have been Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalists; and The Information was awarded the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award in 2012 and the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2012. His books have been translated into more than thirty languages.
A native of New York City, Gleick attended Harvard College, where he was an editor of the Harvard Crimson, graduating in 1976 with an A.B. degree in English and linguistics. He moved to Minneapolis and helped found an alternative weekly newspaper, Metropolis. After its demise a year later, he returned to New York and in 1979 joined the staff of the New York Times. He worked there for ten years as an editor on the metropolitan desk and then as a science reporter. Among the scientists Gleick profiled in the New York Times Magazine were Douglas Hofstadter, Stephen Jay Gould, Mitchell Feigenbaum, and Benoit Mandelbrot. His early reporting on Microsoft anticipated the antitrust investigations by the U. S. Department of Justice and the European Commission. He wrote the "Fast Forward" column in the New York Times Magazine from 1995 to 1999, and his essays charting the growth of the Internet formed the basis of his book What Just Happened. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Washington Post, and he is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books.
His first book, Chaos: Making a New Science, reported the development of the new science of chaos and complexity. It made the Butterfly Effect a household word, introduced the Mandelbrot Set and fractal geometry to a broad audience, and sparked popular interest in the subject, influencing such diverse writers as Tom Stoppard (Arcadia) and Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park).
In 1993, Gleick founded one of the earliest Internet service providers, The Pipeline, in New York City. It was the first ISP to offer a graphical user interface, incorporating e-mail, chat, Usenet, and the World Wide Web, through software for Windows and Mac operating systems. The software, created by Gleick's business partner, Uday Ivatury, was licensed to other Internet service providers in the United States and overseas. Gleick sold the Pipeline in 1995 to PSINet, and it was later absorbed into MindSpring and then EarthLink.
On December 20, 1997, Gleick was attempting to land his Rutan Long-EZ experimental plane at Greenwood Lake Airport in West Milford, New Jersey when a build-up of ice in the engine's carburetor caused the aircraft engine to lose power and the plane landed short of the runway into rising terrain. The impact killed Gleick's eight-year-old son and left Gleick seriously injured.
Gleick's writing style has been described as a combination of "clear mind, magpie-styled research and explanatory verve.” After the publication of Chaos, Gleick collaborated with the photographer Eliot Porter on Nature's Chaos and with developers at Autodesk on Chaos: The Software. He was the McGraw Distinguished Lecturer at Princeton University in 1989–90. He was the first editor of The Best American Science Writing series.
His next books included two biographies, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, and Isaac Newton, which John Banville said would "surely stand as the definitive study for a very long time to come."
Gleick was elected president of the Authors Guild in 2017.