Libby Copeland

Nonfiction Writer & Journalist
Cultural Spelunker
Travels from: White Plains, NY

“Before You Spit in That Vial, Read This Book.” — New York Times

Libby Copeland is an award-winning journalist who writes about science and culture for outlets including The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic and Smithsonian Magazine. Her 2020 book, The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Upending Who We Are, looks at the impact of the recreational DNA testing industry on the American family, and on the questions it raises about identity, race, privacy and our relationship with the past. The Lost Family has won several awards and was named to The Guardian’s list of The Best Books of 2020.

Praised by The Washington Post as science journalism that “reads like an Agatha Christie mystery,” Copeland’s book delves into the many lives that have been irrevocably changed by home DNA tests – a technology that represents the end of family secrets. Those impacted include adoptees who’ve used the tests to find their birth parents, donor-conceived adults who suddenly discover they have more than 50 siblings, hundreds of thousands of consumers who’ve discovered their fathers aren’t biologically related to them, and individuals left to grapple with their conceptions of race and identity after their true ancestral histories are discovered. As she explores the science of DNA, the business of companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, and the strong genealogical impulse gripping America right now, Copeland examines our impulse toward genetic essentialism and raises the question of how much our genes should get to tell us about who we are. The Lost Family’s central narrative is the gripping genetic detective story of a brilliant and tireless woman named Alice, whose unusual DNA results lead to a unique and stunning discovery about the past. The New York Times wrote in its review of The Lost Family, “Before you spit in that vial, read this book.”

A staff reporter and editor atThe Washington Postfor over a decade, Copeland specializes in riveting, intimate writing about what shapes our motivations, values, decision-making and identities. She has brought her insightful perspective to topics including technology, advertising, politics and psychology, interviewing celebrities, presidential candidates, murderers and con men. She was a 2010 media fellow at Stanford University and received first prize for her newspaper work from the Society of Features Journalism. Her deeply moving Esquire.com story of man who kept his wife’s body at home after she died won first place in Hearst Magazines’ Editorial Excellence Awards.An accomplished speaker, Copeland has appeared many times on MSNBC, CNN and NPR.

Prepare an Invitation for:

The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Upending Who We Are

Abrams Press |
Nonfiction

A deeply reported look at the rise of home genetic testing and the seismic shock it has had on individual lives

You swab your cheek or spit into a vial, then send it away to a lab somewhere. Weeks later you get a report that might tell you where your ancestors came from or if you carry certain genetic risks. Or the report could reveal a long-buried family secret and upend your entire sense of identity. Soon a lark becomes an obsession, an incessant desire to find answers to questions at the core of your being, like “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?” Welcome to the age of home genetic testing.

In The Lost Family, journalist Libby Copeland investigates what happens when we embark on a vast social experiment with little understanding of the ramifications. Copeland explores the culture of genealogy buffs, the science of DNA, and the business of companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, all while tracing the story of one woman, her unusual results, and a relentless methodical drive for answers that becomes a thoroughly modern genetic detective story.

The Lost Family delves into the many lives that have been irrevocably changed by home DNA tests—a technology that represents the end of family secrets. There are the adoptees who’ve used the tests to find their birth parents; donor-conceived adults who suddenly discover they have more than fifty siblings; hundreds of thousands of Americans who discover their fathers aren’t biologically related to them, a phenomenon so common it is known as a “non-paternity event”; and individuals who are left to grapple with their conceptions of race and ethnicity when their true ancestral histories are discovered. Throughout these accounts, Copeland explores the impulse toward genetic essentialism and raises the question of how much our genes should get to tell us about who we are. With more than thirty million people having undergone home DNA testing, the answer to that question is more important than ever.

Gripping and masterfully told, The Lost Family is a spectacular book on a big, timely subject.

The Lost Family

How home DNA testing and this moment of profound genealogical inquiry are unearthing famiy secrets and transforming our undersanding of family, race and identity – not to mention our parents’ private lives.

Alice's Story

This talk recounts the riveting narrative of a woman who discovered through DNA testing that she wasn’t who she thought, and her journey into the century-old existential mystery of her hidden Jewish identity.

Do Genetic Revelations Change Our Identities?

And Should They? An intimate look at the impact of DNA surprises on how we construct our personal narratives, and what this can teach us about what it means to be human.

How DNA Surprises Impact Family Dynamics

Observations from interviews with hundreds of individuals and families coming to terms with the truth about the past.

Does DNA Testing Make Us More or Less Racist?

An honest accounting of the past could be a good thing for America – provided we can see it clearly.

So Much More Than Recreational

What doctors, genetic counselors and mental health professionals should know about recreational DNA testing.

Libby’s Recent Work

Libby’s Upcoming Events

Honors, Awards & Recognition

Hearst Magazines’ Editorial Excellence Awards
The Guardian’s list of The Best Books of 2020

Media Kit

By clicking the link below your will be directed to a Google Docs Folder
where you can download author photos and cover images.

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