A pre-graduate-school must-read list…

With the information overload today, it is easy to miss out on some eye-opening books that might be very helpful as you prepare for a life in science. Here are some I like:

The books listed below are mostly written for a general audience (“popular science”). I have grouped them into four categories for now. But I am guessing that both the categories and the list will be edited over time (this is actually a “curated” version of the the complete reading list on the lab site ). We also have a book club in the lab and you can follow our selections here : http://blog.nevillab.org/?cat=20

Biological concepts :

  • The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins
      A good grasp of the concepts of natural selection is an important asset – as you start thinking about and designing experiments to understand the immune system (or any biological question). The Dawkins book interprets Darwinian concepts at the molecular genetic level and is aimed at the general reader. It has been criticized for being too reductionist and for dismissing models such as group selection. More recent studies have pointed out the limitations of a purely kin-selection based perspective. But the book remains a very good introduction to evolutionary thought and an easy read for most anyone.
  • What is Life – Erwin Schrödinger
      An early classic, which inspired the race to find the molecular basis of heredity (DNA). His discussion is necessarily conceptual (the specifics of genes, DNA etc were not known at the time). But, as you prepare to immerse into the narrow and exciting details of an area of your choosing, stepping back for a debate with Schrodinger may help neurons in unexpected places fire up some new ideas ….

Scientific Philosophy & Method :

  • Advice To A Young Scientist – Peter B. Medawar
      Although titled like a modern day self help book, Medawar’s work is in fact an elegant treatise that lays out his thoughts on the process of scientific research. Read it as a discussion with one of the most brilliant Immunologists ever.

  • One Two Three . . . Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science – George Gamow
      This is a classic – and you probably should read it in high school ! It is really about the wonder of science.

General ideas :

  • Outliers: The Story of Success– Malcolm Gladwell
      Well… although the book is an opinion piece rather than a thesis about the attributes that make people highly successful, the basic theme is quite relevant to succeeding in science. And it complements some of the concepts touched upon by Medawar. Plus its an easy read (but maybe it belongs in the next category).

Fun to read :

The books below are more for light reading, than for picking up any great concept or learning. So if you are looking for a book to take to the beach on your first weekend away from grad school… maybe one of these would be a good idea.

  • The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Biology – Horace Freeland Judson (Ed)
      This description of the central dogma (DNA/RNA/Protein) was officially the birth of molecular biology – and led to the amazing progress that we take for granted in biology today. This book narrates the workings of the brilliant minds who cracked those riddles and details their triumphs, failures and personalities…
  • Microbe Hunters -Paul de Kruif
      Similarly, this book chronicles the giant intellects who got the fields of Microbiology and Immunology rolling. It was published in 1926, when their work was actively driving other people to push the frontiers of medicine (as opposed to being a paragraph in the “history” section) – so it transports you to a different time, but one whose ideas and questions are actually still relevant today.
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! – Richard P. Feynman
      This was probably the best book I read before grad school. Feynman’s anecdote rich romp through cutting edge physics ! There is a video documentary where he talks about his passion for science, to whet your appetite.

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