Dr Henry Gee was born in London in 1962. He was educated at the Universities of Leeds and Cambridge. Since 1987 he has been on the staff of the science magazine Nature, where he is now a Senior Editor, specializing in evolution and the history of life. He is the author of several books including The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution, and The Science of Middle-earth. He lives in Cromer, Norfolk, England, with his family and numerous pets.
The young Henry Gee, who had more hair than in the picture shown here (but no beard), attended various schools. including Whitgift School in Croydon (1972-74), where future author Neil Gaiman just missed him; followed by Sevenoaks School in Kent and finally Michael Hall School in Sussex (1976-1981) where he joined the same class as the future composer Paul Carr, cellist Nathalie Jacquet, and, as it happened, Neil Gaiman's sister, and sandwiched between fashion designer Bella (class above) and novelist Esther Freud (class below). Must have been something in the air.
He then went on to study Zoology & Genetics at the University of Leeds (1981-1984), which he represented on University Challenge, reaching the quarter finals in 1983. During this time he did a stint as a trainee researcher in the Department of Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum in London, an episode that was to feature heavily in his later book Deep Time. He moved to Cambridge where he read for a PhD in Zoology (1984-1987), although it was really only music that kept him going. He played in quite a few outfits but the crowning pinnacle has to be playing the piano in a jazz band at Clare College May Ball on the same bill as Stan Tracey, accompanying jazz singer Sonita Alleyne ... later OBE for services to broadcasting and now Master of Jesus College, Cambridge (definitely something in the air).
In 1987, before completing his doctorate, he joined the editorial staff of the leading science journal Nature on a three-month contract. It’s the longest three-month contract anyone has ever had. In the meantime he continued his doctorate research and was awarded his PhD in 1991.
Starting out as a science writer with a Nature-branded column in The Times, he moved to the ‘back half’, the team of skilled editors that selects the most important science sent to Nature from around the world. Specializing in palaeontology – the study of the deep past – the first known feathered dinosaurs, the bizarre ‘fishapod’ Tiktaalik, and the strange hobbit Homo floresiensis were all published under his stewardship.
In the meantime he kept on writing, with appearances in outlets such as the Huffington Post, Discover, The Literary Review, The Guardian, Scientific American, Nature Online, The London Review of Books, BBC Wildlife, BBC Focus, The Times, Le Monde, El Pais and many other newspapers and magazines.
He is the author of many books including The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution; Jacob’s Ladder: The History of the Human Genome, and In Search of Deep Time. A noted authority on the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, he is the author of The Science of Middle-earth, and is a former editor of Mallorn, the journal of the Tolkien Society. Under his stewardship, Mallorn won SFX magazine's accolade of 'Fanzine of the Month' - twice.
With a keen interest in science fiction, he founded the Futures science-fiction column in Nature. This garnered an award for Best Publisher from the European Society of Science Fiction (SESF) in 2005. He was Guest of Honour at ConStitution in Cambridge in 2009; and was George Hay Lecturer at the meeting of the British Science Fiction Society (EasterCon) in 2013. He has published several SF stories (collected as Hunting Unicorns and Other Stories), an SF trilogy The Sigil, and a SF-gothick detective story, By The Sea.
He has spoken at many festivals and events and is a regular visitor to radio (NPR's All Things Considered, various BBC programmes such as In Our Time) and TV. In 2008 he guested in the NOVA documentary Alien from Earth, about the 'hobbit', Homo floresiensis. He gave the second Raymond Dart Memorial Lecture at Griffith University, Brisbane on The Unknown (a lecture he's delivered across the world from the Natural History Museum in Shanghai, the Australian Museum in Sydney, at the Bergamo Science Festival in Bergamo, Italy, and at the Institute of Art and Ideas, among many other places, and which you can hear on this podcast); spoke at the American Museum of Natural History, NY, and at the Hay Literary Festival, on Deep Time; was on several panel discussions and stand-alone events at the How The Light Gets In Festival in 2020; and has appeared as a pundit on Nature's own video channel. In 1996 he served as Regents Professor of the University of California, giving a graduate seminar at UCLA on science publication, entitled Publish or Perish.
Perhaps most memorably he was invited to compete in a special alumni competition of University Challenge in 2019 -- thirty-six years after his first appearance -- once again representing the University of Leeds, alongside East-Asia specialist and author Jonathan Clements, award-winning photographer Tim Allen, and popstar-turned-churchman and broadcaster the Rev Richard Coles. The team appeared three times and went on to win the championship.
He lives in Cromer, Norfolk, England, with his family and numerous pets. One of his pets ran away to join the Fire Brigade; another has recently published a volume of autobiography. His recreations include supporting Norwich City FC, making music (he plays a mean and dirty blues organ) and falling asleep.
Author picture: copyright John Gilbey.