Dan Levitt—What's Gotten Into You: The Story of Your Body's Atoms, from the Big Bang Through Last Night's Dinner


What's Gotten Into You


Dan Levitt
HarperCollins, Jan 24, 2023, $25.60
ISBN-13: 978-0063251182, ASIN: ‎B09YRR8DB6
Harper Audio (read by Mike Chamberlain)

Levitt reports:

When my teenage daughter decided to become a vegetarian, I wondered what she would need to eat to stay healthy. I realized I had no idea what we are made of, much less where those molecules came from. I soon learned that every particle in our bodies emerged from the Big Bang at the beginning of time. Equally remarkably, we—collections of those particles—can now look back and retrace our 13.8-billion-year journey. I was hooked. I was a documentary filmmaker brainstorming ideas for films, but recognized that this was a great idea for a book.

My research soon turned up wonderful little-known stories: like how the priest Georges Lemaitre convinced Einstein of the Big Bang and how Cecilia Payne, “the best Man at Harvard,” showed what stars are made of. I learned how Martin Kamen’s and Sam Ruben’s discovery of carbon-14 helped crack photosynthesis and how the scientific maverick Peter Mitchell overturned our understanding of the way our cells create energy.

Dan Levitt

Dan Levitt

I aimed to reveal the heartbreak, rivalries, and erratic paths that led to many discoveries and recapture the wonder and awe they evoked—from the revelation that Earth was born from monstrous collisions to the many ways that photosynthesis is responsible for our existence. (Fun fact: 83 percent of your body’s mass was once floating in carbon dioxide molecules in the air.)

To tell this sprawling story, I structured each chapter as a scientific detective story. How did researchers discover the smallest particles within us? How did they uncover our cells’ master blueprints?

I drafted an outline and then wrote a one-page summary for each chapter, which helped me refine the outline. After writing the first three chapters, I searched for agents, using Publisher’s Marketplace. Luckily, I emailed my second query to Suzanne Gluck, who phoned me that very same day and soon landed a publisher.

The writing took over four years, longer than I expected. The fact-checking alone took three months. I couldn’t have done it without feedback from beta readers. Next time I’ll use Zotero from the beginning for citations, bibliography, and tracking articles.

Contact info:

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Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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