5 Books Recommendations for Aspiring Biologists

We’re halfway through the first semester of term and there is already a lot of work to be done, lectures to catch up on, assignments due and a lot of recommended reading that can be quite boring at times. Here, I’ve come up with a list of some books that I’ve personally enjoyed that reinforced my love for science!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This biography written by  Rebecca Skloot delves into the origins of HeLa cells, the first immortal cells to be cultured, responsible for numerous breakthroughs such as the polio vaccine and treatment of various cancers and viral infections. Although not much is known about where or rather whose cells these came from. This book describes the personal life of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were taken without her permission. Additionally it highlights the social setting of the 1950s, where Lacks was faced with racial discrimination and poverty. Overall it was a very thought-provoking account, which ties in ethics with science.

Interesting note:  John Hopkins University will be naming a building in honour of Henrietta Lacks, expected to be completed by 2022.

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The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Mukherjee’s compelling narrative on the history of cancer dates back to the first descriptions of a tumour in Egyptian hieroglyphs, to Galen’s descriptions of a “black substance”, tales of shocking treatments and the various people involved, not only scientists, but philanthropists and journalists, that have contributed to battling the disease and cancer awareness to this day. The book also documents Mukherjee’s own personal journey to understanding cancer through his patients and how it parallels to the discoveries that have been made in the past, leaving a lingering impression on readers.

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The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Classical Tales by Oliver Sacks

Regarded as a classic, Oliver Sacks recounts stories of patients with various conditions, allowing readers a closer look into the minds of intriguing individuals and how they view the world. Here, Sacks outlines the complex nature of the human mind in an captivating and sincere manner, displaying conversations with patients as well as observations.

Definitely a good recommendation for those interested in neuroscience and/or psychology.

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A Passion for Science by Lewis Wolpert, Alison Richards

A set of thirteen interviews by BBC on important characters in different fields of. It gives an insight on the significant discoveries made in their respective fields as well as their beliefs and lifestyle, and how they came to pursue their current careers. Here Wolpert’s interviews pays homage to scientists who have a shaped how current research is conducted. It includes interviews of: Abdus Salam (Theoretical Physicist), Martin Rees (Cosmologist), Michael Berry (Theoretical Physicist), Christopher Zeeman (Mathematician), Dorothy Hodgkin (Chemist), Francis Crick (Molecular Biologist), Sydney Brenner (Molecular Biologist), Gunther Stent (Molecular Biologist), John Maynard Smith (Evolution Theorist), Stephen Jay Gould (Evolutionary Biologist), Anthony Epstein (Virologist), Walter Bodmer (Geneticist) and Richard Gregory (Neuropsychologist).

Not only a book for aspiring biologists but all aspiring scientists alike.

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Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong by Paul A. Offit

This book chronicles discoveries that probably shouldn’t have been made and the consequences of such discoveries as well as the impact it has on current measures to regulate how research is conducted. A very thought-provoking narrative with a strong message to be careful about what we read, no matter how highly regarded the author and how we can ultimately learn from these wrongs of the past. A very quick and captivating read, with a variety of topics related to biology.

Honourable Mentions: Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood by Bill Hayes, The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddartha Mukherjee and many more…

There are many books out there detailing scientific discoveries that is outside the scope of research papers and text books, such as the ethics behind how research is conducted and its impact on society. Knowing this in addition to the facts is equally important and enhances our understanding of science as a whole.