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Mara Hvistendahl is a writer and speaker. She is the author of the forthcoming book The Scientist and The Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage (Riverhead, February 2020). Her first book, Unnatural Selection, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.


In 2008, Diana O'Brien was stabbed to death in a Shanghai stairwell just twelve days after arriving in the city to model. The actions of both police investigators and O'Brien's modeling agency soon aroused suspicion, adding to the mystery of her death. The longform story And The City Swallowed Them draws on dozens of interviews with those close to the crime, exploring themes like migration and belonging along the way.

There are over 100 million women and girls “missing” from Asia’s population as a result of prenatal sex selection. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, with a cast of characters ranging from geneticists to sex workers, Unnatural Selection looks at sex selection’s unexpected origins in western technology and the population control movement — and what is happening as the world's extra boys grow up.

Mara is a contributor to WIRED and the former China bureau chief for Science. Her feature articles, op-eds, and book reviews have also appeared in The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The New York Times, Popular Science, Scientific American, Technology Review, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications.  Mara is a founding member of the writers' cooperative Deca and a former National Fellow at New America.