Two years after the publication of The Accidental Billionaires. The Founding of Facebook. A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal (2009), which inspired the Oscar-winning film The Social Network (2010), author Ben Mezrich has released another true-life caper involving geeks gone wild. Sex on the Moon. The Amazing Story of the Most Audacious Heist in History (Doubleday, July 2011) details the whiz kids who dared to steal NASA’s moon rocks. The nonfiction book focuses on Thad Roberts, who in 2003 and at the age of 26, received an eight-year prison sentence for the galactic crime.
Unlike his experience in researching The Accidental Billionaires, this time Mezrich had full access to his main character, who has since been released from prison. A New York Times best-selling author, Mezrich has penned other adrenaline-fueled books, including Bringing Down the House (which became the film 21) and The Ugly Americans. Ben Mezrich talked about his latest book at the Bryant Park Reading Room on Wednesday, July 13, 2011.
NYC ARTS: What have you learned about the nature of risk-taking through the people you’ve profiled in your books?
Ben: I think we’ve all got a capacity for risk-taking. It’s just a question of triggers that set things in motion. Most of the people I write about are geeky, brilliant young people who do the things they do to try and show people what they can do—to make money, to change the world, often to meet girls. Thad Roberts, from my newest story, did something crazy and stupid out of love—but also because he had this need to be a part of something risky and wild and cool.
NYC ARTS: One can get a big impression of Thad Roberts, the subject of Sex on the Moon, on his website, Einsteinsintuition.com where he posts ambitious lists of "Things Done" and "Things to Do," and pitches a draft of his unsigned book on a theory of quantum physics, which he wrote while in prison. Given that he did not have the recognition or wealth that some of your other subjects possessed well before they received more exposure through your books, how do you think Sex on the Moon and the upcoming film might affect Mr. Roberts’ life?
Ben: That’s a good question. Sometimes I fear for the people I write about, because you never know how much fame or infamy one is going to get from a book like this. Thad is a brilliant guy, who did something foolish, who paid the price. It’s really up to him what he does with the notoriety he’ll get from Sex On The Moon. I hope he finishes his PhD, becomes a great scientist, changes the world. He’s smart enough to do great things, it’s just a matter of controlling the more impulsive side of his personality.
NYC ARTS: On July 13 you discussed Sex on the Moon at Bryant Park’s free Word for Word series, directly behind the hallowed New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. If you could spend the day at this particular research library, what would you be looking up?
Ben: Wow, I love the idea of doing an event by the Library. I’ve spent a lot of time walking past that place, first as a struggling writer, now as a frequent visitor to the area. I guess right now I’d be looking up NASA, to make sure I got everything right! I’m not sure what I’m writing next, so I don’t know what I’ll be researching a few months from now.
NYC ARTS: If you could have a discussion about writing or storytelling with any other living author or director, who would it be, and what would you want to talk about?
Ben: I think Sebastian Junger is fascinating, and I think he takes journalism to an entirely new level. I’d definitely talk to him. And of course director David Fincher. I’d love to get together with him again now that he’s in the midst of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, to see how it differs from our time on The Social Network. He’s a true genius.
NYC ARTS: Is there any New York story—past, current or developing—that you’d think you’d enjoy giving the Mezrich treatment?
Ben: There are a ton of New York stories to tell. I’ve always thought about the idea of doing a story about a foreign royal in New York—some prince or princess living it up in the big city. I think that would be cool. Wall Street has dozens of stories, but there are some great writers already covering so much of that. I’d need to find some untold Wall Street thing, some heist nobody ever heard of. I don’t know, my eyes are always open!