In between her Oregon lectures, luncheons, and interviews, Ehrenreich submerged herself in files and paper in her hotel room, toiling in the intensive style she learned at Reed. She remembers puzzling for hours over math and physics problems as a student and feeling satisfaction through the process.

"I get a similar feeling now," she says one wet morning, in scuffed white Reeboks and faded jeans, blue eyes intense behind glasses.

Even now, her secret pleasure is reading Scientific American and Discover-- magazines that have nothing to do with the subjects she tackles as an essayist for Time and contributor to magazines and newspapers such as the New York Times Book Review, The Nation, Harper's, and Mirabella.

Besides politics, she's interested in family law and private lives, matters traditionally pigeonholed as "women's issues." As a writer, she wants to avoid being stereotyped but still give a deserved voice to such subjects. She declined when Mirabella magazine approached her to profile Sharon Stone ("I'm not interested in her as an actress, and I'm not going to contribute to celebrity journalism") but has had a tough time selling anyone a story on what it is like to live on minimum wage.

As a Reed student, she was not political. When a fellow chemistry student asked what she'd do if her research was ever applied to chemical warfare, she blew it off--but found she couldn't shake the question. At Rockefeller University, newly involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement, she realized she could not insulate herself in the laboratory.

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