As I do more and more press interviews for the book, I'm starting to get requests for a more personal history. My potted professional background is here, but it's pretty dry. My family history, fortunately, is not. Here are five things about my background that may or may not have made me what I am today.
- My great-grandfather, Jo Labadie, helped found the American anarchist movment in the late 1800s (that's him at right). His story is told in All-American Anarchist, a biography by his granddaughter, my mother. His writings and library became the foundation of the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan, which is now a major collection of radical literature, from civil liberties to sexual freedom. It's also the repository for letters to and from Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, while he is in prison.
- My grandfather, Fred Hauser, invented the automatic sprinkler system, the source of a very modest family fortune (here's a later patent; the online patent database only starts in 1976). I spent some blissful summers with him in his workshop in Los Angeles, where we would make a two-stroke engine out of solid blocks of steel and crude castings. Metal lathes are amazing, and the crunchy feel of steel curlicues and shavings underfoot at the end of a good day of machining is something I'll never forget.
- My father, Jim Anderson, was a Wisconsin telegraph operator's son who just happened to luck out in the draft and get an assignment to work on the Army newspaper in La Rochelle, France during the Korean War (I know, it's unbelievable). He stayed in Europe after the war, ending up working for a newspaper in Berlin at the height of the Cold War and, very John le Carré-like, hanging out with Eastern Bloc "diplomats". In 1960, when CIA U2 pilot Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union, those friendships paid off when he was one of a small handful of western reporters allowed in to cover the trial. It put him in the international spotlight, and led to a distinguished career in journalism that still continues today, albeit from semi-retirement.
- I was born in London in 1961 and had a cute British accent until we moved to the US when I was five. I've still got dual citizenship, which came in handy when I lived in Hong Kong in the 1990s and needed to enter mainland China regularly without using my US passport, which had a dreaded "journalist" stamp in it. (People may tell you that ethnic minorities and Falun Gong practitioners are the most persecuted people in China, but journalists are certainly up there).
- Finally, there's that whole punk/new wave band thing. Yes, I really did fail out of college, work as a messenger and otherwise spend a good chunk of my twenties working hard at being a slacker. But I eventually turned the corner, went back to university and did the proper hardcore physics thing, which is where my professional bio above begins.