Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: Rebecca Skloot
Fun Fact: If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings
Review Summary: An impressively unbiased look at an interesting ethical question, with an equally impressive personal account of how this issue changed one families’ life.
Henreitta Lacks is a young, black woman whose cancerous cells were harvested and grown without her consent in the 1940’s. At the times, this was standard practice, especially with black patients, who still saw doctors from segregated wards or not at all. Today, her cells have changed the world. As the first cells to survive and continually reproduce, her cells have been used to develop numerous vaccines and learn more about many crucial cellular functions. Unfortunately, her family never benefited from the massive commercialization of her cells, although this book is an attempt to change that.
Title: Physics of the Future
Author: Michio Kaku
Fun Fact: Today the little chip in cards that sings happy birthday has more computing power than the Allied forces in 1945.
Review Summary: An extremely fun and well-explained look at current cutting edge science and where it will lead in the next century.
Are super powers, sentient robots, and flying cars in our future? According to Michio Kaku’s latest book, the answers to that question is probably; not any time soon; and at least floating cars almost definitely. In this book, Kaku makes predictions about what the next 100 years of science will bring and how that science will effect our daily lives. He makes these predictions based on both extensive interviews with scientists doing cutting edge research and his own experience as a researcher. Continue reading
Title: Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas
Author: Richard Ogle
Fun Fact: Barbie was based on a doll of the main character in a smutty german cartoon which sold mainly in smoke shops.
Review Summary: Very abstract, academic approach to the topic of creativity with a few thought provoking insights but little practical advice.
Have you ever wished you were more creative? I certainly have and not just because it would be awesome if I could draw. As a grad student, one of the most challenging aspects of research is being able to come up with creative new ways to solve problem. As in many fields, that makes creativity not just a hobby, but a career promoting skill. This book is a synthesis of the latest research related to creativity, particularly major breakthroughs and works of artistic genius. Continue reading
Title: The Engineer in the Garden
Author: Colin Tudge
Fun Fact: Some plants, including clover, naturally produce hemoglobin, the protein which transports oxygen through our blood.
Review Summary: A great introduction to the philosophical questions raised by genetic engineering, which includes complex language and ideas but which does a great job explaining the biology.
Genetic engineering is an incredible technology with many controversial applications. This book as a very approachable primer on those possible applications and the ethical issues they raise. While the science is handled very well and the author didn’t spend enough time on the basics to bore me, I do think the science is written simply enough that someone with no background could understand this book with a little effort. The author does an incredible job starting with the basics. Every biology term is defined. And this allows him to use biology terms and build up to more complicated concepts. For instance, instead of answering the question “what is genetic engineering” in a watered down way, he first explains basic molecular genetics and then the specific methods that people use to alter genomes. Unfortunately, the illustrations were bad enough to be basically useless, but the explanations were good enough that I don’t think the illustrations were needed any way.
Title: A Feeling For the Organism
Author: Evelyn Fox Keller
Fun Fact: Barbara McClintock was the first woman president of the Genetics Society of America and only the third woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
Review Summary: This was an interesting biography, similar to The Double Helix in its’ look at the human interactions behind scientific achievement, but much more technical and not something I would recommend for those without a science background.
Barbara McClintock was a brilliant female scientist, unwilling to settle for a “woman’s job” teaching when she was clearly cut out for research. Her intelligence and insight eventually put her discoveries so far ahead of the rest of her field that it took decades for her to receive the recognition she deserved. In this biography, we learn about both her struggles as a women in science and the details of her Nobel prize winning research. Continue reading
Title: Mirroring People
Author: Marco Iacoboni
Fun Fact: People who think about rabid soccer fans before general knowledge tests do worse than a control group, while people who think about professors before the test do better than the controls.
Review Summary: Wow – this is some incredibly interesting and well explained research. I’d highly recommend this to pretty much anyone.
Mirror neurons are the part of our brain which allow is to interpret other’s emotions, predict their intentions when they begin an action, and probably enable our ability to communicate using language. In Mirroring People, Marco Iacoboni explains clearly and intelligently the cutting edge research on this fascinating part of our brain – research with which he was intimately involved. The basic premise of this work is that we use the same neurons to preform an action and when we watch other people perform an action. This lets us put ourselves in their shoes to better understand what they’re doing and why. Continue reading