"Valley on the Verge"

American Way / January 2016

What strikes you first are the red-pink sunsets, the vast open spaces, the jagged mountains, the beautifully twisted saguaro cactuses, the overwhelmingly brilliant light.

Ever since it was founded in the 1860s, Phoenix has faced the prospect of being permanently overshadowed by its natural surroundings. Here, after all, was a hot and dusty settlement whose developers long maintained a steadfast commitment to selling the concept of suburban expansion. “Forget the city,” they seemed to be saying. “Choose cheap land, open space, easy living.”




"Finland's Sauna Obsession"

National Geographic Traveler / November 2015

On a wintry day in Kallio, a bohemian neighborhood in Helsinki, a group of Finns huddle outside on wooden benches, clad only in towels, steam rising from their bodies, drinking beer, relaxed. This is the conclusion of their ritual at Kotiharjun Sauna, a wood-heated sauna built in 1928 for local factory workers.

Here and everywhere in Finland, Finns take their sauna experience seriously.



"When Lee Harvey Oswald Shot the President, His Mother Tried to Take Center Stage"

Smithsonian Magazine online: November 2014

On November 25, 1963, the nation’s gaze was transfixed by the horse-drawn caisson and final burial of President John F. Kennedy. But in the shadow of this grim but stirring procession—on that same Monday—Lee Harvey Oswald was quietly buried in Fort Worth, Texas.

Oswald’s wife Marina, two daughters, brother Robert and mother Marguerite were the only mourners. The public was prohibited from Rose Hill Cemetery, and no friends or other relatives showed up. To avoid argument, the gravediggers were told they were digging a hole for “William Bobo.”



"Object of Interest: Rube Goldberg Machines"

July 19, 2013, The New Yorker online

In 1942, at the New York mansion of the American industrialist John Pierpont Morgan, crowds filed past a large mural titled “Automatic Hitler-Kicking Machine,” which depicted a complex and satisfying contraption involving a cat, a mouse, a stripteaser, and the Führer. It was the first solo exhibition of the inventor and cartoonist Reuben Lucius “Rube” Goldberg, who was, by then, already famous for designing overly complicated machines that fixed everyday problems with wit and madness. A decade earlier, in 1931, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary had listed “Rube Goldberg” as an adjective, defining it as “accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply.”



"The Gunman and His Mother"

Originally released November 2013, updated edition November 2023

This was his moment, the fulfillment of the Grand Plan. He had worked it out in his head: this would be his new beginning, a world where he could not be harmed, where workers were not treated like slaves, where there was no mother to bother him, and he could become the historical figure he knew he was. He was only twenty, a boy, a scared and lonely one, in fact, who barely left his hotel room upon landing in the capital of the Soviet Union.



"Adrift: Charting Our Course Back to a Great Nation"

A brief excerpt (Prometheus Books, July 2011)

It was a tiny speck in the black night sky, 560 miles from earth and traveling at a speed of 18,000 miles an hour. Sputnik 1, a shiny aluminum sphere about twice the size of a basketball and weighing just 184 pounds, rocketed into space on October 4, 1957. Launched by the Soviets, the silver satellite with four radio antennae ushered in the Space Age with a simple message: beep,beep, beep.



"Lee Harvey Oswald's New York City Life Was Brief and Troubled"

The New Republic, November 2013

It was a happy moment when twelve-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald and his half-brother, John Edward Pic, met up in the streets of New York in 1952. Born in New Orleans two months after his father died, Lee hadn't seen John in the two years since the latter left to join the Coast Guard. "I was real glad to see him and he was real glad to see me," recalled John, who was seven years older. "We were real good friends."





"China's Soft Underbelly"

Forward Magazine, May/June 2013

For three months, 26-year-old Fan Meng pushed his wheelchair-bound mother nearly 3,500 kilometers from Beijing to Xishuangbanna in Yunnan province to fulfill her long-held dream of visiting the idyllic travel destination. This epic journey, widely covered last year by the Chinese media, is an inspiring tale that harked back six centuries to the beloved folk classic, The 24 Paragons of Filial Piety. Among its fables: The son who strangles a tiger to save his father and the 8-year-old who lets a swarm of mosquitoes bite him to protect his parents.




