David Ewing Duncan

David Ewing Duncan

David Ewing Duncan is an award-winning, best-selling author of books, essays, articles and short stories; and a television, radio and film producer and correspondent. He writes columns for Fortune and for MIT Technology Review, and is the Chief Correspondent for public radio's "Biotech Nation." He writes for the New York Times, Wired, Discover, National Geographic, and many other publications. At UC Berkeley he is the Director of the Center for Life Science Policy and a Visiting Researcher at the Graduate School of Journalism. His books include Experimental Man: What one man's body reveals about his future, your health, and our toxic world (Wiley) and Masterminds: Genius, DNA and the Quest to Rewrite Life (Harper Perennial). He wrote the international bestseller, Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year (Harper-Collins/Avon), published in 19 languages, and a bestseller in 14 countries.

David has been a Contributing Editor and columnist for Conde Nast Portfolio, and a Contributing Editor for Wired and Discover. He has been a longtime commentator for NPR's "Morning Edition," and a special correspondent and producer for ABC's Nightline and 20/20. He has been a correspondent for NOVA's ScienceNow!, and a producer for Discovery Television. He has written for Harper's, Atlantic Monthly, Smithsonian, Outside, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Washington Post Book World, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The New York Times, among others

In 2003, David won the prestigious Magazine Story of the Year Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His articles have twice been cited in nominations for National Magazine Awards, and his work has appeared twice in The Best American Science and Nature Writing.

David is the Founder and Editorial Director of the BioAgenda Institute, an independent, nonprofit program of events and educational initiatives that discusses and analyzes crucial issues in life sciences -- which is being folded into the new Center for Life Science Policy at UC Berkeley. He has been the host of the annual BioAgenda Summit.

David's other books include the bestselling Pedaling the Ends of the Earth (Simon & Schuster), about his bicycle expedition around the world, and Hernando Soto: A Savage Quest in the Americas, called "an astonishing tour de force" by the New York Times Book Review. He wrote Residents: The Perils and Promise of Educating Young Doctors (Scribner) and Cape to Cairo: An African Odyssey (Grove Atlantic). His fiction has appeared in two anthologies. He has taught creative writing at Stanford University. He works at the San Francisco Writer's Grotto, and lives in San Francisco.

Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year
(Harper Perennial, 2001)

The adventure spans the world from Stonehenge to astronomically aligned pyramids at Giza, from Mayan observatories at Chichen Itza to the atomic clock in Washington, the world's official timekeeper since the 1960s. We visit cultures from Vedic India and Cleopatra's Egypt to Byzantium and the Elizabethan court; and meet an impressive cast of historic personages from Julius Caesar to Omar Khayyam, and giants of science from Galileo and Copernicus to Stephen Hawking. Our present calendar system predates the invention of the telescope, the mechanical clock, and the concept ol zero and its development is one of the great untold stories of science and history.

How did Pope Gregory set right a calendar which was in error by at least ten lull days? What did time mean to a farmer on the Rhine in 800 A.D.? What was daily life like in the Middle Ages, when the general population reckoned births and marriages by seasons, wars, kings'' reigns, and saints' days? In short, how did the world

The adventure spans the world from Stonehenge to astronomically aligned pyramids at Giza, from Mayan observatories at Chichen Itza to the atomic clock in Washington, the world's official timekeeper since the 1960s. We visit cultures from Vedic India and Cleopatra's Egypt to Byzantium and the Elizabethan court; and meet an impressive cast of historic personages from Julius Caesar to Omar Khayyam, and giants of science from Galileo and Copernicus to Stephen Hawking. Our present calendar system predates the invention of the telescope, the mechanical clock, and the concept ol zero and its development is one of the great untold stories of science and history. How did Pope Gregory set right a calendar which was in error by at least ten lull days? What did time mean to a farmer on the Rhine in 800 A.D.? What was daily life like in the Middle Ages, when the general population reckoned births and marriages by seasons, wars, kings'' reigns, and saints' days?


