Mary Roach

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Mary Roach

Mary Roach at TED Talks in 2009, photograph by Bill Holsinger-Robinson.
Born(1959-03-20) March 20, 1959 (age 53)
Etna, New Hampshire
OccupationAuthor (non-fiction)
GenresPopular science
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Mary Roach

Mary Roach at TED Talks in 2009, photograph by Bill Holsinger-Robinson.
Born(1959-03-20) March 20, 1959 (age 53)
Etna, New Hampshire
OccupationAuthor (non-fiction)
GenresPopular science

Mary Roach is an American author, specializing in popular science. She currently resides in Oakland, California. To date, she has published four books: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003), Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (2005) (published in some markets as Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife), Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (2008) and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (2010).


Early life

Roach was raised in Etna, New Hampshire. She received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Wesleyan University in 1981. After college, Roach moved to San Francisco, California, and spent a few years working as a freelance copy editor. She worked as a columnist, and also worked in public relations for a brief time. Her writing career began while working part-time at the San Francisco Zoological Society, producing press releases on topics such as elephant wart surgery. On her days off from the SFZS, she wrote freelance articles for the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday Magazine.[1]

From 1996 to 2005 Roach was part of The Grotto, a San Francisco based project and community of working writers and filmmakers. It was in this community, that Roach would get the push she needed to break into book writing.[2] While being interviewed by Alex C. Telander, of BookBanter, Roach answers the question of how she got started on her first book:

A few of us every year [from The Grotto] would make predictions for other people, where they'll be in a year. So someone made the prediction that, 'Mary will have a book contract.' I forgot about it and when October came around I thought, I have three months to pull together a book proposal and have a book contract. This is what literally lit the fire under my butt.[3]


In 1986, she sold a humor piece about the IRS to the San Francisco Chronicle. That piece led to a number of humorous first-person essays and feature articles for such publications as Vogue, GQ, The New York Times Magazine, Discover Magazine, National Geographic, Outside Magazine, and Wired. She has also written several articles for, she wrote reviews for tech gadgets at, and has also had an article published in the Journal of Clinical Anatomy.[4][5] Roach also had monthly columns in Reader's Digest (“My Planet”) and Sports Illustrated for Women, (“The Slightly Wider World of Sports”).[6]

Besides being a best selling author, Roach is involved in many other projects on the side. Roach reviews books for The New York times and was the guest editor of the Best American Science and Nature Writing's 2011 edition. She also serves as a member of the Mars Institute's Advisory Board and was recently asked to join the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.[7]

Personal life

Mary Roach was born in Hanover, New Hampshire. Later her family would move to Etna, New Hampshire, where Roach attended Hanover High School.[8]

Roach has an office in downtown Oakland and lives in the Glenview neighborhood of Oakland with her husband Ed Rachles, who is an illustrator and graphic designer.[9] Roach also has two step-daughters.

While it is clear that Roach has a wide variety of somewhat unusual interests, her interest is not limited to observation alone. While researching material for her book, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Roach came across Dr. Jing Deng, a University College London Medical School senior lecturer in medical physics. Dr. Deng was experimenting with 4-D ultrasound imaging and was in need of test subjects to engage in intercourse while wearing the ultrasound equipment so that real-time images could be captured.[10] Roach and her husband Ed were the first willing participants in this study. When asked how she was able to convince her husband to participate, Roach said, “He’s crazy supportive. It was much harder for him, it was nothing for me. I was just a receptacle. I was just taking notes.” [11]

While Roach has often been quoted saying that she doesn't have much free time between writing books, something she is very fond of is backpacking and travel, the latter is something she has been able to do a great deal of while doing research for her articles and books; to that end, Roach has been able to visit all seven continents twice.[12] Roach has been to Antarctica a few times as part of the National Science Foundation's Polar Program; her Antarctic trip in 1997 was taken to write an article for Discover Magazine on meteorite hunting, with meteorite hunter Ralph Harvey.[13][14]


