I taught philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis for forty years. I have a reputation for innovative work in the history of Early Modern Philosophy, particularly on Descartes and Cartesianism, and for pioneering work in environmental ethics and the philosophy of geology. All those years, I have been writing and publishing novels and trade nonfiction. I am married to Patty Jo Watson, who also taught at Washington University and is a distinguished archeologist. We have one child, Anna Watson, who like her parents, is a writer.
I have been exploring caves in the Mammoth Cave region of Kentucky for over fifty years. The Mammoth Cave System is now more than 365 miles long, and will probably reach 500 miles.
THE LONGEST CAVE (written with Roger W. Brucker, published in 1976 by Alfred A. Knopf) has never been out of print. Roger and I fancy that it never will be out of print as long as there are people who read adventure books.
My novels and, as far as that goes, all my books, are grounded in obsessions. UNDER PLOWMAN'S FLOOR is about caving; THE RUNNER running; and NIAGARA the passion to do something no one else has ever done: to be the first to walk across Niagara Falls on a high wire, and the first to go over the Falls in a barrel. These are philosophical novels, but they are absolutely non-didactic.
The translation of NIAGARA into French led to my being invited to the Saint-Malo Etonnants Voyageurs Festival International du Livre in 1997, where an award was given to its French translator, Jacques Chabert. That was year the Montana writers were invited to the festival, and I rode on the train from Paris to Saint-Malo in a seat beside William Kittredge, who told me what a fine place Missoula, Montana is for writers. The result of that conversation is that Pat and I now live and write in a passive solar earth house bordering the Lolo National Forest on a mountain slope above Missoula.
THE PHILOSOPHER'S DIET: HOW TO LOSE WEIGHT AND CHANGE THE WORLD has been translated into nine languages. Its seven chapters are: Fat, Food, Roughage, Running, Sex, How to Live, and How to Die. Never mind philosophy books published by university presses (David R. Godine in Boston keeps this one in print), this is how philosophy should be written: for everyone.
Besides philosophy, I have a degree in geology, with specialization in the paleoclimatology of 10,000 years ago, at which time agriculture was first invented on the Hilly Flanks of the Fertile Crescent above the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. The origin of agriculture is a special field of my wife, and I got the degree so I could go on expeditions with her.
Then Pat went with me for many years while I followed Descartes, often on foot, everywhere he had gone in Europe. The result, COGITO ERGO SUM: THE LIFE OF RENE DESCARTES (another book published by David R. Godine), is based on the first extensive and new library and field work done on Descartes's life since 1920. As I describe Descartes's life, I also tell about our adventures following him around Europe. The New York Public Library chose COGITO as one of "25 Books to Remember from 2002."
William H. Gass has characterized my works as genre-busters because in them I often treat serious philosophical issues in unconventional ways.