Experimental Man:
What One Man's Body Reveals about His Future, Your Health, and Our Toxic World

(Wiley, 2009)

Why would an arguably normal, healthy individual submit himself to hundreds of blood tests, body scans, brain scans, and other medical tests? Why would this same seemingly robust specimen have his DNA—and the DNA of his family—analyzed for genetically related diseases, as well as for genes that affect personality, intelligence, physical and mental abilities, and more—then publish the results for all to see? If you've heard the term "guinea pig journalism" and wondered what exactly it meant, you are about to learn the definition in ways you'll never forget.

In Experimental Man, award-winning journalist, public radio correspondent, and bestselling science author David Ewing Duncan puts every aspect of his physical makeup under the microscope. His mission, as perhaps the most tested healthy person in history, is to discover what cutting-edge medical technology can tell him, and us, about our future health; the effects of living in a toxin-soaked world; and how genes, proteins, personal behavior, and an often-hostile environment interact within our bodies.

Duncan begins by eating two servings of large fish in a single day and watching his blood-mercury level nearly triple overnight. He is relieved to discover that he is among the lucky humans with a genetic proclivity for expelling most mercury in a month or so. He goes on to examine evidence of hundreds of chemical exposures that occurred in his childhood in Kansas and later in life, and their impact on his health. In the end, he receives startling news about how long he might live based on his profile and an alleged "longevity gene."

A series of brain scans explains why Duncan is a writer and not a London cabbie; provides insights into his moods and emotions; and, perhaps, reveals whether he is an atheist or a true believer, or prefers hip-hop or Beethoven—but what can a brain scan tell him about consciousness and self-awareness?

Duncan is startled by a computer model that predicts he could have a heart attack by 2017, and nonplussed by a nutritionist who informs him his diet is not as healthy as he thinks. He investigates a bump on his kidney and provides a fascinating, organ-by-organ tour of himself as seen through a total body scan.

As a new age of personalized medicine dawns, these tests and more will soon be available to millions of people. But will knowing the intricate details of our physical condition now and in the future put our minds at ease or make us paranoid? Will this information be used against us at work and even in love? Experimental Man explores these and many other questions about health, medicine, and the nature of life in the twenty-first century.

The book Experimental Man is interactive with The Experimental Man Project Web site, which includes articles, news, a blog, tests you can take, and a complete download of David Ewing Duncan's data, presented section by section. Go to www.experimentalman.com.


Masterminds: Genius, DNA, and the Quest to Rewrite Life
(HarperPerennial, 2006)

James Watson, J. Craig Venter, Francis Collins, Cynthia Kenyon . . . you may not know them, but you should. They are the masterminds of genetics and biotechnology who want you to live to be 150 years old, to regenerate your heart and brain, to create synthetic life. For better or worse, they are about to alter life on earth forever.

Award-winning journalist David Ewing Duncan tells the remarkable stories of cutting-edge bioscientists, revealing their quirky, uniquely fascinating, sometimes vaguely unsettling personas as a means to understand their science and the astonishing implications of their work. This book seamlessly combines myth, biography, scholarship, and wit that poses the all-important question: Can we actually trust these masterminds?


The Geneticist Who Played Hoops with My DNA
(hardcover: William Morrow, 2005)

A highly original form of storytelling combining myth, biography, and the wit of Oliver Sacks, this is a depiction of cutting-edge science and its profound implications told through the personalities of scientists who are rewriting life on earth.

Throughout history, the outsized personalities of scientists have astonished us with their brilliance and audacity. From Galileo to Jonas Salk, they push society into new realms with great leaps of inventiveness and originality, providing us with everything from the wheel to rocket ships and penicillin. Today’s masterminds in biotechnology promise lifespans up to 400 years; cures for cancer; and an end to pollution. But these masterminds could also produce unintended nightmares—bioengineered lifeforms that run amuck, bioweapons, social upheavals. Which will it be: heaven or hell, or both, or neither?

For three years, award-winning writer David Ewing Duncan has interviewed over 600 people, and spent time with masterminds that include James Watson, Sydney Brenner, Paul Berg, Francis Collins, Craig Venter, Cynthia Kenyon, and others. He has written an inventive narrative about science and personality, delving into stem cells, cloning, bioengineering, and genetics by telling the stories of the characters at the fulcrum of the science. He uses a unique method of tying in age-old stories and myths—Prometheus, Faustus, Eve, and Frankenstein—to ask the question: can we trust these scientists?

