Recommended Science Books (for modern citizens)

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Biology, Genetics, Nature and Climate Change

We Are Electric (2023) Sally Adee
The New Science of Our Body's Electrome

Science journalist Sally Adee breaks open the field of bioelectricity—the electric currents that run through our bodies and every living thing—its misunderstood history, and why new discoveries will lead to new ways around antibiotic resistance, cleared arteries, and new ways to combat cancer.

You may be familiar with the idea of our body's biome: the bacterial fauna that populate our gut and can so profoundly affect our health. In We Are Electric we cross into new scientific understanding: discovering your body's electrome.

Every cell in our bodies—bones, skin, nerves, muscle—has a voltage, like a tiny battery. It is the reason our brain can send signals to the rest of our body, how we develop in the womb, and why our body knows to heal itself from injury. When bioelectricity goes awry, illness, deformity, and cancer can result. But if we can control or correct this bioelectricity, the implications for our health are remarkable: an undo switch for cancer that could flip malignant cells back into healthy ones; the ability to regenerate cells, organs, even limbs; to slow aging and so much more. The next scientific frontier might be decrypting the bioelectric code, much the way we did the genetic code.

Yet the field is still emerging from two centuries of skepticism and entanglement with medical quackery, all stemming from an 18th-century scientific war about the nature of electricity between Luigi Galvani (father of bioelectricity, famous for shocking frogs) and Alessandro Volta (inventor of the battery).

In We Are Electric, award-winning science writer Sally Adee takes readers through the thrilling history of bioelectricity and into the future: from the Victorian medical charlatans claiming to use electricity to cure everything from paralysis to diarrhea, to the advances helped along by the giant axons of squids, and finally to the brain implants and electric drugs that await us—and the moral implications therein.

The author worked as a writer for New Scientist magazine so we should not be surprised that the material in this book is well referenced across 36 pages. I thought I new all about the early days of electricity but this book corrected my misconceptions about the rivalry between Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta, or what Benjamin Franklin was really trying to do with his kite (trying to store lightning in a Leyden Jar). Anyway this book documents how the study of electricity drifted from biology (Galvani's frogs) to physics (Volta's chemical battery) where it was trapped for more than a century until recently. This book is a must-read for all science nerds.

The Evolution of Charles Darwin (2022) Diana Preston
subtitled: The Epic Voyage of the Beagle That Forever Changed Our View of Life on Earth

The Evolution of Charles Darwin
highly recommended for all modern citizens and people wanting more details about Darwin, and the times in which he lived.

From the Los Angeles Times Book Prize-winning historian, the colorful, dramatic story of Charles Darwin's journey on HMS Beagle that inspired the revolutionary theories in his path-breaking books On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man
When twenty-two-year-old aspiring geologist Charles Darwin boarded HMS Beagle in 1831 with his microscopes and specimen bottles--invited by ship's captain Robert FitzRoy who wanted a travel companion at least as much as a ship's naturalist -- he hardly thought he was embarking on what would become the most important and epoch-changing voyage in scientific history. Nonetheless, over the course of the five-year journey around the globe in often hard and hazardous conditions, Darwin would make observations and gather samples that would form the basis of his revolutionary, evolutionary theories about the origin of species and natural selection. Drawing on a rich range of revealing letters, diary entries, recollections of those who encountered him, and Darwin's and FitzRoy's own accounts of what transpired, Diana Preston chronicles the epic voyage as it unfolded, tracing Darwin's growth from untested young man to accomplished adventurer and natural scientist in his own right. Darwin often left the ship to climb mountains or ride hundreds of miles across pampas and through rainforests in search of further unique specimens. From the wilds of Patagonia to the Galapagos and other Atlantic and Pacific islands, as Preston vibrantly relates, he collected and contrasted giant fossils and volcanic rocks, observed the Argentinian rhea, Falklands fox, and Galapagos finch, through which he began to discern connections between deep past and present. Darwin never left Britain again after his return in 1836, though his mind journeyed far and wide to develop the theories that were first revealed, after great delay and with great trepidation, in 1859 with the publication of his epochal book On the Origin of Species. Offering a unique portrait of one of history's most consequential figures, The Evolution of Charles Darwin is a vital contribution to our understanding of life on Earth.

