“When I started at DePaul in ’89, I caught the wave,” says Ted Anton, a professor in the English department and specialist in science writing.
“In the early ‘90s, the so-called New Journalism of Tom Wolfe and others turned its eye to science. At that point, science had screwed up: We’d had Three Mile Island and Chernobyl; we’d seen the sluggish response to the AIDS crisis; we’d witnessed fraud and controversy. Suddenly, writing about science was like writing about politics after Watergate: People were paying attention, and science writers became much more sophisticated and much more aggressive.
“Now, science writing is everywhere—the genome revolution, global warming and the environment, healthcare and advances in medicine—it’s relevant to everyone. At the same time, good science writing reads almost like fiction: It’s suspenseful, and scientists are great characters as they climb to mountain tops, dive to remote reaches of the ocean, explore far-flung galaxies, and figure out the life of a microbe. The most popular show on TV—the Big Bang Theory—is about physicists and engineers. In this age, we’re celebrating the geek, and that’s the way it should be!”
Anton’s recent books show his specialized interest to great advantage.
The Longevity Seekers: Science, Business and the Fountain of Youth (2013) is described by the Chicago Book Review as an exposé that “unwinds like a fast-paced thriller as he recounts the highly competitive race in which scientists, research labs, and global drug companies are engaged in the search for a magic bullet that could extend human life.” In tracing the quest for longevity, Anton also speculates on the “social, economic, and political implications of a world full of centenarians. And, although he dives deep into the science behind anti-aging … The Longevity Seekers remains accessible even for those without PhDs in molecular biology.” The book’s publisher, University of Chicago Press, writes that “with spectacular science and an unforgettable cast of characters, The Longevity Seekers has all the elements of a great story and sheds light on discoveries that could fundamentally reshape human life.”
The book was a finalist in nonfiction from the Society of Midland Authors Book Award.
One of Anton’s earlier books, Bold Science: Seven Scientists Who Are Changing Our World (2000), which tells the story of scientific creativity and entrepreneurism, was an Amazon.com Science Book pick and a Summer Alternate Selection from the Library of Science. The San Francisco Chronicle described it as being “on the pioneering edge of science writing, spreading the notion that this is a viable field of literary work.”
Anton says that science writing is now finding a new place among the up-and-coming generation of practitioners. “Science writing is becoming more democratic because of diversity—more women are doing it—and because of more open access to information. Scientists blog about their research; at conferences, they tweet about content as it’s presented. Checking and rechecking scientific findings happens fast. Within this dynamic environment, science writers are savvy and smart truth tellers. I like thinking that some of my students will join their ranks.”
Ted Anton also wrote Eros, Magic and the Murder of Professor Culianu (1996) about the unsolved murder of a University of Chicago scholar. Called an “an engrossing story of a twentieth century original” (New York Times) and “an intellectual thriller” (Publishers Weekly), the book won the Carl Sandburg Award and was a finalist for a Book Award from Investigative Reporters and Editors. A book he co-edited, The New Science Journalists (1995), became a text in graduate and undergraduate journalism and science writing programs. His essays have been cited in three editions of Best American Essays.