Writing is my second career, but it was my first love. As a kid, all I wanted to be was a writer. I wrote “books” that my mother typed up when I was as young as five. Clearly I had the writing bug at a young age.
Nevertheless, my academic career took a different direction. I loved mathematics too, and earned a doctorate from Princeton. I taught math for six years at Duke University and seven years at Kenyon College in Ohio. I enjoyed it, but I have to say I never felt that teaching was my true calling.
When I was denied tenure at Kenyon (see the story here), it was both a wake-up call and a chance to get things right. The most valuable advice I received was: “Think of what you wanted to do when you were a child, and try to make that happen.” That’s when I found out about the Science Communication Program at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle clicked together. I could be a writer, as I had always wanted to be, and still make use of my knowledge of math and science. At UCSC I learned about journalism and made the contacts I needed to hit the ground running in my new career.
More than twenty years later, I’m still making a living as a freelance writer, and enjoying every moment of it! Writing has taken me places I never expected: to Cape Canaveral to watch a satellite launch, to Norway to interview an oil company vice president, and even to my own back yard — Stanford — to watch a Rubik’s Cube competition. Even better, it is a constant education; I tell people that my job is to get free lessons from the smartest people in the world (and then write about them).
Although writing articles is my bread and butter (as it is for most freelancers), perhaps my greatest satisfaction comes from writing books, because they have a permanence that articles lack. So it was the realization of a personal dream when John Wiley & Sons published my first book for a popular audience, called The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be, in 2003. For my second book, The Universe in Zero Words, I returned to the (for me) more familiar ground of mathematics, giving a personal view of what I consider to be the 24 greatest equations in history. And in the spring of 2018, Basic Books will publish The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect, which I co-authored with Judea Pearl. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring the ideas of a great computer scientist and a great philosopher to the public’s attention.
Want to read more about me? Why?? (Just kidding!) Click on through to:
- The Tenure Chase Papers (The unexpectedly interesting story of how I was denied tenure at Kenyon. According to www.phds.org, this is “required reading for all academics and would-be academics.”)
- The Story of The Big Splat
- The Story of The Universe in Zero Words
- Prizes and Other Recognition (This page is guaranteed to bring yawns to everyone but me and my mother.)
- Everything else you wanted to know about Dana Mackenzie. (Interests, hobbies, family, exclusive video footage of my cat Max.)