They blinded us with science?
January 12, 2012 6:38 PM   Subscribe

We are a group of mid-20s to mid-30s life-science phd students that have started a book club. Our first book was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and was a great fit for us. Please recommend others that you think might appeal to such a group. Thanks!
posted by sickinthehead to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Several of my scientist friends asked for & enjoyed The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements last holiday season.
posted by librarianamy at 6:41 PM on January 12, 2012

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer is one of my favorite recent books, and it was recommended to me by a friend after I told her how much I liked The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin is another good one. It tells the (to me, endlessly fascinating) story of the vaccines-cause-autism theory and its debunking, as well as taking a broader look at science communication and writing in the US and UK (primarily).
posted by brackish.line at 6:43 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service by Maryn McKenna is another book you might like. A bit sensationalistic but not to the point where it bothered me. (With this one and the Panic Virus, I'm going based on my love of popular science books and professional interest in public health, so YMMV.)
posted by brackish.line at 6:51 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Disappearing Spoon is a pretty good recommendation. The response to it was hit-or-miss from my friends here, but I enjoyed it.

Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic is a pretty neat bit of medical science analyzing the the great sleeping sickness epidemic and its aftermath. I had heard little of the illness outside Oliver Sack's Awakenings (which is a good book in its own right).

Oliver Sack's Uncle Tungsten may be a bit autobiographical for the crowd, but he's a fantastic author and I think it's worth a read. Honestly, most anything he's written is great science and conversation fodder (didn't like Mind's Eye, though). The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat is my all-time favorite medical science book: if you haven't read it, I can't recommend it enough.

I haven't made it all the way through Radioactive, Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout yet, but the bits I've read so far are okay. Again, it's heavy on the biography part, but she led an interesting life.

Plutonium: A History of the World's Most Dangerous Element was pretty good. If you're big into atomic physics some of the book gets a little light, but overall still fun to read.

I just finished Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History and, though the writing was a little so-so in places, it was fascinating to me because it almost pivots around organic chemistry and I didn't know much about that. The explanations were understandable by this physics-minded engineer.
posted by introp at 6:54 PM on January 12, 2012

Two off my recent purchase shelf:

The theory that would not die

The recent The Origin of AIDS by Pepin.
posted by cromagnon at 6:56 PM on January 12, 2012

Natalie Angier's Woman: An Intimate Geography is a great read.
posted by jesourie at 7:19 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Discoveries by Alan Lightman.
posted by pmb at 7:22 PM on January 12, 2012

A very different vein, but Patrick McGovern's last book Uncorking the Past is a very cool look at the science behind understanding the history of booze. (He's the guy responsible in part for all of Dogfish Head's cool ancient brews.) It's more anthropology and archaeology than straight science, and there are times the pacing is a little off, but the material he researches is fantastic and engaging.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:01 PM on January 12, 2012

A novel, but set in an academic lab and the plot centers around possible scientific fraud:

Intuition, by Allegra Goodman.
posted by emd3737 at 8:15 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mr. Bloomfield's Orchard: The Mysterious World of Mushrooms, Molds, and Mycologists is pretty entertaining, with science and history and gooey life forms.
posted by moonmilk at 8:19 PM on January 12, 2012

Charles Mann's 1493.
posted by anildash at 9:01 PM on January 12, 2012

Try The Great Influenza for an interesting study of the history and politics behind the 1918 flu epidemic.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:58 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Stiff and/or Bonk by Mary Roach

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:38 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I loved the Seven Daughters of Eve.
posted by superfish at 12:13 AM on January 13, 2012

Anything by Lewis Thomas
Anything by Malcolm Gladwell
Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain
I'm also blanking on a book with a title something like Other Worlds, which is about SETI, written by someone who was a main science writer at Time magazine.
posted by knile at 12:14 AM on January 13, 2012

All in the same vein as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - kind of pop-science with a bit more science than average:

Mutants by Armand Marie Leroi. A study of interesting mutations that humans can have, written by a geneticist.

One of Dawkins actual evolution books, like the selfish gene.

Silent Spring by Racheal Carson - the start of the understanding of biomagnification.

The diversity of life by E. O. Wilson. A great look at biodiversity, what it means and where it comes from.
posted by scodger at 12:47 AM on January 13, 2012

Also Carl Zimmer has a bunch of good books - You could choose one based on your labs specialty - I personally like Microcosm (E. coli) and Parasite Rex (parasitiology) but there are a bunch more.
posted by scodger at 12:49 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lablit is a good place to look for science-in-fiction.....
posted by lalochezia at 1:22 AM on January 13, 2012

I am also in a book club of PhD life science students. We ALSO read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as our first book.