(1) this book reads like the 2003 movie "Master and Commander" except Fitzroy and Darwin replace the fictional characters Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin
(2) most reader's will be surprised to learn that Darwin studied at Christ's College, Cambridge with the intention of becoming a "country parson" (clergyman; a man of religion). Contrary to popular opinion (and lies published by some American churches), he never once claimed to be an atheist.
(3) curious people may enjoy listening to this 4-part CBC radio program from 2009 which is also named The Evolution of Charles Darwin

Life as We Made It (2021) Beth Shapiro
How 50,000 Years of Human Innovation Refined - and Redefined -Nature

 highly recommended for all modern citizens Everyone must read this book!

When the 2020 Nobel Prize was awarded to the inventors of CRISPR, the revolutionary gene-editing tool, it underlined our amazing and apparently novel powers to alter nature. But as biologist Beth Shapiro argues in Life as We Made It, this phenomenon isn’t new. Humans have been reshaping the world around us for ages, from early dogs to modern bacteria modified to pump out insulin. Indeed, she claims, reshaping nature—resetting the course of evolution, ours and others’—is the essence of what our species does.

If you are unable to read this book then at least listen to this free interview with the author on the CBC program Quirks & Quarks
titled: Why humans should embrace our role as meddlers of nature — so that we can do it better

The Code Breaker (2021) Walter Isaacson
subtitled: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

 highly recommended for all modern citizens

When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled The Double Helix on her bed. She put it aside, thinking it was one of those detective tales she loved. When she read it on a rainy Saturday, she discovered she was right, in a way. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists, she decided she would. Driven by a passion to understand how nature works and to turn discoveries into inventions, she would help to make what the book’s author, James Watson, told her was the most important biological advance since his co-discovery of the structure of DNA. She and her collaborators turned a curiosity ​of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions. The development of CRISPR and the race to create vaccines for coronavirus will hasten our transition to the next great innovation revolution. The past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet. Now we are entering a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code. Should we use our new evolution-hacking powers to make us less susceptible to viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! And what about preventing depression? Hmmm…Should we allow parents, if they can afford it, to enhance the height or muscles or IQ of their kids? After helping to discover CRISPR, Doudna became a leader in wrestling with these moral issues and, with her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the Nobel Prize in 2020. Her story is a thrilling detective tale that involves the most profound wonders of nature, from the origins of life to the future of our species.

Darwin's Apostles (2019) by David Orenstein and Abby Hafer
subtitled: The Men Who Fought to Have Evolution Accepted, Their Times, and How the Battle Continues

Darwin's Apostles
 highly recommended for all modern citizens
Review by Harriet Hall MD

At a time when denial of scientific evidence could lead to the end of our species and many others, here is an entertaining and accessible book about the search for the origin of species, including ours.

In this very readable tome, the authors talk about the trips and research that Charles Darwin conducted that led him to his theory and those that supported him as well as those that opposed him. Darwin was hesitant to share his theory and was hoping to amass a large volume of research prior to doing so. However, Alfred Russel Wallace was undertaking studies that led to the same conclusion. Wallace sent a letter to Darwin outlining his similar views. I did not know that the first public discussion of evolution was at the Linnean Society of London in July 1858 and that it previewed papers by both Darwin and Wallace. I was impressed that both gave each other credit for the idea although by the 20th century, Darwin was the one receiving the most credit. This book outlines the other "apostles" that supported Darwin's theory and worked to defend it in public. Excellent read!


  1. The Debate That Ushered in Modernity
  2. Evolutionary Thought Before Darwin
  3. Darwin and Defining His Apostles
  4. Life and Times of Victorian England
  5. Darwin's Power for Reason and Knowledge
  6. Biographies of the Apostles, an Introduction
  7. Thomas Henry Huxley
  8. Joseph Dalton Hooker
  9. Asa Gray
  10. John William Draper
  11. Alfred Russel Wallace
  12. The Storm: Nineteenth Century Reaction to The Origin of Species
  13. The Calm: the Apostles Reach Out, React, and Advocate
  14. Drawing a Line: Darwin as Apical Freethought Ancestor
  15. The Storm Clouds Rise Again: Twentieth and Twenty-first Century Reaction to Natural Selection
  16. In Conclusion: Darwin, the Science of Evolution, and the Wider World
  17. Appendix
  18. Bibliography (14 pages of References)
  19. Index
NSR comments:

