Bodanis was born and brought up in Chicago, Illinois, and read mathematics, physics and economics at the University of Chicago. In his early twenties he moved to Paris, where he began his career as a foreign correspondent for the International Herald Tribune. A move to the South of France followed, and he then split his time between France and London, combining writing with stints as a science presenter on 1980s ITV show, the Wide Awake Club.
In 1986 Bodanis had his first commercial authorial success with The Secret House: 24 Hours in the Strange & Wonderful World in Which We Spend Our Nights and Days, which reached no 5 on The New York Times Best Seller list and established him as a popular science writer. This book introduces Bodanis’s "microphotography" writing style, in which the author takes a worm's-eye view perspective that allows him to observe many obscure and complex phenomena of everyday life.
Bodanis moved to the UK full-time in the late 1980s, combining writing with teaching social sciences at St Antony's College, Oxford, consulting for the Royal Dutch Shell Senario Prediction unit, and speaking engagements including at conferences and Davos.
In 2001 he published E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation which was translated into 20 languages, and longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. In 2005, it was made into a documentary for Channel 4, and aired on PBS under the name Einstein's Big Idea. In 2009, E=mc2 was made into a ballet by the Birmingham Royal Ballet, under director David Bintley, and won the South Bank Award for best British Dance of the year.
Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World followed in 2006, and won the Royal Society Prize for Best Science Book of the Year. Bodanis caused some controversy by pledging to donate his prize to the family of the late government scientist, Dr David Kelly.
In 2006 Bodanis published Passionate Minds, the story of a brilliant but forgotten French scientist, Émilie du Châtelet, and her intellectual love affair with Voltaire. Passionate Mindswas the BBC’s Book of the Week on Radio 4 in June 2006, and featured on the cover of The Economist.
In 2013, Bodanis contributed an essay, "Computer-Generated Fascism" published in John Brockman's Edge Question series, What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night.
David has worked for the Royal Dutch Shell Scenario Prediction unit and the World Economic Forum. He has been a popular speaker at TED conferences and at Davos. His work has been published in the Financial Times, the Guardian, and the New York Times, and has appeared on Newsnight, Start the Week, and other programs. When not slumped in front of a laptop, he has been known to attempt kickboxing, with highly variable results.