2003Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversW. W. Norton & Company
2005Spook: Science Tackles the AfterlifeW. W. Norton & Company
2008Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and SexW. W. Norton & Company
2010Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the VoidW. W. Norton & Company
2010The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011 (editor)Mariner Books
2013Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary CanalW. W. Norton & Company

Awards and recognition

In 1995, Roach's article "How to Win at Germ Warfare"[15] was a National Magazine Award Finalist. In the article, Roach conducts an interview with microbiologist Chuck Gerba of the University of Arizona who describes a scientific study where bacteria and virus particles become aerosolized upon flushing a toilet: "Upon flushing, as many as 28,000 virus particles and 660,000 bacteria [are] jettisoned from the bowl."[15]

In 1996, her article on earthquake-proof bamboo houses, "The Bamboo Solution",[16] took the American Engineering Societies' Engineering Journalism Award, in the general interest magazine category. In this article the reader learns from Jules Janssen, a civil engineer, that bamboo is "stronger than wood, brick, and concrete...A short, straight column of bamboo with a top surface area of 10 square centimeters could support an 11,000-pound elephant."[16]

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers was a New York Times Bestseller, a 2003 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, and one of Entertainment Weekly's Best Books of 2003. Stiff also won the Editor's Choice award in 2003, was voted as a Borders Original Voices book, and was the winner of the Elle Reader's Prize.[17] The book has been translated into 17 languages, including Hungarian (Hullamerev) and Lithuanian (Negyveilai).[6] Stiff was also selected for Washington State University's Common Reading Program in 2008-09.[18]

Roach's column "My Planet" (Reader's Digest) was runner-up in the humor category of the 2005 National Press Club awards.[1][6] Roach's second book, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, was the recipient of the Elle Reader's Prize in October 2005. Spook was also listed as a New York Times Notable Books pick in 2005, as well as a New York Times Bestseller. In 2008, Roach's book, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, was chosen as the New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, it was in The Boston Globe's Top 5 Science Books, and was also listed as a bestseller in several other publications.[19]

Mary Roach floating weightlessly on a parabolic flight while doing research for Packing For Mars

In 2011, Roach's book, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, was chosen as the book of the year for the 7th annual One City One Book: San Francisco Reads literary event program.[20] Packing for Mars was also 6th on the New York Times Best Seller list.[21]

In 2012, Roach was the recipient of the Harvard Secular Society's Rushdie Award,[22] their award for outstanding lifetime achievement in cultural humanism. The same year, she received a Special Citation in Scientific inquiry from Maximum


While some people might assume from the subject matter of Roach's books that she may be obsessed with death – dead bodies in Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and life after death in Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife – the common theme throughout all 4 of her books is actually the human body. Roach tells us, “My books are all [about the human body], Spook is a little bit of departure because it’s more about the soul rather than the flesh and blood body, but most of my books are about human bodies in unusual circumstances.”[23] When asked by Peter Sagal, of NPR, specifically how she picks her topics, she said, "Well, its got to have a little science, it's got to have a little history, a little humor - and something gross." [24]

It has been said, that while Roach does not possess a science degree, she is able to take complex ideas and turn them into something that the average reader can understand; while at the same time, taking the reader with her every step of the way, from learning about the material to getting to know the interesting people who study it.[25] According to Roach, “Make no mistake, good science writing is medicine. It is a cure for ignorance and fallacy. Good science writing peels away the blindness, generates wonder, and brings the open palm to the forehead: ‘Oh! Now I get it!’”[26] The following quote from the introduction in her book Spook, shows us a bit of Roach's skepticism about the world around her, “Flawed as it is, science remains the most solid god I’ve got. And so I’ve decided to turn to it, to see what it had to say on the topic of life after death. Because I know what religion says, and it perplexes me. It doesn’t deliver a single, coherent, scientifically sensible or provable scenario… Science seemed the better bet.”


