7 biotech books to dive into this summer

June 29, 2022 - 6 minutes
Illustration/Elena Resko

From the unprecedented speed at which the COVID-19 vaccines were developed to the biggest fraud case in biotech history, to a sci-fi story set in a post-apocalyptic city, here are seven biotech books to check out this summer.

With record-breaking heat waves announcing the start of summer, there has never been a better time to curl up with a book under the cool shade of a tree or while sipping cocktails by the poolside. We’ve put together a list of biotech books that are sure to teach you something new about biotech history or raise interesting questions regarding the future of humankind.

1. A Shot to Save the World: The Remarkable Race and Groundbreaking Science Behind the Covid-19 Vaccines

Author: Gregory Zuckerman

a shot to save the world book coverFor decades, research on messenger (m)RNA therapeutics was regarded as scientific backwater, until the COVID-19 pandemic launched the technology to medical darling status. In “A Shot to Save the World,” Gregory Zuckerman, reporter at The Wall Street Journal, tells us the story of the tenacious scientists and companies who laid the foundations for the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. He first takes us all the way back to the AIDS crisis of the ‘80s, charting the significant scientific breakthroughs and company rivalries that made development of a life-saving vaccine possible within a matter of months.

“Mice lie, monkeys mislead, and ferrets are weasels. —a popular aphorism among scientists.”

2. The Genesis Machine: Our Quest to Rewrite Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology

Authors: Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel

the genesis machine book coverWith accelerating advances in gene editing, synthetic biology — a powerful tool that seeks to engineer life — is sure to fundamentally reshape our world. From what we eat and wear; how we grow food and develop medicines; and even deal with the climate crisis and resource insecurity, the possibilities are endless. However, the risks involved in manipulating human, animal and plant life and the potential misuse for profit or political gain warrants better, future-proofing regulation. In “The Genesis Machine,” futurist Amy Webb, founder and CEO of Future Today Institute, and microbiologist and geneticist Andrew Hessel, co-founder of Humane Genomics, introduce us to what’s in store on the horizon and address the moral and ethical dilemmas of redesigning life.

“A great transformation of life is underway.”

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3. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

Author: John Carreyrou

Bad blood book coverEarlier this year, Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, was convicted on four counts of defrauding investors and faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. In “Bad Blood,” John Carreyou covers the rise and fall of Theranos, a multibillion-dollar biotech startup founded on a brilliant yet improbable idea: a medical device that can run the gamut of laboratory tests using a single drop of blood. Armed with a promise to revolutionize the medical industry and the “next Steve Jobs” moniker, Holmes managed to pull the wool over her investors eyes for years by pretending Theranos had a functioning device. But in reality, the company was performing blood tests using traditional methods and outsourcing laboratory work.

“Hyping your product to get funding while concealing your true progress and hoping that reality will eventually catch up to the hype continues to be tolerated in the tech industry.”

4. The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

Author: Walter Isaacson

Code breaker book imageDespite being told by a high school counselor that girls don’t become scientists, Jennifer Doudna persisted. And in 2021, Doudna and her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their pioneering work in CRISPR gene editing. In “The Code Breaker,” bestselling author Walter Isaacson gives a compelling biography of how Doudna and her collaborators — as well as others in the scientific community — aided in the discovery of CRISPR: paradigm-shifting genetic scissors that can rewrite the code of life. Because of its ease of use, CRISPR is poised to revolutionize the human race; however, it opens a Pandora’s box of ethical and moral dilemmas. How much of our genetic code should we be allowed to change? And what implications does rewriting our DNA have for future generations if those who can access the technology are allowed to “upgrade” their babies?

“At the end of the day, the discoveries are what endure,” Charpentier says. “We are just passing on this planet for a short time. We do our job, and then we leave and others pick up the work.”

5. An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives

Author: Matt Richtel

an elegant defense book coverThe immune system has evolved over millennia to fight off an endless supply of threats while keeping us healthy. This is mediated by a delicate balancing act that can be easily thrown off by stress, nutrition or even excessive hygiene. In “An Elegant Defense,” author and New York Times journalist Matt Richtel weaves four stories of individual lives with cutting-edge science in an intimate exploration of the immune system. Richtel takes us on a tour starting from the black death to how today’s revolutions in immunotherapy are helping us tackle countless diseases.

“There is no ultimate solution. There is no free lunch. If you cure cancer, you will have more cases of neurodegenerative disease. If you cure neurodegenerative disease, a major plague will come for people who are a hundred years old. There is no ultimate solution, nor should there be.”

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6. Do You Believe in Magic?: Vitamins, Supplements, and All Things Natural: A Look Behind the Curtain

Author: Paul A. Offit

do you believe in magic book coverThe vitamin and supplements industry rakes in billions of dollars every year. However, the science has consistently shown little benefit and that the placebo response plays a substantial role. In “Do You Believe in Magic?” medical expert Paul A. Offit dives into the loosely-regulated alternative medicine industry, separating the sense from the nonsense and revealing the hidden harmful side effects.

“There’s no such thing as alternative medicine. There’s only medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t.”

7. Borne

Author: Jeff VanderMeer

Borne book coverIn a nameless post-apocalyptic city where a now-defunct biotech corporation called The Company presided, we follow Rachel — a scavenger collecting GMOs — who one day discovers a mysterious sea anemone-like creature that she names Borne. The city is teeming with chimeras resulting from the discarded genetic engineering experiments of The Company; within this backdrop, Rachel nurtures the creature as the mystery of what Borne really is unfolds, drawing in enemies from all sides.

“Am I a person?” Borne asked me.

“Yes, you are a person,” I told him. “But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”

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