Ted Conover doesn't just write about illegal immigration, prison guards, railroad hobos and the filthy rich; he goes out there and lives the life, breaking the law and his body, pushing himself to the limits in order to really understand a topic and explain it to his readers.
Even though he went to Amherst, my college's rival institution, I've always admired Mr. Conover for both his writing and his hard-core approach to participatory journalism. This is a guy who decided to write his senior thesis about American hobos, took a year off to ride the rails and scrounge loose change for jugs of wine in riverside campground jungles, turned the thesis into a book, and then switched gears entirely, sneaking into celebrity parties in Aspen, Colorado, a town where the billionaires are crowding out the millionaires - and wrote a book about that too. Whether he's writing about African truck drivers, Mexican immigrants or John Denver, Conover gets inside people's lives and tells their whole stories, giving his subjects a dignity and humanity often lost between the cracks of modern deadline journalism.
Conover's latest effort is an account of his stint as a prison guard in New York's Sing Sing prison, an experience that left him exhausted, haunted and sad. The book itself is an intensely personal tour de force combined with the cold hard facts of top-notch investigative journalism - it's hard to imagine anyone going deeper or getting closer than Conover. Read his stuff.
Ted Conover's Website