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Author Talk

We sat down with San Francisco's Julian Guthrie to discuss her new book.

MM: What made you want to further explore/share Peter Diamandis’ true story?

JG: First, I loved Peter as a character, starting with him as a boy who stayed up late to watch Apollo 11 land on the Moon and stashed explosives in his closets so he could make his own rocket engines. Later, he found inspiration for something thoroughly modern: a $10 million prize (known as the XPRIZE) for private spaceflight. In launching his space prize, Peter attracted ragtag teams from across the globe who wanted to do what only the world’s largest governments had done before — build and fly a manned rocket to the start of space.

MM: You’re a journalist first — did this start as a long-form piece or did you always know it would be a book? What was your process?

JG: This started out as a front-page profile I did for the San Francisco Chronicle. It was a story about Peter and the XPRIZE Foundation, which uses incentive competitions to try to solve big problems. The more I talked to Peter, the more interested I was in the very first ever XPRIZE, the space prize. Peter entrusted me with 20 years’ worth of his personal journals, which were both heart-wrenching and wonderful. I interviewed more than 100 people, from Elon Musk and video game legend John Carmack (he’s now CTO of Oculus Rift) to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. I went flying with one of the real heroes of the book, Mike Melvill, the world’s first commercial astronaut. I read a ton of books, enlisted technical advisers, and lived and breathed this material.

MM: What is it about innovators like Peter Diamandis and Larry Ellison (who starred in Guthrie’s The Billionaire and the Mechanic) that you believe captivate both you and your readers?

JG: I just look for a great narrative and gravitate to David-versus-Goliath struggles. Peter Diamandis and Larry Ellison are just uniquely interesting human beings, and they happen to share a healthy disdain for the status quo.

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