John Kelly

John Kelly Laura Pedrick

John Kelly is the author of nine books about science, medicine, and human behavior, including the critically acclaimed The Great Mortality and Three on the Edge. He lives in New York City and Sandisfield, Massachusetts.


  • John Kelly Laura Pedrick

Q & A

Where are you from?
Boston MA

Who are your favorite writers?
Max Hastings, David McCullough, Anthony Powell, Richard Yates, John Lucas

Which book/books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I admired Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Max Hasting's Armaggedon

What are your hobbies and outside interests?
Reading (and watching, in documentaries) European history and good independent films. Long walks in the country.

What is the single best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
"Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite."

What is the question most commonly asked by your readers? What is the answer?
"Why are you so drawn to catstrophe?" (My answer: " I find it compelling to see how human beings behave in extreme situations. And these situations have an inherent drama unvailable in the more mundane corners of life.")

What inspired you to write your first book?
I'd been a medical journalist (solid, family-bill-paying work), though always had dreamed of writing European history. An offer came through an agent to co-write a book on a field that was big in Europe: prenatal psychology. The book ultimately became one of the biggest internationally-selling parenting books of the day. So I guess, in retrospect, you could call it a compromise between my day-job and my aspirations.

Where do you write?
In the city: Since our son has long left home (he's married), I have taken over the dining table (writing European historical disaster takes a lot of books and papers). In our country house (c. 1772), I have a cozy office upstairs. I submit to the tyranny of understanding the complex Irish Poor Law system and grain economics in room once slept in by some of Massachusetts's first citizens to have escaped the tyranny of British colonialism.



A comprehensive history of disease and pestilence, told from the point of view of the bugs and pests that cause them. The book features case histories of specific epidemics, ‘eyewitness’...


Every grownup knows that there is one universal topic that fascinates children without exception: poop and pee. But what they may not know is that throughout history, the products of our...


A magisterial account of the worst disasters to strike humankind—the Great Irish Potato Famine—conveyed as lyrical narrative history from the acclaimed author of The Great...