Novacene (2019) James Lovelock
subtitled: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence

 highly recommended for all modern citizens

James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis and the greatest environmental thinker of our time, has produced an astounding new theory about future of life on Earth. He argues that the Anthropocene - the age in which humans acquired planetary-scale technologies - is, after 300 years, coming to an end. A new age - the Novacene - has already begun. New beings will emerge from existing artificial intelligence systems. They will think 10,000 times faster than we do and they will regard us as we now regard plants - as desperately slow acting and thinking creatures. But this will not be the cruel, violent machine takeover of the planet imagined by sci-fi writers and film-makers. These hyper-intelligent beings will be as dependent on the health of the planet as we are. They will need the planetary cooling system of Gaia to defend them from the increasing heat of the sun as much as we do. And Gaia depends on organic life. We will be partners in this project. It is crucial, Lovelock argues, that the intelligence of Earth survives and prospers. He does not think there are intelligent aliens, so we are the only beings capable of understanding the cosmos. Maybe, he speculates, the Novacene could even be the beginning of a process that will finally lead to intelligence suffusing the entire cosmos. At the age 100, James Lovelock has produced the most important and compelling work of his life.

NSR comments: This well written and easily digestible book may be as pivotal for humanity as Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" but there is a problem: it was written by a nerd (Lovelock) for nerds (scientists, engineers, technicians, computer programmers, students). Non-nerds (especially those people whose primary interest is in sports, finance, politics, religion and war) will be tone-deaf to the topics within. But all is not lost. Nerds created the imperfect internet-based world in which everyone now lives so it is up to the nerds to educate everyone else. It is impossible to Make America Great Again in the context espoused by politicians since it would mean going back to a previous era (did not work for the Luddites)

Quote from page 116: It is horrific that our leaders, almost all of whom are wholly ignorant of science and engineering, are encouraging the development of fill-this-blank. Their ignorance is compounded by an inability to reject the advice of lobbyists whose sole aim seems to be to profit from whatever can be made to seem an environmental hazard.

The End of Ice (2019) Dahr Jamail
subtitled: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption

This is a shocking book about the reality of climate change (things are much worse than you could imagine). I suggest you buy this book but begin by watching this Chris Hedges interview:

Gene Machine (2018) Venki Ramakrishnan
subtitled: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome
With a forward by CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna

 highly recommended for anyone intrested in molecular biology or those considering a life in academia

"An enchanting and invigorating work, Gene Machine casts a many-angled light on the world of science, the nature of discovery, and on one of the deepest mysteries of twentieth-century biology. Ramakrishnan, one of the key players in deciphering the molecular basis of protein translation, gives us both a rollicking scientific story and a profoundly human tale. In the tradition of The Double Helix, Gene Machine does not hesitate to highlight the process by which science advances: moving through fits and starts, often underscored by deep rivalries and contests, occasionally pitching towards error and misconception, but ultimately advancing towards profound and powerful truths. An outsider to the world of ribosome biology--an Indian immigrant, a physicist by training--Ramakrishnan retains his 'outsider's' vision throughout the text, reminding us about the corrosive nature of scientific prizes, and the intensity of competition that drives researchers (both ideas, I suspect, will have a munificent effect on our current scientific culture). Ramakrishnan's writing is so honest, lucid and engaging that I could not put this book down until I had read to the very end."―Siddhartha Mukherjee

"The ribosome is the central processor that decodes the universal machine-code of life, and the history of its unraveling is on a par with that of DNA itself. You could think of Venki Ramakrishnan as a sort of 'nice Jim Watson.' His meticulously detailed and generous memoir has the same disarming frankness as The Double Helix. His personal honesty about the competitive ambition that drove him is tempered by his deeply thoughtful reflections on the potentially corrupting effect of big prizes. Gene Machine will be read and re-read as an important document in the history of science."―Richard Dawkins

Rigor Mortis (2017) Richard Harris
subtitled: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billons

 highly recommended for science students and budding researchers 
I bought this book just after hearing an interview with the author on the NPR radio program, Science Friday (episode: 2017-04-21) which you can still listen to here ( ).

Do not let the subtitle deceive you, this is not a book advocating increases or decreases in government funding. Rather, it advocates experimental researchers doing a better job with the money they already have. This was the first time I heard the phrase "Eroom's Law" which is derived from Moore's Law with the first word spelt backwards. According to interviews by the author, if changes are not forthcoming then humanity can expect no new pharmaceutical treatments after the year 2040.

