Book Recommendations from the ASHG Board of Directors

Author: Anna Miller, BA

With the beginning of a new year comes New Year’s Resolutions. As one common resolution is reading more, the Nascent Transcript reached out to the ASHG Board of Directors for book recommendations that were pivotal to their growth as trainees and in the current day. We hope this list serves as an inspiration for your next book selection and thank the directors for their recommendations!

Pivotal books in a trainee’s scientific training:

The Eighth Day of Creation by Horace Freeland Judson (recommended by Dr. Tony Wynshaw-Boris and Dr. Kiran Musunuru). This book describes how molecular biologists came to understand heredity in a detailed and clear account. Dr. Wynshaw-Boris commented that the book, “outlined the discovery of DNA as the genetic material, genetic analysis, the genetic code and the central dogma, as well as the elucidation of the structure of proteins. It is a fascinating read not only for the history but for the writing.” Dr. Musunuru said that, “it is as close to “gospel” as we are likely to get in the field of genetics. Yet, the stories make the scientists feel like human beings.”

Advice for a Young Investigator by Santiago Ramon Y Cajal (recommended by Dr. John V. Moran). First published in 1897, this classic book describes everything from personality traits to social factors that are beneficial to scientific work. Dr. Moran says this book “provides outstanding advice to young and more seasoned scientists.” Dr. Moran also recommends Microbe Hunters by Paul De Kruif, a collection of essays that describes the pioneers of microbiology and bacteriology. This book is “”told” in the form of a historical type of detective story” and Dr. Moran calls it “a great read!”

Walking Out on the Boys by Francis Contey (recommended by Dr. Gail Jarvik). This book provides a first-person look into the life of the first female tenured professor of neurosurgery in the restrictive world of academic medicine. Dr. Jarvik found this book impactful as it details the struggles of “a woman navigating academic medicine” in 1998.

Recent books that will make you think differently:

The Emperor of All Maladies: a Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee (recommended by Dr. Wynshaw-Boris). This book examines cancer with the perspective of a historian, the precision of a cellular biologist, and the passion of a biographer. Dr. Wynshaw-Boris describes the book as “a well-written “history” of cancer research and therapy told from the front lines” and adds that Dr. Mukherjee is a “compelling writer.”

A Dominant Character: The Radical Science and Restless Politics of J.B.S. Haldane by Samanth Subramanian (recommended by Dr. Bruce Gelb). This biography of J.B.S Haldane describes his rich life and examines the questions he raised about the intersections of genetics and politics. Dr. Gelb enjoyed this book’s “many lessons about not wearing political blinders”.

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates (recommended by Dr. Jarvik). This collection of essays describes the end of the reconstruction era where multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the south. Dr. Jarvik shared that it provides “insight into systemic racism.”

Endless Forms, Most Beautiful by Dr. Sean B. Carrol (recommended by Dr. Claudia Gonzaga-Jauregui). This book provides a summary of the evolutionary developmental biology field and the role of toolkit genes. Dr. Gonzaga-Jauregui enjoyed that it made her think “about genetics in the broader context of evolutionary biology, how different fundamental processes in development are shared and have been tweaked to give rise to the extensive variety of living forms in our planet.”

-Other suggestions include “just about any novel written by John Steinbeck” from Dr. Moran who shared that “Steinbeck used simple language to convey complex thoughts and emotion.” Also, Dr. Gonzaga-Jauregui is working on a new book, “Genomics of Rare Diseases“, which will be coming out later this year. It “aims to be a reference for students, scientists and people working and/or interested in rare diseases.”

Classical Genetics Texts:

Several classic textbooks and articles were suggested by the ASHG board members. Dr. Jarvik suggested Human Genetics: Problems and Approaches by Aro Motulsky and Friedrich Vogul. The RNA World, first and subsequent editions, were recommended by Dr. Moran. He said it was “instrumental in introducing me to thoughts about how RNA antedated DNA and emphasized how my favorite protein, reverse transcriptase, likely played an integral role in the formation of the first DNA genomes.”

Dr. Claudia Gonzaga-Jauregui recommended Introduction to Genetic Analysis by Griffiths et al. and Molecular Biology of the Gene by Watson et al. Dr. Gonzaga-Jauregui commented that “both books present the fundamentals of molecular biology, molecular genetics, and genetic analysis in understandable terms complementing with useful examples.”

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