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Phuong's Quarantine Book Recommendations

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Ayumi wrote a great post last week about her recommended infectious disease-related books to read. Check out her post if this pandemic has piqued your interest in infectious disease. There are both nonfiction and fiction titles on there, so there is something for everyone :)

Now, I have to admit--I’m a big baby. Reading about pandemics while being in a pandemic scares me. Don’t get me wrong, I think infectious diseases are fascinating, (I once worked in a lab developing drugs against West Nile Fever in undergrad, and it was so cool!) but the reality of our situation can be a bit overwhelming for me. To those in the same boat, I have a couple of books that I’ve found to be great reads if you’ve got some spare time.

So the thing is--I’m curious about so SO many things. I read many different genres of books, so in this post I’ll focus on non-fiction. I always learn so many interesting things by just browsing the non-fiction section--from popcorn geometry, to graphene stacking, to human perception. I hope you learn a thing or two as well!

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World by Mark Miodownik 

Have you heard of the show How Stuff Is Made? This is like that show, but in book form. This is the most accessible exploration of materials science I have ever read, and this book exposes a need for more visibility into this field. I always recommend it for people who are curious about, well, stuff. It is written by Mark Miodownik who is a Professor of Materials Science at the University of College London and the Director of the Institute of Making at UCL. His research focuses on the intersection between materials science and arts and humanities and when not doing research, he focuses on science communication. This book is about opening your eyes to how materials science plays a part in your daily life--from bridges that you cross on your way to work, the teacups that you sip chai tea from, and to the graphite in your pencils.

The Secret Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The first time I read this book was in a bioethics class in high school, and since then this book has also shown up in two other bioethics classes I took in college. If you’ve worked in cancer biology, chances are that you’ve come across HeLa cells. HeLa cells are a human immortal cell line that is the oldest and most used extensively used cell line in biology. Ever wondered where HeLa cells came from? This book dives into the intersection of biology, race, and ethics as you learn about Henrietta Lacks, the woman behind it all.

And Then You're Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling over Niagara by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty 

I’ll admit it these questions (ie. what happens if you get swallowed by a whale, etc) have crossed my mind. What can I say, I’m just very curious about obscure things! If you’re in the same boat, this is definitely a fun read. Cassidy is a science writer and Doherty is a senior staff scientist at San Francisco’s Exploratorium Museum. As you can tell, these two have careers of making science accessible and fun, and this book is just that! They go through scientific calculations and wacky science questions, and make it fun :)

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

This book about thinking makes you really think. Daniel Kahneman is a renowned scientist and a Nobel Prize winner in Economics who explains the two systems in which we think in this book. In this book he takes his Nobel Prize winning research and makes it accessible for the public. You learn that humans are really not as rational as we would like to think, and that a lot of our decisions are guided by several humanistic principles/instincts. Honestly, this book isn’t so much about science as it is about people.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell 

Malcolm Gladwell has a peculiar way of writing that just draws a reader in. He starts with a case study that draws the reader in, defines the parameters and details of the study, and then hooks it into an overall theme. These themes approach matters of the human experience and human perception, such as what it means to be successful, systemic racism, and the idea of ‘luck’. This book is an intellectual adventure into understanding those whom we do not understand--definitely a very relevant book given the times! He also has a great Podcast that I listen to called Revisionist History that you should definitely check out if you’re as mesmerized by his prose as I am.

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders

We love books written by women in STEM! Giulia Enders is a medical student studying the microbiome at the Institute for Microbiology in Frankfurt, Germany. It’s so inspiring that she wrote this book and gave a Ted Talk all while being a student. This charming book provides a great introduction to a hot research topic for several years now--the gut and its microbiome. And it’s a hot research topic for a reason! In this book Enders explains the gut’s magic by answering questions like: “How does your diet and gut microbiome affect your mood/wellbeing?”, “What does it mean microbiologically to be gluten and lactose intolerant?”, and “How does pooping work.” Hey now, pooping is quite complicated if you think about it! Two nervous systems are working tirelessly in synchrony every time you go to the bathroom. The gut is often very underrated against its counterpart organs--the brain and the heart. But this book is a compelling exploration about how this underrated organ is rich with diversity and functions that affect every facet of your life.

Well, that’s it for now. I hope you enjoy some of these titles and please share with me your suggestions as well! If anything, this quarantine has allowed me time to delve into some great reads and perhaps discover new favorites :)

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