“A truly astonishing and eminently readable work of chemical detection, provocative, surprising and alive with moments when you just want to tug your neighbor’s sleeve and ask—can you believe this?”
— Simon Winchester, bestselling author of The Perfectionists and editor of Lapham's Quarterly
Dan Levitt spent over twenty-five years writing, producing, and directing award-winning documentaries for National Geographic, Discovery, Science, History, PBS, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He began his career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, teaching high school physics and biology. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife, two children, and their dog, Maxwell Smart.
About What’s Gotten Into You
For readers of Bill Bryson, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Siddhartha Mukherjee
Every one of us contains a billion times more atoms than all the grains of sand in the earth’s deserts. If you weigh 150 pounds, you’ve got enough carbon to make 25 pounds of charcoal, enough salt to fill a saltshaker, enough chlorine to disinfect several backyard swimming pools, and enough iron to forge a 3-inch nail. But how did these elements combine to make us human?
This eye-opening popular science book tells how scientists traced our atoms journeys from the beginning of time. Behind their unexpected findings were investigations marked by fierce rivalries, obsession, heartbreak, flashes of insight, and flukes of blind luck.
Praise for Dan
“Dan Levitt's What's Gotten Into You is one fascinating journey, from the fireworks of the Big Bang to the busy life of cells, this is a story of scientific discovery, history, dazzling egos, quiet courage, and pure unexpected insight. In other words, the best kind of story. Don't miss it.”
—Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Poisoner's Handbook and The Poison Squad
“Levitt sheds light on the tiniest bits of what humans are made of in his stellar debut . . . . This is marvelous.”
“The author notes that the process of completing this book ‘has been a continual source of wonder, stupefaction, exhilaration, and gratitude.’ Reads will share those feelings. Lively, illuminating…”
You may not realize it, but you are a towering skyscraper, a cooperative apartment building of 30 trillion units, or cells. You are composed of about a hundred times more cells than there are stars in the Milky Way.
Each of your cells is made of over a hundred trillion atoms. A stack of that many dollar bills would reach to the Moon and back over 25 times.
You replace 98 percent of your atoms every year. That makes you less like a thing and more like a process—like a flame whose atoms are constantly being replaced. While you’ll die, your atoms won’t. They’ll continue revolving through life, soil, oceans, and sky in a chemical merry-go-round.