Skeptic Magazine (volume 20 number 3)

This very thought provoking issue is dedicated to Alfred Russel Wallace. It contains lots of information about:

The Invention of Nature (2015) Andrea Wulf

 highly recommended

Excerpt from page 3: Described by his contemporaries as the most famous man in the world after Napoleon, Alexander Humboldt was one of the most captivating and inspiring men of his time. Born in 1769 into a wealthy Prussian aristocratic family, he discarded a life of privilege to discover for himself how the world worked. As a young man he set out on a five year exploration to Latin America, risking his life many times and returning with a new sense of the world. It was a journey that shaped his life and thinking, and that made him legendary across the globe. He lived in cities such as Paris and Berlin, but was equally at home on the most remote branches of the Orinoco River or in the Kazakh Steppe at Russia's Mongolian border. During much of his long life, he was the nexus of the scientific world, writing some 50,000 letters and receiving at least double that number. Knowledge, Humboldt believed, had to be shared, exchanged and made available to everybody.

Excerpt from page 4: Charles Darwin wrote that 'nothing ever stimulated my zeal so much as reading Humboldt's Personal Narrative' saying that he would not have boarded the Beagle, nor conceived of the Origin of Species, without Humboldt.

Comment: we know from his diaries that Darwin continued to read Humboldt during his own five year journey aboard the Beagle

Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (2014) Bill Nye

This book is much more than a defense of Evolution. It's a well-written and entertaining showcase of what makes nature so fascinating. I recommend it for creationists, for those who understand evolution, and for those who simply enjoy a good read.

Other reviewers said:

  1. "With his charming, breezy, narrative style, Bill empowers the reader to see the natural world as it is, not as some would wish it to be. He does it right. And, as I expected, he does it best."—Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D, host of COSMOS
  2. "This gracefully written book provides a tour through not just the big ideas of evolution, but why evolution is such a captivating idea scientifically, philosophically, and emotionally. Written from the heart—but science always comes from the heart with Bill Nye."—Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D., author of Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction
  3. "Bill Nye has penned one of the clearest and most moving explanations of that process since Darwin's On the Origin of Species. With clarity and passion, Nye brings evolutionary theory to life."—Michael Shermer, Ph.D., author of Why Darwin Matters and The Moral Arc
  4. "Bill Nye has written a wonderfully clear, readable, and enjoyable explanation of what evolution is and is not. In his casual, humorous style, he…describes the gigantic mountain of evidence that demonstrates that evolution not only happened in the past, but is happening in real time."—Donald Prothero, Ph.D., author of Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
  5. "Following right in his mentor Carl Sagan's footsteps, this call to action and awareness of the lingering ‘debate’ over the reality of Evolution will further cement Bill Nye's place as our time's premier spokesman for science and reason."—Dr. Jim Bell, president of The Planetary Society and author of The Interstellar Age

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (2013) Donald R. Prothero

 highly recommended for citizens. Should be required reading by all first-year secondary school students 

The battles over evolution, climate change, childhood vaccinations, and the causes of AIDS, alternative medicine, oil shortages, population growth, and the place of science in our country—all are reaching a fevered pitch. Many people and institutions have exerted enormous efforts to misrepresent or flatly deny demonstrable scientific reality to protect their nonscientific ideology, their power, or their bottom line. To shed light on this darkness, Donald R. Prothero explains the scientific process and why society has come to rely on science not only to provide a better life but also to reach verifiable truths no other method can obtain. He describes how major scientific ideas that are accepted by the entire scientific community (evolution, anthropogenic global warming, vaccination, the HIV cause of AIDS, and others) have been attacked with totally unscientific arguments and methods. Prothero argues that science deniers pose a serious threat to society, as their attempts to subvert the truth have resulted in widespread scientific ignorance, increased risk of global catastrophes, and deaths due to the spread of diseases that could have been prevented.


The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars (2012) Michael Mann

 highly recommended for all citizens 

The ongoing assault on climate science in the United States has never been more aggressive, more blatant, or more widely publicized than in the case of the Hockey Stick graph -- a clear and compelling visual presentation of scientific data, put together by Michael E. Mann and his colleagues, demonstrating that global temperatures have risen in conjunction with the increase in industrialization and the use of fossil fuels. Here was an easy-to-understand graph that, in a glance, posed a threat to major corporate energy interests and those who do their political bidding. The stakes were simply too high to ignore the Hockey Stick -- and so began a relentless attack on a body of science and on the investigators whose work formed its scientific basis.

