James R. Chiles, 57, has been writing about science and history since 1979. He is a member of Invention & Technology Magazine's editorial advisory board. He has published features and columns in publications including Smithsonian, Aviation Week, The Boston Globe, Invention&Technology, Audubon, Harvard, New York Daily News, New York Post, Air&Space, Popular Science, Texas Monthly, Mechanical Engineering, and Science Digest. After he attended the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course in 1983, his first national assignment the following year, for Smithsonian, had him interviewing structural engineers to describe how three great American monuments would fare if abandoned by civilization. One was New York’s World Trade Center.
Since then his writing has taken him into the wreckage of the Trade Center, into a nitroglycerin factory, on a helicopter during maintenance of a live, high-voltage power line in Pennsylvania, into remote areas of Alaska’s North Slope, and on a firefighter training mission to extinguish a burning propane tank.
Chiles was born in Springfield, Missouri, in 1955. He has worked in construction, logging, and mining. He completed a 3,200-mile bicycle trip in 1976 with his brothers and four friends. He graduated with honors from Harvard College (1977) and the University of Texas Law School (1981). After working in Fairbanks, Alaska, for two years, he attended the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course in 1983. He is married and lives in Minnesota.
HarperCollins published his first book in 2001, Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology. Favorable reviews or references to the book have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Civil Engineering, Science, Engineering News Record, Science News, The Boston Globe, American Scientist, Dallas Morning News, and Mechanical Engineering. He discussed his book on National Public Radio, CNBC-TV, Coast to Coast AM, c/net, and Voice of America. Inviting Disaster was a “Best of 2001” selection on Amazon.com. The following year Chiles was the featured commentator for a History Channel television series based on his book, titled Inviting Disaster. Chiles subsequently has appeared in History Channel programs or series including Katrina: American Catastrophe,Engineering Disasters, Life After People, Wild West Tech, and Megadisasters. He has also appeared on National Geographic’s Seconds from Disaster series. He appeared in the History Channel special Titanic at 100: Mystery Solved, broadcast internationally on April 15, 2012.
Chiles continues to consult with news media on disasters in the news, and blogs at Disaster-Wise.
Chiles has given safety-focused lectures at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center; the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors; the Mayo Clinic; General Electric Energy Systems; NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; Pacific Gas & Electric; Amec Engineering; the U.S. Chemical Safety Board; the National Society of Professional Engineers; the U.S. Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board; the University of Minnesota's aerospace engineering department; Constellation Energy; the Paper, Allied & Chemical Employees Union; Lockheed Martin Space Division; the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations; the Texas Chemical Council; the Association of Minnesota Emergency Managers, and the American Society of Safety Engineers.
Chiles' second nonfiction book, in softcover from the Bantam Dell Division of Random House, is The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, The Story of the Helicopter. Scientific American named The God Machine as a holiday book pick and Library Journal named it as one of the best science books of 2007. It was favorably reviewed in Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.
"The Astronaut Question," Air&Space/Smithsonian, September 2012 "Titanics of Tomorrow," New York Post, April 15, 2012 "Just the Thing for Disturbing the Peace," Air&Space/Smithsonian, January 2012 "Corporate Amnesia," The Bulletin of the National Board, Winter 2012 "Red Flags and Telltales," The Bulletin of the National Board, Fall 2011 "Root Cause Analysis for the Rest of Us," The Bulletin of the National Board, Winter 2011 "Miracle on 42nd Street," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Winter 2011 (Grand Central Terminal construction) "The Shovel that Helped Build America," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Spring 2010 "Build-it-Yourself Helicopters," Air&Space/Smithsonian, August 2010 "HindenPunk," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Winter 2010 "Remotely Operated Vehicles Come of Age," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Summer 2010
"Spanning the Ages," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Fall 2009