Our second was Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin and the Making of Medical Miracle. It was a great read. Highly recommended.
posted by Cygnet at 4:32 AM on January 13, 2012

Last Chance to See, by Douglas Adams (of Hitchhiker's Guide fame) & Mark Carwardine

Genome, by Matt Ridley
posted by Flannery Culp at 4:53 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might like atul gawande's books on making surgery a stronger field. He's sort of the malcolm gladwell of medicine.
posted by jander03 at 5:39 AM on January 13, 2012

The Poisoner's Handbook
posted by dzot at 5:55 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would suggest Ben Goldacre's Bad Science, but it might bring out the rage.
posted by mippy at 6:59 AM on January 13, 2012

Lives of a Cell, by Lewis Thomas
The Double Helix, by Watson and Crick

Sorry for no link; should be easily googleable.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:41 AM on January 13, 2012

One of the best books I've ever read in my life, Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is the nonfiction story of a small Hmong immigrant girl in California who had epilepsy. In Hmong culture, epilepsy is considered a spiritual manifestation and not treated as it is in Western medicine, but in the American context, the girl's family sought treatment in local hospitals. A language barrier, a cultural barrier, and in fact philosophical barriers about the meaning and place of medicine in life created a heartbreakingly powerful and totally riveting story. I can't recommend it highly enough - I recommend it to everyone, but especially to people who study the things your group does.
posted by Miko at 8:46 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was in a Women Scientists Women's Science Fiction book group. We tried to read science fiction either by women or about women scientists, so probably different purposes from yours, but in case y'all might enjoy some good science fiction you can see the list here.

A few I hoped we would read but didn't (and it looks like they still haven't) were The Doomsday Book or To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (both authors have other novels that deal with science and ethics as well).
posted by hydropsyche at 9:18 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

brackish.lin, I'm honored you like my book - if folks out there are into it, i'm happy to do a kind of virtual discussion at some point.

A lot of the suggestions are great. Emperor of Maladies is one of my favorite recent science books.

Also, Alan Lightman has a new fiction book coming out in a week or so that looks interesting.
posted by smnookin at 9:31 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

For fiction with medical/life science themes, two of my recent favorites were Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verhese and Ann Patchett's State of Wonder.
posted by mcgsa at 10:41 AM on January 13, 2012

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn is one of those books that's super influential that no one reads. It's kind of a snooze but I'd still recommend it to anyone in science academia.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. On my to-read list.

I will anti-recommend Intuition. I started reading it in that burnt-out phase of grad school and it was hitting close enough to home that I needed to set it aside. If anyone in your group falls into that category, maybe hold off.

Carl Djerassi's stuff is interesting. His autobiography and Cantor's Dillemma I particularly liked.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:45 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ooh, if you ever want to do some fiction, consider the short stories of Andrea Barrett: Ship Fever and Servants of the Map both have beautiful, true-feeling stories about science and scientists.
posted by mskyle at 11:10 AM on January 13, 2012

Carl Zimmer is a worthy successor to Stephen Jay Gould. I'll specifically plug "At the Water's Edge". He covers (very recent) finds in the evolution of whales.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:18 PM on January 13, 2012

Some popular authors of non-fiction science that are similar to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks include:
-Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food, The Botany of Desire);
-Mary Roach (Stiff, Bonk, Spook, Packing for Mars);
-Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia, An Anthropologist on Mars);
-Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World, Cosmos, Pale Blue Dot);
-Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel, The Third Chimpanzee); and
-Brian Greene (The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos).

There are a few other books that are great as well:
A Short History of Nearly Everything-Bill Bryson, Predictably Irrational-Dan Ariely, My Stroke of Insight-Jill Bolte Taylor, The Great Influenza-John M. Barry, The Brain that Changes Itself-Norman Doidge, A Brief History of Time-Stephen Hawking, Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism-Temple Grandin...and I could go on...but here are some ideas to start with.
posted by angelaas525 at 1:11 PM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just saw this and thought of this post.
posted by mgogol at 7:32 AM on January 23, 2012

Gary Marcus: Guitar Zero - The New Musician & The Science of Learning.
posted by knile at 1:43 AM on January 26, 2012

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