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Beavan, Colin 1963–

Beavan, Colin 1963–


Born 1963, in New York, NY; son of Keith (former director of publications, United Nations) and Judy (a clinical social worker); married Michelle Conlin (a writer and editor), July, 2002; children: Isabella. Education: University of Liverpool, Ph.D.


Home—New York, NY. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer and author. Liverpool Echo, Liverpool, England, former theater critic. Researcher and experimenter in No Impact lifestyle, 2007. Makes frequent appearances on television and radio.


Fingerprints: The Origins of Crime Detection and the Murder Case That Launched Forensic Science, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.

Operation Jedburgh: D-Day and America's First Shadow War, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Men's Health, Inside, New York Times, and Men's Journal. Beavan's works have been translated into Italian, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. Author of blog, No Impact Man.


Colin Beavan has written articles for many national magazines. His first book, Fingerprints: The Origins of Crime Detection and the Murder Case That Launched Forensic Science, published in 2001, reveals the history of forensic science. As outlined in the book, crime solving prior to the twentieth century utilized unreliable techniques resulting in the punishment of many innocent people. Dr. Henry Faulds, a Scottish medical missionary in Japan, was in fact the first person to publish papers championing the use of fingerprinting to help solve crimes. A controversy developed when a better-known scientist by the name of Francis Galton (a cousin of Charles Darwin) claimed fingerprinting as his own idea.

"Beavan tells an engrossing true story of scientific achievement and competitiveness in [Fingerprints]," wrote Eric Wargo in Book. A Publishers Weekly reviewer also had praise for the book, calling it "entertaining and balanced," and stated: "Beavan's effortless prose, firm grasp of his subject and vividly drawn characters will delight history buffs and armchair criminologists." "Beavan courses through this subject in lively, true-crime story telling fashion," commented Gilbert Taylor in Booklist. He "admirably brings to vivid life the tangled human tale behind a technological breakthrough," observed a commentator in Kirkus Reviews.

Beavan explained in an interview published on the book's Web site that he first became interested in the science of fingerprinting as a child, noting that he was "the kind of kid who got science kits for Christmas." He claims, however, that his mother would always remove the most interesting items from the kits because they "always had things in them that grownups didn't want you to play with," leaving him with just a cheap magnifying glass with which to play. "Sooner or later, I'd turn [the magnifying glass] on my own fingertips because fingerprints are about the most interesting thing you can look at through a magnifying glass."

As to the notion that fingerprinting is "old-fashioned technology," Beavan commented: "Fingerprints have gone very hi-tech. Fingerprint experts, for example, can now search for fingerprints by illuminating surfaces with a kind of laser light that makes the fingerprints glow." He also noted that the world's largest fingerprint computer, commissioned by the FBI in 1999, "can hold over 60 million sets of fingerprints in its database," and concluded: "Fingerprints are still probably the most important forensic tool used by the police."

Interestingly, Beavan also observed that "it has never been proved that no two people have the same fingerprints." He maintains, however, that fingerprint identification can still be a reliable source of identification, depending "on the integrity of the fingerprint examiners involved." Beavan added: "Overall, I think fingerprinting is a good tool, but … it can be misused…. The hero of my book, the man who first suggested the identification of criminals by fingerprints, was very concerned about the ethical use of his invention. He believed that independent scientists should make fingerprint identifications, rather than the police, whom he thought would be biased."

Beavan's 2006 title, Operation Jedburgh: D-Day and America's First Shadow War, was inspired by research the author was doing into his grandfather's career in the CIA. As an officer of the OSS, the World War II precursor to the CIA, Beavan's grandfather was involved in what was known as Operation Jedburgh, the first large-scale, behind-the-lines special operation which the United States had ever undertaken. The operation involved almost three hundred men whose job it was to rally the French Resistance and attack the Germans in order to delay their convergence on Normandy in the days before the invasion of France in July, 1944. Working in three-man teams, the members carried out sabotage and guerrilla operations intended to stir up as much trouble and confusion as possible in France before the Allied invasion. While many of these operations failed, others succeeded and, contends Beavan, aided in the overall success of D-Day. The author carried out interviews with thirty veterans of the operation as part of his research for the book. A Publishers Weekly contributor found Beavan's account "lively" and "entertaining." Gilbert Taylor, writing in Booklist, had similar praise, terming the work an "energetic, tension-soaked account."



Book, May, 2001, Eric Wargo, review of Fingerprints: The Origins of Crime Detection and the Murder Case That Launched Forensic Science, p. 76.

Booklist, April 1, 2001, Gilbert Taylor, review of Fingerprints, p. 1432; May 1, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of Operation Jedburgh: D-Day and America's First Shadow War, p. 66.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2001, review of Fingerprints, p. 374.

New York Times, March 22, 2007, Penelope Green, "The Year without Toilet Paper."

Publishers Weekly, April 9, 2001, review of Fingerprints, p. 59; March 13, 2006, review of Operation Jedburgh, p. 57.

Times Literary Supplement, May 24, 2002, Natasha Cooper, review of Fingerprints, p. 28.


Bookpage, (September 4, 2001), Michael Sims, review of Fingerprints.

Colin Beavan Home Page, (April 16, 2007).

January Magazine, (September 4, 2001), J. Kingston Pierce, "At Your Fingertips."

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