Duncan thinks we can, but society must closely watch them and their work; also, both scientists and the public must make more of an effort to publicly discuss and understand each others points of view. Duncan has attracted international attention for his column “Biotech and Creativity”; and for his writings and NPR commentaries. He makes a powerful case that this is the most important story of our time, perhaps of all human history—that a species has the power to self-evolve.


Hernando de Soto: A Savage Quest in the Americas
(Univ of Oklahoma Press, 1997)

This is the story of a legendary expedition across four thousand miles of the future United States, led by an explorer searching for an illusionary empire of gold. Formerly the second-in-command in Francisco Pizarro’s conquest of the Incas in 1531, Hernando de Soto arrived in the country he called La Florida in 1539, leading a glittering, armored Renaissance-era army of six hundred men on the first major exploration of North America. Obsessed with finding a second Inca empire, he instead encountered the Mississippians, a sophisticated culture of mound and city builders, warriors, artisans, and diplomats whose society collapsed after the Spaniards’ destructive march through their territory. Unable to find his golden country, Soto pushed deeper into the wilderness, ravaged by exhaustion, starvation, and incessant warfare with the Mississippians until he died and was secretly buried in the Mississippi River, which he is credited (wrongly) with discovering.


Residents
(Scribner, 1996)

An expose of the nation's medical training programs looks at the lives of overburdened medical residents and the intense life-and-death situations they must handle and concludes with a call for radical, life-saving reform.

SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year

"Calendar sparkles. Gripping, expansive and scholarly, it will be indispensable reading for years to come. Duncan has achieved a rare feat in turning something ordinary into an extraordinary metaphor of life." -- The Observer

"As the new millennium approaches, this fine book will prove to all readers that the establishment of a consistent and useful calendar is no dull work of drones and bean counters, but one of humanity's greatest achievements and the embodiment of our culture, history, and progress." -- Stephen Jay Gould

"David Duncan takes his place in the ranks of the best explainers in print." -- Hugh Downs

"David Duncan illuminates our calendar's remarkable evolution not just by telling us about time but also by letting us travel through itThe story takes us to courts of kings, emperors and popes, from Egypt and India to Byzantium and Rome, and beyond. And, at every turn, the author brings the key players to life." -- Toronto Globe and Mail

"Duncan writes the way good teachers teach, conversational, yet informed he is a popularizer and storyteller" -- USA Today, Editor's Pick

"This book is as irresistible as the flow of time itself. The story about our age-old efforts to stay in step with the clocklike movements of the moon, sun and stars is funny and sad, dramatic and comical, and David Duncan tells it beautifully, even poetically." -- Dr. Michael Guillen, ABC News


SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
Experimental Man: What One Man's Body Reveals about His Future, Your Health, and Our Toxic World

"David Ewing Duncan has come up with simple but elegant conceit that yields a rich trove of information and insight about how we live now." -- Michael Pollan

"In sweeping the reader up in his quest, Duncan shows what good reporting and storytelling can do. His narrative method - part mystery tale, part voyeuristic drama - humanizes complex information, educates and entertains." -- San Francisco Chronicle

"No previous author has undergone such an extensive battery of health tests as Duncan. He puts every aspect of his biological make-up under the microscope and, in the process, gives us a brilliant view of what cutting-edge medical technology can - and cannot - tell us about our future health." -- Clive Cookson, Financial Times

"David Ewing Duncan investigates his gene pool in the informative Experimental Man..." -- Vanity Fair

"It's not often you get to read a book mailed back from the future." -- Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick at Wired

"David Ewing Duncan takes us on a deep, exhilarating dive into the hidden worlds of being human: both an erudite guide and an amazingly willing lab rat, Duncan has written a book that looks inward and outward at the same time: inward to the mysteries of the self, and outward to the horizon of our species extraordinary, and sometimes alarming, future." -- Stephen Johnson, author of The Invention of Air

"Experimental Man is brilliant, provocative timely... And a wonderful read." -- Gregory Stock, PhD, author of Redesigning Humans

"...gives us a brilliant view of what cutting-edge medical technology can - and -cannot tell us about our future health." (Financial Times, July 4th 2009)


SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
Masterminds: Genius, DNA, and the Quest to Rewrite Life

