The Laboratory Bookshelf, Socially Distancing in the Summer of 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. NEP / PI does not endorse the accuracy of the information contained in recommended books.

This is the second Laboratory Bookshelf written while in the midst of a pandemic. If you 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 have recommendations! There are two fiction entries and three non-fiction. One of these is a certified classic and three are related to viruses - including both fictional and inspired by the current pandemic.

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded Simon Winchester
This extremely wide-ranging tale, about one of the largest, most devastating volcanic eruptions, takes readers around the world, from the dawn of time to when the book was written. All the while Winchester touches on everything from one of history’s first corporations and pepper economics to plate tectonics, geology, and of course vulcanism. During the tour, it is a very fascinating journey, albeit to many places - and especially during certain times – where you definitely would not want find yourself!

Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City – Fang Fang
This was written at the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic’s ground zero from an eyewitness account, within the city where it all began. Taken from the writer’s contemporaneous observations, we are along for to observe the emerging patterns, fears, isolation, and varied responses by her, along with her friends, medical and healthcare workers, politicians, and just every day people coping within the stricken city. This is a journalistic record that will likely be important to future historians of this year.

The Plague – Albert Camus
This mid-20th century, fictional tale of a bubonic plague outbreak in Oran, Algeria was believed at the time to be a parable of Nazi occupation. Whether it is really that, simply a meditation on how to navigate life against an implacable foe, or just how to be morally good in difficult situations and the randomness of our lives, strong echoes will be impossible to miss. Each character is more of an archetype, responding to the events as almost as randomly as they occur.

The End of October –Lawrence Wright
The word “prescient” has appeared in virtually every review of this novel. Who could it not fail to since it was written before current events? With a Vice President of The United States in charge of a pandemic task force response, the Commander in Chief backing discredited or unproven “cures”, an economy struggling, protests, civil unrest, and empty shelves or closed stores, this is actually an extraordinarily researched thriller. You will feel like you learned something about epidemiology and related fields, while being entertained with a breakneck narrative.

Ingredients: The Strange Chemistry of What We Put in Us and on Us – George Zaidan
A MIT-trained chemist examines nutritional epidemiology: when we eat those things that we know we shouldn’t (cheese puffs), put things on our skin designed to protect us (sunscreen), or start a habit either out of trendiness or to break another (vaping). This is a humorous and likeable trip past all the scientific and marketing claims we are continually bombarded with, and - just perhaps – be more critical consumers.

The preceding additions join these previously featured books:

o       Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character Kay Redfield Jamison

o       The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took Measure of the Stars –Dava Sobel

o       Leonardo da Vinci – Walter Isaacson

o       The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus – Richard Preston

o       How Does the Coronavirus Behave Inside a Patient? – Siddhartha Mukherjee

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       George's Secret Key to the Universe Paperback – by Stephen Hawking, Lucy Hawking (Author), Garry Parsons (Illustrator)

o       An Ada Lace Adventure– (5 Book Series) by Emily Calandrelli

That’s all for now – Happy reading!



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Robert Brousseau

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Robert Brousseau, the Director of Creative Design and Media at Peptides International, has a wide range of responsibilities that include maintaining the Peptides International brand integrity and creating and implementing all materials related to marketing the company's product line. Since joining the company in 2004, he has incorporated media that now includes printed material such as product brochures and the long-running PEPNET newsletter, along with the company Website, social media, email and other outlets.  Additionally, he assists the staff with IT issues they encounter.  Bob has a background in graphic design, marketing, and advertising, in addition to project management and packaging.  He received his B.A. in Art from the University of Louisville, with additional post-graduate studies in education and design.