The Hockey Stick achieved prominence in a 2001 UN report on climate change and quickly became a central icon in the "climate wars." The real issue has never been the graph's data but rather its implied threat to those who oppose governmental regulation and other restraints to protect the environment and planet. Mann, lead author of the original paper in which the Hockey Stick first appeared, shares the story of the science and politics behind this controversy. He reveals key figures in the oil and energy industries and the media front groups who do their bidding in sometimes slick, sometimes bare-knuckled ways. Mann concludes with the real story of the 2009 "Climategate" scandal, in which climate scientists' emails were hacked. This is essential reading for all who care about our planet's health an dour own well-being.

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True (2011) Richard Dawkins

My parents were conservative Lutherans who refused to accept evolution primarily due to the fact that they possessed no scientific education whatsoever, and their church told them not to (you do not need to give up your belief in God to accept the evidence of Darwin's Theory). While reading this unexpected gem, I kept thinking "I wish my parents were still alive so they could read this lucid explanation of evolution (in chapter one)". Although not a book targeted toward young adults, I would have no problem gifting this book to pre-teenagers about to enter secondary school. What an unexpected surprise.

The Inquisition of Climate Science (2011) James Lawrence Powel


  1. many of today's climate deniers think "they" are smarter than professional scientists; think scientists are part of some sort of world-wide liberal conspiracy; think addressing the issues of climate change will "wreck" the economy. A much smaller number of deniers have actually suggested killing some scientists. Do any of these points sound familiar
  2. prior to the 1990s, Soviet peoples wasted much bandwidth labeling everything as either "bourgeois this" or "proletariat that" and I thought it made them sound ridiculous. Since the 1990s, Americans seem to be unable to discuss anything without including labels liberal or conservative. I wonder why this ideological shift has gone unnoticed?

Merchants of Doubt (2010) Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
subtitled: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

 highly recommended  for any citizen wondering about science denial or political lobbyists

 This book is recommended to anyone who...

The Greatest Show On Earth (2010) Richard Dawkins
subtitled: The Evidence for Evolution

 science lover's "must have"

The Discovery of Global Warming (2008) Spencer R. Weart

The Discovery of Global Warming very highly recommended  for anyone interested in science or climate change

The Evolution of Charles Darwin (2009) CBC Audio

Charles Darwin very highly recommended  for people wanting more details about Darwin, and the times in which he lived.

He Knew He Was Right (2008) John Gribbin

What an unexpected surprise. Not only does this book include a biography of James Lovelock along with a description of his Gaia Hypothesis, it also includes a general history of the physics and chemistry of atmospheric and geological sciences which starts in the 1700s with the work of Jean Fourier (heat) and Joseph Black (discoverer if Carbon Dioxide which was then known as "fixed air"). Maybe it is only because I am a science fan but I couldn't put this book down. It is highly recommended to the general reader wishing to learn more about climate change.

Climate Wars (2008) Gwynne Dyer

 highly recommended  for everyone in the modern world

Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning (2006) George Monbiot

Just a few interesting facts from the first couple of chapters:

The Human Advantage (2016) Suzana Herculano-Houzel
A New Understanding of How our Brains Became Remarkable

Humans are awesome. Our brains are gigantic, seven times larger than they should be for the size of our bodies, use 25% of all the energy the body requires each day, and became enormous in hardly any time in evolution, leaving our cousins, the great apes, behind. So the human brain is special, right?

Wrong: according to the evidence uncovered by the author, humans have developed cognitive abilities that outstrip those of all other animals because we have a brain built in the image of other primate brains that managed to gather the largest number of neurons in the cerebral cortex due to a technological innovation that allowed a larger caloric intake in less time: cooking.

comments: this book explains why "dogs are twice as smart as cats" and "humans are twice as smart as gorillas". And why is it that elephant brains are three times larger than human brains, and yet human are three times smarter than elephants.