“A book for every human being who read the science section over the past few years and thought, Holy #@&!!” (Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers)

“A provocative, entertaining, and, yes, chilling journey.” (Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City)

“A sparkling, fascinating book about the most important phenomenon of the new millennium, the biotech revolution.” (James Reston, Jr., author of Galileo: A Life)

“Vivid, memorable portrayals of the scientists working on biology’s most fascinating frontiers.” (James Fallows, Atlantic Monthly)

“200 year old people? Emails sent by brain waves? [Duncan] sketches the (possible) future.” (USA Weekend)

“Explores the personalities and motivations of researchers now operating at the cutting edge of headline-making science.” (Washington Post Book World)

“Duncan turns a scarily bright light on the exploding frontiers of biotechnology” (Vanity Fair)

“Duncan turns his discerning eye toward the role of personality in science ... remarkable profiles ... Duncan’s prose is lively and engaging” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Valuable insights into the debates within genetic science . . . intriguing” (New Scientist)

“Daring and dead-accurate. Top notch.” (Po Bronson)


SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
The Geneticist Who Played Hoops with My DNA: . . . And Other Masterminds from the Frontiers of Biotech

From Publishers Weekly
"Experiments are under way to create new forms of life," writes journalist Duncan, "[y]et we hardly know the scientists and others sweeping us into the new world." So this collection of biographical studies (expanding on an article in Wired magazine) aims to introduce seven of the men and women on the frontiers of biotech research. To make these "very human, and therefore flawed" scientists more representative, Duncan (Calendar) frames each portrait with the life of a mythic figure; James Watson (co-discoverer of DNA's double helix) as Zeus, for example, or Craig Venter (who founded a company to compete with the Human Genome Project on sequencing the genome) as Faustus. While the idea is intriguing, its execution is uneven—some profiles sparkle and some fall flat. The one constant is Duncan himself, whose willingness to inject himself into the story in unorthodox ways offers some of the book's highlights (submitting his own DNA for genetic testing, for example, to the geneticist with whom he played the game of basketball referred to in the title). Although his frequently voiced ambivalence about the morality of biotechnology sometimes seems cursory and contrived, his book as a whole offers a decent historical overview of the contemporary biotech landscape that will appeal to readers unfamiliar with its contours. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist
Duncan interviewed seven of molecular biology's leading personalities about whether recombinant DNA technology should scare us. Besides relaying their discoveries, Duncan also elaborates on their demeanor during questioning, a ritual Duncan senses they've endured many times. This perception opens the avenue for assessing the scientist's attitude toward the public, whose tax dollars bankroll much biotech research. Several of Duncan's subjects, such as Douglas Melton, who is a leading investigator and champion of stem-cell research, patiently explain their research. By contrast, brashly ambitious scientists, such as James Watson or J. Craig Venter, are less concerned with public perception, and embody damn-the-torpedoes curiosity to reveal the secrets of life, or in Venter's current work, to create artificial life. To take the measure of such audacious egos, Duncan compares each interviewee to a mythical or biblical figure--Moses is his appellation for Nobel recipient Paul Berg, a 1970s pioneer of recombinant DNA who is notable for addressing its safety and ethics. Illuminating profiles of some of our most brilliant scientists. Gilbert Taylor. Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

"The Experimental Man: Cutting-Edge Scientific Research and Implications for Personalized Medicine"

The University of California at Berkeley | Nov 29, 2010

David Ewing Duncan—chief correspondent for public radio's BioTech Nation, contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, author, and director of UC Berkeley's Center for Life Science Policy—gives a fascinating talk on his journey to "physical self-discovery" to see what effects medical technologies will have on individuals, families, and cultures.


David Ewing Duncan discusses Creative Disruptions

As a part of The Ethical Frontiers of Science during the 2008 Chautauqua Institution morning lecture series.


Our Messy Genetic History | Toxic Man

Science writer David Ewing Duncan examines the complicated genetic history shared by all life on earth. "There are dormant genes in all organisms," he says. "There are genes in a chicken that, if you activated them...would actually turn into little dinosaurs."

Phil Bronstein is the Editor-at-Large for Hearst Newspapers and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Visit David's personal website at www.DavidEwingDuncan.com for more detailed information as well as events and appearances.