"Hot Rod Helicopters," Air&Space/Smithsonian, September 2009
"Heavy Rescue," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Summer 2009
"From Bazookas to RPGs," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Spring 2009
"The Other Renewable Energy," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Winter 2009
"One More Second," Air&Space/Smithsonian, December 2008 "A Third Industrial Revolution Coming?" American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Summer 2008 "Air America's Hush-Hush Helicopter," Air&Space/Smithsonian, February 2008 The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, The Story of the Helicopter (Bantam Dell, 2007) "I Dream of Choppers," The Boston Globe, November 18, 2007 "Ring of Fire," Air&Space/Smithsonian, June-July 2005 "A Catch in Time," Mechanical Engineering, March 2004 "When CO2 Strikes," Popular Science, August 2003 "A Tragic Mix of Oil and Water," Popular Science, January 2004 "Here is the church, here is the -- Watch out! " Popular Science, June 2003 "U.S. Flirts with Runway Disaster," Aviation Week & Space Technology, November 5, 2001 Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001) "Helluva Catch," Air&Space/Smithsonian, August-September 2004 "Stand By Me," Engineering Times, November 2001 "Getting in Deep," Smithsonian, November 2001 "High Tension," Air&Space/Smithsonian, August-September 2004 "Second Wind," Smithsonian, March 2000 "The Spirit of Knob Noster," Air&Space/Smithsonian, Oct-Nov 1999 "Good Days at Black Rock," Smithsonian, April 1999 "Casting a High-Tech Net For Space Trash," Smithsonian, January 1999 "Back on the Line," Air&Space/Smithsonian, October-November 1998 "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum," Smithsonian, July 1998 "We got us some sky today, boy!," Smithsonian, July 1997 "Bang! went the doors of every bank in America," Smithsonian, April 1997 "Out From the Shadow," Air&Space/Smithsonian, May 1996 "How the great war on war surplus got won - or lost," Smithsonian, December 1995 "Congress couldn't have been this bad, or could it?" Smithsonian, November 1995 "Remember, Jimmy, stay away from the bottom of the shaft," Smithsonian, July 1994 "Now that everything's portable, getting around can really be a drag," Smithsonian, January 1994 "It's not easy going eye to eye with today's newfangled fires," Smithsonian, May 1993 "Games Two Year Olds Love, " Parents, April 1993 "Call me Great or Wise, just don't call me Disorganized," Smithsonian, February 1993 "Goodbye telephone," Smithsonian, February 1992 "There are new signs of energy out in the Kansas oil patch," Smithsonian, March 1991 "Bachelor Living and the Art of Messismo," Smithsonian, Feb. 1991 "County seats were a burning issue in the Wild West," Smithsonian, March 1990 "At science fairs, there's not much playing around," Smithsonian, September 1990 "At air traffic control school, it helps to memorize in your sleep," Smithsonian, January 1990 "Tomorrow's Energy Today," Audubon, January 1990 "A Brave New Marketplace," Texas Lawyer, March 1989 "Flying cars were a dream that never got off the ground," Smithsonian, February 1989 "How we got ready for a war that was never fought," Smithsonian, December 1988 "Flying on a wing and a prayer, Voyager heads for a last rendezvous," Smithsonian, September 1988 "The Ships that Broke Hitler's Blockade," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Winter 1988 "The Cable Under the Sea," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Fall 1987 "Spindletop," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Summer 1987 "Breaking codes was this couple's lifetime career," Smithsonian, June 1987 "Titanium: for when you care enough to use the very best," Smithsonian, May 1987 "The Road to Radar," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Spring 1987 "NASA's giant research balloons are out of sight," Smithsonian, January 1987 "Standing up to Earthquakes," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Fall 1986 "Anything can be counterfeited, and these days, almost everything is," Smithsonian, July 1986 "When pilots' worst nightmares come true, in simulators," Smithsonian, June 1986 "One Glorious Ham," Harvard Magazine, November-December 1985 "Learning from the Big Blackouts," American Heritage of Invention and Technology, Fall 1985 "The Great American Junkyard: going from wrecks to riches," Smithsonian, March 1985 "Age-old battle to keep safes safe from 'creepers, soup men and yeggs,'" Smithsonian, July 1984 "Learning to Live with Plutonium," Science Digest, July 1984 "Engineers vs. the eons, or How long will our monuments last?" Smithsonian, March 1984 "Alaska Statehood Commission fades from scene with grace," Anchorage (AK) Daily News, February 1983 "Movers and Shakers," Texas Monthly, April 1981 "Who Owns Texas?" Texas Monthly, June 1980 "Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven . . .," Texas Monthly, January 1980