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John Boykin

photo of John Boykin

My first career was as a writer and editor at Stanford Magazine, Wadsworth Publishing (college textbooks), and Krames (health information).

I have written fiction and nonfiction books, 35 magazine articles, speeches, video scripts, a screenplay, and 14 booklets that doctors hand to their patients. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people, created countless presentations, and edited a hundred magazine articles and two dozen books. I am drawn to a wide diversity of topics. 

I have kept up my writing throughout my second career as a designer, mostly of web sites. Clients have included the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Bank of America, Walmart, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, HP, and Blue Shield of California.


One Brief Miracle: The Diplomat, the Zealot, and the Wild Blundering Siege

Foreword by former Secretary of State George Shultz

The definitive behind-closed-doors account of American diplomat Philip Habib’s mission to stop the 1982 Israeli siege of Beirut. Based on 150+ hours of interviews with participants and 10,000+ pages of declassified documents.

Winner of the American Academy of Diplomacy book award under its original hardback title, Cursed is the Peacemaker. Video of book award acceptance speech. Selection of the Diplomats and Diplomacy Book Series.

Excerpt: The medal     Sample chapter: The War that Got Away     Sample chapter: Playing on Two Ropes     More

Traveler’s French Cheat Sheet

This is a quick crutch for English-speaking travelers with no time to learn any French. The same info is available in both paperback and mobile app form.

Unlike old-fashioned phrasebooks (which are miniature textbooks), this is uniquely designed to suit the minute-by-minute needs of an English-speaking traveler on the ground in France. It is in glossary form. 

Sample listings & Getting By in French     More info



What if the US had to write a whole new Constitution — today? Would we implode, or be forced to live up to our ideals?

“The idea is phenomenal, and the story is fascinating.” —Ambassador Thomas J. Miller, former US ambassador to Greece 

“John Boykin imagines the complete collapse of America’s constitutional system. With a taut narrative and eye for political nuance, he takes the reader on a nail-biting odyssey to an inspired, unexpected solution.” Susan Wels, best-selling author of An Assassin in Utopia   

Get synopsis or advance reader copy        Sample chapters 1-3         More info       Buy on Amazon

photo of wave crashing against a lighthouse

In 1872, an ambitious young engineer tries to build a lighthouse in an impossible location. He is way out of his depth. His reason for trying is half the story.

Forthcoming in 2024

Sample chapter: Destitute millionaire

Sample chapter: Abby’s piggyback rides


Award acceptance speech: video      script

Video scripts

Radio commentary: “Free Christ from Christmas,” National Public Radio, All Things Considered (a bit of heresy)   script

Memorial service remarks

Song lyrics

[User experience (UX) is the practice of designing websites, mobile apps, and other products to delight the people who use them.]

Simplicity: It’s Complicated (the ultimate UX virtue is not simplicity, but ease)

Everything I Really Need to Know about User Experience I Learned in Sunday School (good design treats people right)

UX Haikus (30 bits of design advice in 17 syllables apiece)

Stop Helping Me (Google Calendar’s overeagerness to help does more harm than good)

Probability: A UX Designer’s Second-Best Friend (ways a strong sense of probability improves design)

The Entrance Is the Exit… Obviously (confusing signage at a medical clinic)

Half-Math and That Gushing Hole in Your Bucket (why e-commerce sites should kill their intercept at checkout)

Why reinvent the phrasebook?  

Why redesign a design classic? (Minard’s graphic of Napoleon’s fiasco in Russia)

 “A Ride to Remember,” Stanford Magazine (profile of astronaut Sally Ride, based on exclusive interview)

“Creative Wars,” Women’s Sports (story of Dana Kramer-Rolls, one of the first female fighters in the Society for Creative Anachronism, which stages battles using medieval weapons and armor)

“Be, Maybe Not Be, Which Decision Better?” Dramatics Magazine (profile of a man who signs theater—onstage, among the actors—for the deaf)

[All Stanford Magazine, except where noted]

 “The Heart Facts” (primer on cholesterol)

“Amazon: The River and the Rainforest” (based on a trip there)

