The Laboratory Bookshelf at Home, Spring 2020
The Laboratory Bookshelf is a periodic feature of our PepTalk blog posts, designed to highlight books that may be of interest to scientists wanting to read something other than the peer-reviewed journals we know and love.
This is without a doubt an edition of the Laboratory Bookshelf we never imagined we would compose: written while in the midst of a pandemic. Whether you are quarantined and have extra time off to read, or after a long day in the lab and want to get away from the day’s news, we know it’s a good time to read! There are the new volumes for your investigations.
Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character
– Kay Redfield Jamison; While psychology may be by some considered outside the “hard” sciences, this study is a deep unsparing, but ultimately humane treatment of the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, considered one of the most important post-war era American poets. He won his accolades, and did much of his work while in the midst and suffering from extreme bouts of bipolar disorder. As a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins and an authority on mood disorders, Jamison (a MacArthur Fellowship award winner) has forthrightly acknowledged her own personal challenges with manic depression, and thus adroitly weaves this psycho-medical-literary biography from both a personal and professional expertise. More about the author is found here and here.
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took Measure of the Stars – Dava Sobel; This is another one of those much needed “corrective class” of stories that are helping revise our understanding of the discoveries, inventions, and advances of human achievement by, and because of, women. Think “Hidden Figures”, the popular movie of 2016 that revealed the efforts of three brilliant African-American women at NASA that were crucial to launching John Glenn into orbit and altering the “Space Race” in the 1960s. In this case, the story takes place in the 1870s and centers on women literally “born to the work” to be assistants at the Harvard College Observatory. They were wives, daughters, and sisters of the astronomers, who eventually due to their hard work and the progressive vision of their director, gained national and international acclaim for their discoveries.
Leonardo da Vinci – Walter Isaacson; The Laboratory Bookshelf previously featured the bestselling author’s Einstein. Readers of that, or of his biography of Steve Jobs, know what to expect: an accessible well-researched portrait that shows a questing probing true definition of the Renaissance Man. The book has many beautiful full-color images, helpful to those not much familiar with his artistic output beyond Mona Lisa, TheVitruvian Man, or The Last Supper. Although his artistic output is covered, Isaacson is on firmer ground and seems more confident dealing with the polymath’s formidable achievements in areas as diverse as anatomy, engineering, botany, hydrology, and numerous others.
The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus – Richard Preston; This unfortunately topical book takes readers into the first “appearance” of a virus, Ebola, that has a mortality rate many times higher than NCOV 2019. As the WHO site dedicated to it states, “the average EVD (Ebola Virus Disease) case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.” This fascinating, harrowing, and exciting account of its emergence is by the only nondoctor to have received the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Champion of Prevention Award”.
Also recommended, in a similar vein and even more topical, is by Siddhartha Mukherjee, an author who has appeared on The Laboratory Bookshelf twice before. His recent account, “How Does the Coronavirus Behave Inside a Patient?” might not be comforting, but is as insightful as his longer works, listed below, and guaranteed to mix the humane with the scientific and historical.
Finally, for those wanting a diversion but are too distracted to commit to a long book right now, how about a documentary based on one of the recommendations here? Ken Burns is presenting a new one on The Gene by the frequently-mentioned-here, Siddhartha Mukherjee, this week on PBS. You can find out all about it here.
The preceding additions join these previously featured books:
o American Moonshot – Douglas Brinkley
o The Uninhabitable Earth Life After Warming – David Wallace-Wells
o Midnight in Chernobyl – Adam Higginbotham
o The Body: A Guide for Occupants – Bill Bryson
o An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives– Matt Richtel
o Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity– By Jamie Metzl
o The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds – By Michael Lewis
o Losing Earth: A Recent History – By Nathaniel Rich
o The New York Times Book of Science: More Than 150 Years of Groundbreaking Scientific Coverage – Edited by David Corcoran
o Weapons of Math Destruction – By Cathy O'Neil
o She Has Her Mother's Laugh – By Carl Zimmer
o Who We Are and How We Got Here – By David Reich
o The Future of Humanity and The Future of the Mind – By Michio Kaku
o Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto– by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon
o Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress – Steven Pinker
o Einstein: His Life and Universe – Walter Isaacson
o A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
o The Evolution of Beauty – Richard O. Prum
o Chemistry – Weike Wang
o Blitzed – Norman Ohler
o The Radium Girls – Kate Moore
o The Periodic Table – Primo Levi
o Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil DeGrasse Tyson
o The Smile Stealers: The Fine + Foul Art of Dentistry – Richard Barnett
o Lab Girl – Hope Jahren
o The Invention of Nature – Andrea Wulf
o The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer – Siddhartha Mukherjee
o The Gene: An Intimate History – Siddhartha Mukherjee
o Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness and Family Secrets – Luke Dittrich
o I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life – Ed Yong
o The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Smoot
And for younger readers:
o Women in Science – By Rachel Ignotofsky
o An Ada Lace Adventure – (5 Book Series) by Emily Calandrelli
That’s all for now – Stay safe and happy reading!