A Summer Reading List for Biotech Pros

Xconomy National — 

[Updated: 7/17 9:15 am PT] Summer is here, so there’s a bit of a lull on the average biotech pro’s schedule. If there’s ever an opportunity to take a breather from the relentless scientific, medical, and investor meetings that dominate the industry calendar, this is it. Time to catch up on reading a few good books.

The good news is there’s no shortage of people writing thought-provoking things today about biology, healthcare, the global economy, and other topics that are bound to appeal to creative folks in the biotech industry. Here are a few books that I’ve heard recommended recently on my travels in biotech. Thanks to Jim Sabry of Genentech, Carol Gallagher of AnaptysBio, David Shaywitz of Theravance, consultant Stewart Lyman, and biotech entrepreneur Katrine Bosley for their thoughts.

If you have other books you’d like to add to the list, please send me a note at [email protected] with a short explanation of why you liked it. I may update this column throughout the week to beef up the list.

The Emperor of All Maladies” by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee. This book has gotten loads of critical acclaim over the past year, including a Pulitzer Prize. It’s written with the scientific and medical authority of a physician, the big picture context you’d expect from a historian, and a human touch that can only come from someone who wrestles with the challenges of treating terminally ill patients day-to-day. As someone who writes regularly about advances in the treatment of cancer, I’d say it’s probably the best book I’ve read this year.

Carol Gallagher,

Carol Gallagher, the executive chair of San Diego-based AnaptysBio, agrees this is highly-recommended reading for biotech executives. “Dr. Mukherjee, an oncologist who trained at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is a beautiful writer who provides a sense of the scientific and human struggles as well as the mistakes we have made in our efforts to make better treatments for patients with cancer,” Gallagher said via e-mail. “It captures the Don Quixote swinging at windmills sensation that we often all feel as we try to reverse the march of cancer. He incorporates the perspectives of patients when faced with being part of the real-time experiment of evaluating new treatments. An important perspective we should all keep as we try to develop new cancer agents.”

The Eighth Day of Creation,” by Horace Freeland Judson. This is a classic, first published in 1979, which Genentech’s Sabry recommended as fascinating and well worth reading in 2012. When Judson died a year ago, his obituary in the New York Times said this book was “regarded as the definitive account of the breakthroughs that transformed molecular biology in the mid-20th century.” I have to confess I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s on the list now.

A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock” by Evelyn Fox Keller. This is another biology classic that Sabry recommends, which I haven’t had a chance to pick up. But this biography of a Nobel Prize winning biologist sheds a lot of light on not just the history of molecular biology, and also the challenges women face in science—many of which sadly still endure long after McClintock died in 1992.

The Creative Destruction of Medicine” by Dr. Eric Topol. Quite a few doctors are irritated by the changes going on in their world, as their autonomy and incomes are being limited by various healthcare reforms. Topol takes a different tack, with … Next Page »

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11 responses to “A Summer Reading List for Biotech Pros”

  1. Thank you for the tips. I was just thinking I needed something new to read!!!

  2. Thank you for the tips. I was just thinking I needed something new to read!!!

  3. Luke, appreciate the suggestions!!!

  4. Luke, appreciate the suggestions!!!

  5. Great list, Luke. Some classics.
    Fox Keller has some strong ideas about McClintock asserting women do science differently than men. For a rebuttal to this view, check out Nathaniel Comfort’s book on McClintock: The Tangled Field. Comfort was mentored by another author on your list, Horace Judson.
    I blog about the Comfort and Keller books on Gender and Science here: http://mendelspod.com/blog/gender

  6. Excellent list, Luke!
    The Eight Day of Creation is a personal favorite of mine…and The Creative
    Destruction of Medicine is excellent. A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and
    Work of Barbara McClintock is another classic, and many readers may be surprised
    to learn just how important McClintock was and the extent of her contributions
    to understanding genetics (far beyond the main focus of the Nobel she won at 80
    years of age in 1983)-she was easily on the short list of the great scientists
    of all time as well as being and extraordinary person in so many other ways! By
    the way, she was on record with major objections to Keller’s book-so Theral
    Timpson’s post below is well worth everyone taking a look at to get a more
    complete picture. You might also want to consider adding to your

    Abundance: The Future Is
    Better Than You Think

    By Peter H. Diamandis
    & Steven Kotler


    While the entire book
    directly addresses the potential impact of exponential technologies on such
    global public health issues as water availability and food production, Chapter
    15: Health Care deals directly with new technologies developing in diagnostics,
    imaging, robotics and bionics which many readers in the biopharma/biotech/biomed
    fields may find interesting and provocative…

  7. great list Luke. I have been wanting to read ’emperor of maladise’ for the past year and I might just do it this summer. Thanks for posting the list!!

  8. Let’s not forget the true classics! There is much to be learned about human behavior by reading Tolstoy & Hugo.

  9. Luke Timmermanluketimmerman says:

    Good point, Carlos. I have a free version of War and Peace sitting on my iPad, and haven’t started in on it yet. Maybe I’m testing myself to see whether I can read something that long on an e-reader.

  10. Thanks Luke! Great list, already filling up my cart on Amazon. Also just finished Genentech, the beginnings of biotech (http://www.amazon.com/Genentech-The-Beginnings-Biotech-Synthesis/dp/0226359182/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1341346528&sr=1-1&keywords=genentech+the+beginnings+of+biotech) which was a great read on the birth of the company up until its IPO. Has insider quotes from Boyer, Swanson, Perkins and other scientists involved in the company’s creation at the time and reads like a Krakauer novel. Very in depth play by play of the events and great storylines and lessons that I think we can learn from. Also recommended by Trista Morrison on Bioworld’s recommendations.

  11. Michael Swit says:

    Great list.

    And I was pleased to see that you included The Eighth Day of Creation as it was written by my uncle.

    You also might have included a great book written by my cousin, Olivia Judson (Horace Judson’s daughter) called:

    TO ALL
    The Definitive Guide
    to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex

    Fascinating and very funny! http://www.drtatiana.com/