"Russia's Hermitage Museum, Reinvented"

Four Seasons Magazine, Dec. 2012-Feb. 2013

In St. Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum, it's easy to drift into a dreamscape, to be overtaken by this mysterious palace of bygone eras, once home to Catherine the Great, Alexander I and Russia's last tsar, Nicholas II. Founded by Catherine in 1764 and first made public in 1852, this imperial museum is a singular expression of Baroque architecture and design, a gilded showcase of nearly incomprehensible wealth, beauty and artistic achievement.



"Moscow's Literary Life"

Four Seasons Magazine, March 2012

He was the most famous man in Russia, the author of War and Peace, whose ornate life traversed a complex path from lustful aristocrat to spiritual leader. By 1882, the last thing 54-year-old Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy wanted was to live in Moscow and join his wife Sonya at fancy soirees. In a capital city defined by its grand scale and lively society, Tolstoy sought simplicity and quiet.



"Arizona's Otherworldly Appeal"

American Way cover story, Nov. 15, 2010

As I gaze in the distance, a hot blast of wind and dust whips across my face, clouding my vision. My eyes tear up as I strain to see. What is that scrawny creature tucked into the shadow? The blistering desert sun doesn’t help. I move closer, then watch a gangly coyote emerge from the underbelly of an airplane fuselage and amble away. For just a moment, this seems like his natural habitat. A typical desert scene. Until I look around and regain my senses.



"Heart & Soul"

Four Seasons Magazine, 2009

Greg Mortenson married his wife six days after they met. He entrusted his fate to warring tribal leaders in Afghanistan, men who would be shooting at each other if he were not there. He has witnessed extreme poverty and fierce brutality, yet considers himself an eternal optimist and believes that paradise is on Earth.



"Man with a Mallet"

American Way Magazine, 2009

When Jerry Stark was 28, he had been working on the General Motors assembly line in Kansas City for four years. The job was not resembling anything like a long-term plan, and Stark was unhappy. "I had no desire to work on the assembly line the rest of my life," he says. "It was just a job. I wanted something different." 



"Moscow in Motion"

The Ritz-Carlton Magazine, 2007

Nearing midnight, the city blanketed in snow, I barrel through the dark streets of Moscow in a brand-new black Mercedes, the passenger of a wealthy Russian businessman determined to show me the high-flying shape of post-Soviet life. It’s December 1992. “I used to be followed by the KGB,” he says. “Now 12 of them work for me.” He laughs proudly, and hands me his new cell phone. “Go ahead, call your fiancée in Finland.” As I punch in the number, a blizzard of white swirling around us, I make out the glow of a red star above the Kremlin.



"London Rising"

The Ritz-Carlton Magazine, 2007

Twenty years ago, I took my chance to live and work in London. Armed with a precious year-long research pass to the British Library, I visited its main Reading Room, housed inside the British Museum, nearly every day. This was heaven for a writer: I would enter the Reading Room’s massive, high-domed circular space lined with books, hear the hushed sounds of movement, breathe in the sweet and musty smells of the room’s long-stored tomes, and let a magnificent rush of history wash over me.



"Helsinki Postcard: The Thaw"

The New Republic, 1995

When Mats Dummel fell, there was a big noise in Finland. Headlines, debate, a court verdict of high treason. He had passed letters from Denmark to a Russian 'friend,' and was found guily in 1982 of spying for the Soviets. He lost his TV reporting job, his family, his apartment. He went to prison in 1984 for four months. He didn't know what hit him.



"A Tour of Great Literary Homes"

The Ritz-Carlton Magazine, 2009

Whimsically idiosyncratic, Mark Twain’s 19-room red brick Victorian mansion was, by the author’s own account, the site of his happiest and most productive years. Completed in 1874 and designed for Twain, wife Livy and their three daughters, the house is topped by asymmetrical chimneys, gables and  towers. Much like the author’s writing, it is experimental and modern, both outside and in. Among its progressive features: seven bathrooms with flush toilets and one of the first telephones installed in a private home.



Ireland chapter from Adrift