McAdam was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Barbados, Denmark and England, as well as in several cities in Canada. McAdam studied English and classics at McGill University, located in Montreal Quebec; and the University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario. He received a Doctor of Philosophy degree in English literature from the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England. His PhD thesis is a study of translations of Ancient Greek into English in the Seventeenth Century.
McAdam’s first novel, Some Great Thing (2004), won the Books in Canada First Novel Award and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for English language fiction, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Best First Book), and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in the United Kingdom. His second novel, Fall (2009) won the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. His third novel, A Beautiful Truth (2013) won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.
McAdam has written for the periodicals Harper’s Magazine and The Walrus.