“On Call with Life Flight” (day in the life of Stanford Hospital’s emergency helicopter service)

“Monterey Bay Aquarium” (how it was designed, built)

“Surgery Without Scalpel—or Cure,” (a magician and physician who expose the fraud of psychic surgery)

“Enclave of the Castaways” (based on a visit to the Galapagos Islands)

“Liquid Life: The Water Beneath Us” (the geology, economics, management, politics, and pollution of groundwater)

“Going for the Gaps” (interview with Nobel Prize-winning physicist Arthur Schawlow, co-inventor of the laser)

“The Editor as Photographer,” Folio (three-part series)

“Building ’em Like They Used To,” Stanford Magazine (how craftsmen hand-built and tuned Stanford’s Renaissance organ)

“Without a Word,” San Francisco Focus (review of performance by mime Marcel Marceau)

“Marcel Marceau Speaks,” Dramatics Magazine (freewheeling conversation with the mime)

“Welcome Aboard the Sea Cloud,” San Jose Mercury News (history and spirit of a remarkable tall ship)

“International Eisteddfod: The Welsh Song of Peace,” World’s Fair (first-person account of singing in this Welsh music festival)

[All Stanford Magazine]

 “Abortion: Which Life? Whose Choice?” (a presentation of each side’s case, with point-by-point replies from the other side)

“The Great Budget Balancing Act” (interview with Michael Boskin, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers)

“Making Sense of South Africa” (history)

“Still Changing After All These Years” (U.S. Constitution, the unwritten constitution, comparisons with other constitutions, the notion of rights, judicial activism)

“With a Small Stick, Loudly” (do economic sanctions work? If not, why are they our preferred weapon of foreign policy?)

“Making Sense of the Middle East” (ghostwritten, based on interviews, two parts)

“Why Do We Have a President?” (comparison of the parliamentary and presidential systems of government)

“Philip Habib: Whatever it Takes” (rare on-record, substantive interview with the diplomat)

Accessible Websites: The People and Their Tools” (how visually impaired people use the Web and how best to accommodate them; the technical specifics are out of date, but the ideas remain valid)


Anatomical drawing of the heart

Understanding Heart Valve Surgery

Your Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy Journey [comic book for parents to read to 4-year-old]

Quit Smoking: This Time for Sure [for smokers 50+ with recent heart attack]


Managing Heart Disease and Preventing Stroke

Elbow Owner’s Manual

Treatment Options for Damaged and Missing Teeth

Treating Erectile Dysfunction


Stroke Recovery: A Caregiver’s Guide

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

What You Need to Know about Tuberculosis

What You Need to Know about Chlamydia

What You Need to Know about HIV/AIDS

Get Walking! For Better Health at Any Age



photo of man clipping a lapel microphone to his shirt

I have interviewed hundreds of people from all walks of life: from the famous to the obscure, from the powerful to the ordinary. Such as:

Senators, House members, Cabinet secretaries, top government officials

Ambassadors, generals,  business executives, Marines

Professors, scientists, doctors, economists, investors

Cybersecurity experts, pilots, farmers, gamers, consumers

Former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Al Haig, Dean Rusk, Cyrus Vance

Former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, astronaut Sally Ride, mime Marcel Marceau, country music star Kimberly Schlapman of Little Big Town


Lean to the Left Podcast:  Short audio clip (2:30; whose vote counts and whose does not)    Full video       Full audio only

Freakonomics Radio: My segment only (6 minutes)      Full episode with transcript (69 minutes)

American Academy of Diplomacy book award acceptance speech  (C-SPAN got my name wrong and misspelled the book title)


Photos of Meryl Streep in various roles

My slide decks are heavy on imagery and light on text. The imagery supplements and organizes the presenter’s narration, so the audience must actually listen to get the story. If you get an error message with PPT format, get PDF format instead:

Intro to personas   PPT    PDF

Needlessly wide tables: A combover for data   PPT    PDF

The UX [user experience] of the Paris Opera   PPT    PDF

Data visualization: Do’s and don’ts   PPT    PDF

Triangular shape

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