New science proves why "dogs are smarter than cats" and "humans are smarter than gorillas". Even through elephant brains are three times larger, why are humans smarter?

my review: This book is a real "page turner" and I recommend it for all modern citizens who ever wondered "why humans are so much more intelligent than other species?" Much of my own knowledge on this subject began in 1977 when I read a book by Carl Sagan titled "The Dragons of Eden" (subtitled: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence). In chapter 1 of "The Human Advantage", the author mentions that much brain science popularized in Sagan's book (who was publishing outside his area of expertise) is now considered wrong. Error-1: the concept of the human "triune brain" (where a neocortex is layered over a paleocortex which is layered over a reptilian (limbic) brain) is now considered a complete fiction because the first mammalian brain evolved "before" the first reptilian brain. Error-2: previous books claim the human brain is composed of 100 billion neurons. But it appears that an actual experiment was never done, and the number every book quotes is just a rounded-up estimate. Error-3: the cultural meme that we only use 10% of our brains is totally wrong. In fact, we use 100% of our gray matter (our brains are composed of 10% gray matter layered over 90% white matter which acts as a mechanical substrate). CAVEAT: Everything I have just written comes from chapter 1. The remainder of the book is just as rich with new information. If you enjoyed reading general science books by Carl Sagan then you will definitely enjoy reading "The Human Advantage".

The Epigenetics Revolution (2012) Nessa Carey
How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance

Epigenetics can potentially revolutionize our understanding of the structure and behavior of biological life on Earth. It explains why mapping an organism's genetic code is not enough to determine how it develops or acts and shows how nurture combines with nature to engineer biological diversity. Surveying the twenty-year history of the field while also highlighting its latest findings and innovations, this volume provides a readily understandable introduction to the foundations of epigenetics.

Nessa Carey, a leading epigenetics researcher, connects the field's arguments to such diverse phenomena as how ants and queen bees control their colonies; why tortoiseshell cats are always female; why some plants need cold weather before they can flower; and how our bodies age and develop disease. Reaching beyond biology, epigenetics now informs work on drug addiction, the long-term effects of famine, and the physical and psychological consequences of childhood trauma. Carey concludes with a discussion of the future directions for this research and its ability to improve human health and well-being.

Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance (2011) by Richard C. Francis

"The potential is staggering. The age of epigenetics has arrived." Time, January 2010
Epigenetic means "on the gene," and the term refers to the recent discovery that stress in the environment can impact an individual's physiology so deeply that those biological scars are actually inherited by the next several generations. For instance, a recent study has shown that men who started smoking before puberty caused their sons to have significantly higher rates of obesity. And obesity is just the tip of the iceberg many researchers believe that epigenetics holds the key to understanding cancer, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, autism, and diabetes. Epigenetics is the first book for general readers on this fascinating and important topic. The book is driven by stories such as the Dutch famine of World War II, Jose Canseco and steroids, the breeding of mules and hinnies, Tasmanian devils and contagious cancer, and more.

DNA: The Secret of Life (2003/2004) by James Watson

What makes DNA different from hordes of competitors purporting to help readers understand genetics is that it is written by none other than James Watson, of Watson and Crick fame. He and his co-author Andrew Berry have produced a clear and easygoing history of genetics, from Mendel through genome sequencing. Watson offers readers a sense of immediacy, a behind-the scenes familiarity with some of the most exciting developments in modern science. He gleefully reports on the research juggernaut that led to current obsessions with genetic engineering and cloning. Aided by profuse illustrations and photos, Watson offers an enthusiastic account of how scientists figured out how DNA codes for the creation of proteins--the so-called "central dogma" of genetics. But as patents and corporations enter the picture, Watson reveals his concern about the incursions of business into the hallowed halls of science. After 1975, DNA was no longer solely the concern of academics trying to understand the molecular underpinnings of life. The molecule moved beyond the cloisters of white-coated scientists into a very different world populated largely by men in silk ties and sharp suits. In later chapters, Watson aims barbs at those who are concerned by genetic tinkering, calling them "alarmists" who don't understand how the experiments work. It is in these arguments that Watson may lose favor with those whose notions of science were born after Silent Spring. Nevertheless, DNA encompasses both sides of the political issues involved in genetics, and Watson is an enthusiastic proponent of debate on the subject.