  1. ^ a b Roach, Mary. "About Mary". Retrieved 21 July 2012.
  2. ^ "Former Grotto Inhabitants". Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  3. ^ Telander, Alex (9). "BookBanter Audio Episodes". Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  4. ^ Roach, Mary (October 2010). "The C Word: Dead Man Driving". Clinical Anatomy. Wiley-Liss. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
  5. ^ Roach, Mary. "About Mary". Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  6. ^ a b c Roach, Mary. "Mary Roach". KQED. p. KQED Arts. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
  7. ^ Roach, Mary (28). "Mary Roach". Twitter. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  8. ^ "Hanover High School Wikipedia". Wikipedia. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  9. ^ Lundell Garver, Beth (23). "The Curious Charm of a Writer's Pad". Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  10. ^ "Sex Research, the Video". Slate V. 23. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  11. ^ Murphy, Joel (24). "Getting to Know Mary Roach". HoboTrashcan.
  12. ^ Birnbaum, Robert (1). "Mary Roach" (Audio/Transcription). The Morning News. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
  13. ^ Roach, Mary (May 1997). "Meteorite Hunters" (Print). Online Magazine: Discover Magazine. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  14. ^ Lipschultz, Michael. "Meteorite Studies: Terrestrial and extraterrestrial applications, 1997". Antarctic Journal. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  15. ^ a b Roach, Mary. "How to Win at Germ Warfare". slhspapbio. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  16. ^ a b Roach, Mary (June 1996). "The Bamboo Solution" (Magazine). Discover Magazine. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  17. ^ Roach, Mary. "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers". Retrieved 21 July 2012.
  18. ^ Pullman (12). "WSU News Center". WSU News Center. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
  19. ^ Roach, Mary. "Spook:Science Tackles the Afterlife". Retrieved 21 July 2012.
  20. ^ "One City One Book 2011". San Francisco Public Library. 2011. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  21. ^ Roach, Mary. "Packing for Mars". Retrieved 21 July 2012.
  22. ^ Chandonnet, Sarah (29). "Author Mary Roach to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award". Humanist Community Project At Harvard. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
  23. ^ McCarthy, Robynn Swoopy (24). "Packing for Mars" (Audio). Skepticality Podcast. Skeptic Magazine. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
  24. ^ Siegal, Peter (18). "Science Writer Mary Roach Plays Not My Job" (Audio/Transcript). NPR Radio. NPR. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
  25. ^ Savage, Adam. "Mary Roach in Conversation with Adam Savage". San Francisco Public Library. SFPL. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
  26. ^ Doughty, Bill (4). "Critical Curious Thinking: Mary Roach" (Blog). Navy Reads Blog. Retrieved 30 July 2012.

External links

Selected media coverage


2005Colbert ReportRoach on SpookStephen Colbert and Roach contact a spirit
2008Authors@GoogleRoach on Bonk
2008Los Angeles Public LibraryForaTVIn Conversation with Beth Lapides
2009TED Talks10 Things You Didn't Know About OrgasmRoach shares what she learned writing Bonk
August 2010The Daily ShowRoach on Packing for MarsJon Stewart and Roach discuss space shuttle toilets
August 2010Commonwealth Club of CaliforniaRoach on Packing for Mars"Journey Through Outer Space Without Leaving Earth"
November 2011San Francisco Public LibraryRoach in Conversation with Adam SavageOne City One Book author event, interviewed by Adam Savage


2003All Things ConsideredRoach on StiffNPR's Robert Siegel Interviews Roach on her first book
2010SkepticalityOn Packing for Mars and ScienceRoach on Skepticality podcast, the official podcast of Skeptic Magazine
2011The Morning News (online magazine)On Packing for MarsInterviewed by Robert Birnbaum on PFM and other topics
2011Star Talk Radio"Spooky Science"Interviewed by Neil deGrasse Tyson w/guests Phil Plait and Joe Nickell
2012QUITitGeneral InterviewRoach is interviewed by Brian Thompson at Maximum Fun's Maxfuncon
VariousRadiolabVarious InterviewsThree different podcast interviews w/Roach


1997-2001SalonVarious topics
2000-2001Inc. MagazineOn tech gadgets
2010Boing BoingVarious topics
2001-2012Outside MagazineVarious topics
VariousBylinerComprehensive Article List