Michael Crichton was born in Chicago on October 23, 1942, the oldest of four children. His father was a journalist, and his mother exposed the family to a range of cultural activities, such as attending plays and visiting museums. Crichton started writing at a young age, creating skits for school as early as the third grade. He wrote for his high school newspaper, the local community paper, and had his articles published in the New York Times travel section when he was just 14 years old. Crichton's interest in travel continued throughout his life and is colorfully preserved in his 1988 memoir, titled Travels.
Crichton began attending Harvard College in 1960, where he studied anthropology and wrote for the college newspaper. He always wanted to be a writer but wasn't sure he could make a living at it, so he decided to become a doctor instead. Enrolling in Harvard Medical School, Crichton paid his tuition by writing several pulpy thrillers under the pen name John Lange—a combination of his real first name and the last name of Andrew Lange, an early-20th-century Scottish author and collector of fairy tales. One of Crichton's thrillers, The Venom Business (1969), unfolds in a jungle setting and revolves around the smuggling of poisonous reptiles, suggesting that Crichton's interest in exotic locations and lethal creatures had deep roots. While he was still a medical student, Crichton also published The Andromeda Strain (1969)—his first novel under his own name. This science fiction techno-thriller explores a number of subjects—rare organisms, scientific inquiries, exotic settings—that Crichton would further develop in novels such as Jurassic Park. After graduating in 1969, Crichton studied public policy in his capacity as a postdoctoral fellow, stationed at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, CA. He also taught anthropology at Cambridge University in England, and composition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Following the success of The Andromeda Strain—first as a book and then as a film—Crichton wrote and directed the 1973 film Westworld about a theme park with robots that go wild. Westworld pioneered the use of computer-generated special effects, and Crichton's contribution to the use of computers in film was recognized in 1995 when he won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement.
For his 1990 classic, Jurassic Park, Crichton claims he drew inspiration from works such as Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912). In Doyle's novel, explorers rediscover dinosaurs still living on Earth, tucked away on a forgotten island. In many ways Jurassic Park is a modern interpretation of Doyle's idea. The author said expanding an idea into a novel is a time-consuming process, and that it took about 10 years for him to develop the novel. Based on several interviews, he first created the idea as a screenplay; at the time, the story was about a graduate student creating a pterodactyl in a lab. He eventually linked this premise with ideas he'd explored before: an amusement park (which he used in Westworld) and an island resort, which he used in Drug of Choice (1970).
In 1994 Crichton created the hit television series ER, which ran for 15 years and was widely lauded by many for its technical accuracy. In 2002, to honor Crichton's work on Jurassic Park and its 1995 sequel, The Lost World, the Chinese Academy of Sciences christened a new dinosaur genus with the name Crichtonsaurus. Crichton died in Los Angeles on November 4, 2008, after a lengthy battle with cancer.