Who better than James Watson to lead a guided tour of DNA? When he and his English colleague, Francis Crick, discovered the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953, little could they imagine that a mere 50 years later scientists would be putting the finishing touches on a map of the human genome. In this magisterial work, Watson, who won the Nobel Prize with Crick for their discovery, guides readers through the startling and rapid advances in genetic technology and what these advances will mean for our lives. Watson covers all aspects of the genome, from the layout of four simple bases on the DNA molecule through their complex construction into genes, then to the mechanisms whereby proteins produced by genes create our uniquely human characteristics-as well as the genetic mutations that can cause illnesses or inherited diseases like Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Huntington's disease. Watson may have mellowed a little over the years since he displayed his youthful brashness in The Double Helix, but he still isn't shy about taking on controversial subjects. He criticizes biotech corporations for patenting genes, making diagnostic medical procedures horribly expensive and damping further basic research. He notes that while China and other countries with large populations to feed have eagerly grasped the potential of genetically modified foodstuffs, America squandered $100 million on a recall of taco shells and the genetically modified corn used in them. He pleads passionately for the refinement and widespread use of prenatal genetic testing. Watson will probably provoke the most controversy with his criticism of scientists, corporations and government funding sources for their avoidance of important areas of research-notably the genetics of skin coloration-for political reasons. Every reader who wants to understand their own medical future will want to read this book.

The Code of Codes (1993/2000) Daniel Kevles and Leroy Hood
subtitled: Scientific and Social Issues in the Human Genome Project

Another popularization of the Human Genome Project, this one has the distinction of being the first published as an anthology, and among its contributors are some leading scholars, scientists, and social critics. The three parts of the book present essays covering topics in "History, Politics, and Genetics," "Genetics, Technology, and Medicine," and "Ethics, Law, and Society." Some of the essays are quite provocative, especially editor Kevels' "Out of Eugenics: The Historical Politics of the Human Genome" (creepy to read but necessary so humanity does not repeat this mistake - NSR) , Dorothy Nelkin's "The Social Power of Genetic Information", Ruth Schwartz Conan's "Genetic Technology and Reproductive Choice", and James D. Watson's "A Personal View of the Project." Still, there is a good deal of substantive overlap among the essays and, while the discussions by experts are more sophisticated and specialized than those appearing in other books, little new information is presented for general readers. Public libraries with either Jerry Bishop and Michael Waldholz's Genome ( LJ 7/90) or Robert Shapiro's The Human Blueprint ( LJ 9/1/91) do not need this title, but academic libraries should consider it.

Leroy Hood, MD, PhD, President and co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, is a pioneer in systems approaches to biology and medicine. Dr. Hood's research has focused on the study of molecular immunology, biotechnology and genomics. His professional career began at Caltech, where he and his colleagues developed the DNA sequencer and synthesizer and the protein synthesizer and sequencer--four instruments that paved the way for the successful mapping of the human genome and lead to his receiving this year's prestigious Russ Prize, awarded by the Academy of Engineering. A pillar in the biotechnology field, Dr. Hood has played a role in founding more than fourteen biotechnology companies, including Amgen, Applied Biosystems, Darwin, The Accelerator and Integrated Diagnostics. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, one of only 10 people in the world to be elected to all three academies. In addition to having published more than 700 peer reviewed articles, he has coauthored textbooks in biochemistry, immunology, molecular biology and genetics, as well as a popular book on the human genome project, The Code of Codes. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lasker Award, the Kyoto Prize and the Heinz Award in Technology. Dr. Hood has also received 17 honorary degrees from prestigious universities in the US and other countries.

The Eighth Day of Creation (1979/1996/2004) Horace Freeland Judson
subtitled: Makers of the Revolution in Biology (25th Anniversary Edition)

In the foreword to this expanded edition of his 1979 masterpiece, Horace Freeland Judson says, "I feared I might seem the official historian of the movement"--molecular biology, that is. If by official he means "authoritative; definitive; the standard against which all others are measured" then his fears are warranted. Detailed without being overly technical, humane without being fulsome, The Eighth Day of Creation tells of molecular biology's search for the secret of life. "The drama has everything--exploration of the unknown; low comedy and urgent seriousness; savage competition, vaulting intelligence, abrupt changes of fortune, sudden understandings; eccentric and brilliant people, men of honor and of less than honor; a heroine, perhaps wronged; and a treasure to be achieved that was unique and transcendent." And in Judson this drama found its Shakespeare.

This lay history of molecular biology now contains material on some of the principal figures involved, particularly Rosalind Franklin and Erwin Chargaff. The foreword and epilogue sketch the further development of molecular biology into the era of recombinant DNA.

Good Calories, Bad Calories (2007) Gary Taubes

 Everyone needs to read this book
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Neil Rieck
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.