Homer's Travels: Book: David Ewing Duncan's "Experimental Man"

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Book: David Ewing Duncan's "Experimental Man"

I am a data person.  I think we should collect more data ... on everything.  If we knew more about ourselves and our lives we could live more efficiently, healthier, and, very likely, more happily.  David Ewing Duncan's "Experimental Man: What One Man's Body Reveals about His Future, Your Health, and Our Toxic World" is one man's attempt to collect and understand data about himself to help improve his health and life.

The book is divided into four sections: genetics, environment, mind, and body.  In the genetics section the author has his genes mapped to looks for indicators for susceptibility to diseases such as heart disease and cancer.  He also has his parents and daughter's genes mapped as well for comparison.  The result is confusing, contradicting, and ambiguous data.  You can sense the author's frustration when one gene says heart attack imminent while another says don't worry about it.

The environment section just confirms the soup of potentially deadly chemicals that we are exposed to every day.  The section also confirms just how little we know about the long term effects of the chemicals we use in manufacturing, agriculture, and food preparation.  This time the author is not only frustrated but worried as well.

The section on the mind discusses brain scans.  While I found this section interesting, I come out without any useful conclusions.

The last section, the body, summed everything up and discussed new health models that are being developed to predict future health problems and how they affect our expected life span.

I wish the author would have talked more in depth about our attitudes about having this health information.  Would you want to know that you may get some untreatable condition?  I think I would.  Some people think, if they couldn't do anything about it, they don't want to know.  The author touches upon these choices but doesn't really dig into them.

Duncan is a writer for Wired magazine.  His writing style felt a little chaotic, sometimes digging too deep into the too technical and sometimes digging too deep into his own feelings.  I can't say I enjoyed his writing style.

The final conclusion I got from reading this book is we are a researching some really cool stuff that will do wonderful things someday but we're not there yet.  I kind of finished this book feeling hopefully frustrated.  I give the book a mediocre recommendation as there were some interesting stuff in the book.  Just as the science could be better, the book could have been better as well.


  1. What a cool concept for a book!!! Shame he missed the mark a bit. It'd be really interesting to follow up on how the toxic soup in the environment impacted his body more!


    1. Miss McC: He did have a great premise for his book.