The Andromeda Strain, 1969
Crichton’s first novel (at least under his real name; he wrote pulpy thrillers in the 1960s under pseudonyms) set the narrative formula he’d return to over and over again: A group of crackerjack experts is assembled in a secret location to solve a shocking scientific enigma. In this case, it’s a deadly virus that falls to earth in a renegade spy satellite. Best quote: ”We’ve faced up to quite a problem here. How to disinfect the human body — one of the dirtiest things in the known universe — without killing the person at the same time.”
Jurassic Park, 1990
Years before real scientists cloned Dolly the sheep, Crichton was cloning velociraptors in the pages of his biggest best-seller ever. The plot is classic MC: Blood in a prehistoric mosquito preserved in amber is extracted and used to genetically manufacture dinosaurs. All goes well until chaos theory gums up the works. The book — and Steven Spielberg’s big-screen adaptation — were so hugely popular, Crichton did something he’d never done before: he wrote a sequel, The Lost World.
Rising Sun, 1992
A murdered blonde on the conference-room table of the Nakamoto Corporation kicks off what appears to be a standard-issue detective yarn. But what you’re really reading is a timely (for 1992) examination of Japanese-American relations, with a warning about the dangers of foreign investment in U.S. technology. It was made into a 1993 film with Wesley Snipes and Sean Connery.
Crichton took three hot-button topics of the 1990s — the technology boom, corporate mergers, and sexual harassment — and bound them up into a twisty tale about a computer software executive in Seattle accused of harassing a former girlfriend in the company. Crichton took a lot of heat for his politically incorrect approach to the material — the guy was innocent, the ex-girlfriend the guilty one! — but Hollywood came calling anyway, and it was made into a movie with Michael Douglas and Demi Moore.
State of Fear, 2004
Here’s one Hollywood probably won’t be making anytime soon. Crichton’s most controversial novel is about a group of ”eco-terrorists” who plan to trigger environmental disasters (like a tsunami on the California coast) to further their evil global-warming agenda. Not surprisingly, the novel wasn’t wildly popular with the Sierra Club crowd. But Crichton’s politics don’t get in the way of what’s still a pretty terrific read.