We present a summer reading list of 15 must-reads that cover the history of genes and cancer, the link between so-called junk DNA and disease, uncertainty in medicine, and more.
From the author of The Emperor of All Maladies comes a history of the gene and a response to the defining question of the future: What becomes of being human when we learn to “read” and “write” our own genetic information? Mukherjee weaves science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, describing centuries of research and experimentation-from Aristotle and Pythagoras to Crick, Watson, and Franklin, to the 21st century innovators who mapped the human genome.
In the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering. In Being Mortal, Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.
There’s a running joke among radiologists: finding a tumor in a mammogram is akin to finding a snowball in a blizzard. Doctors are faced with similar difficulties every day when sifting through piles of data from blood tests to X-rays to endless lists of patient symptoms. This book looks at a number of controversies, including breast cancer screening, and explores the inescapable murkiness that permeates the theory and practice of modern medicine. Dr. Steven Hatch argues that instead of ignoring this uncertainty, we should embrace it.
In this groundbreaking book, Dr. Moalem shows us how fluid and fascinating the human genome is. By bringing us to the bedside of his unique and complex patients, he masterfully demonstrates what rare genetic conditions can teach us all about our own health. The author also looks at how insurance companies legally use genetic data to predict risk and how that ultimately impacts patient coverage.
This book examines the complex ways in which both black doctors and patients must navigate the difficult and often contradictory terrain of race and medicine. Through patient stories and his own, the author illustrates the complex social, cultural, and economic factors at the root of many health problems in the black community. Tweedy explores the challenges confronting black doctors, and the disproportionate health burdens faced by black patients, ultimately seeking a way forward to better treatment and more compassionate care.
In Pandora’s DNA, Stark uses her family’s experience with the BRCA mutation to frame a larger story about the so-called breast cancer genes, exploring the morass of legal quandaries, scientific developments, medical breakthroughs, and ethical concerns that surround BRCA mutations, from the troubling history of prophylactic surgery to the landmark lawsuit against Myriad Genetics that went all the way to the Supreme Court.
No matter which languages you know, if you want your work seen, studied, and cited today, you need to publish in English. For centuries science has been a polyglot enterprise. How did French, German, Latin, and Russian give way to English? In this book the history of science, and of English as its dominant language, comes to life, and brings with it a new understanding not only of the frictions generated by a scientific community that spoke in many often mutually unintelligible voices, but also of the possibilities of the polyglot,and the losses that the dominance of English entails.
Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation
by Dan Fagin is the true story of a small New Jersey town beset by the chemical waste insidiously generated and unethically dumped by a chemical corporation in the pre-environmental legislation days of the 1960s. Toms River is relentlessly researched, and Fagin’s narrative gift results in a truly compelling “scientific detective story.”
For decades after identifying the structure of DNA, scientists focused only on genes. Other regions that make up 98% of the human genome were dismissed as “junk,” sequences that serve no purpose. Yet recently researchers have discovered variations and modulations in this junk DNA that underwrite a number of intractable diseases. The author provides a clear and compelling introduction to junk DNA and its critical involvement in phenomena as diverse as viral infections, sex determination in mammals, disease treatments, and evolution.
I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse
, which is written by both veteran nurses and nurses-in-training, paints a fascinating and sympathetic picture of the people who form this front-line of patient care. In these stories, nurses recall the first births they experienced as well as first deaths, and reflect on what they find most difficult and most compelling about this very challenging profession.
The Philadelphia Chromosome
by Jessica Wapner begins in Philadelphia in 1959 when David Hungerford discovers a human cell with a missing piece of DNA, little knowing that his discovery would begin a scientific trajectory encompassing modern cancer research. His discovery became known as the Philadelphia chromosome, the genetic mutation responsible for the etiology of chronic myeloid leukemia, and this event marked the beginning of an explosion of interest in cancer biology and genetics.
Structured by the major food groups, this book offers guidelines on what are now known to be the foods most likely to reduce the risk of cancer. The author brings together his own research with that of other major cancer specialists, and breaks down which studies provide the most solid evidence, and how to use their results.
Henrietta Lacks was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells-harvested without her knowledge in 1951 and called HeLa cells by scientists today-became critical for the progress of medicine. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot follows the history of these cells, in part through the story of Lacks’s daughter, who sought to find out more about the life her mother lived and how she died.
The Emperor of All Maladies
by Siddhartha Mukherjee is a comprehensive and magnificent biography of cancer-from the time it first appeared in historic documents, through our modern struggle with the disease.
When George Johnson’s wife was diagnosed with metastatic cancer, Johnson, a renowned science writer, set off on a journey to learn everything he could about the disease. The result, The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery, is a narrative that intertwines his very personal, devastating experience throughout his wife’s mortal illness, with what he subsequently learned about the disease.