What I’m reading (2018.11.01):
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, by Sam Kean (audiobook)
Extreme Ownership – How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win , by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin (2018.11.01)
A great book on leadership, with interesting stories from the battlefield to the boardroom. Some of the stories were overly drawn out or over-emphasized, but the overall message is clear. By taking ownership of your role, with regards to your subordinates as well as superiors, you can greatly enhance your performance, and this has a positive effect on all aspects of your life. It ultimately comes down to communication, and reminds me of our curriculum for teaching mentoring in the HHMI Entering Mentoring course at Davis. Clearly defining and communicating the expectations of all participants, both mentors and mentees, ensures that objectives are met, and increases the happiness of everyone. Leading up the chain of command is also something that I did not appreciate, and will make a more concerted effort to do better.
Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America, by Beth Macy (2018.10.19)
Uggg. The opioid epidemic is so devastating, and the involvement of pharmaceutical companies trying to push strong opioids and make a profit is unnerving. I was intrigued to hear that the US’s problem with opioids started back in the Civil War days, and has taken off with the more potent synthetic opioids. Throughout the book I was rooting for the protagonist Tess, but the opioid receptor is a ferocious foe, and I was sad to hear of her tragic ending. We are better than this. We have to be.
Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain (2018.09.15)
I miss Anthony Bourdain. I know I could just turn on some Parts Unknown, or No Reservations, but It just isn’t the same knowing of his struggle and his end. I used to have a colleague that when asked what her dream job is, she would say Anthony Bourdain. No more. Well, it was fun to read this seminal piece that rocketed him to stardom. I also loved hearing about the kitchen hierarchy, and how becoming a chef is akin to becoming a PI in science. You are no longer on the front lines, instead you’re the one walking around with a clipboard, on the phone, or doing paperwork. I also won’t eat eggs benedict at restaurants ever again! Thanks for the memories Tony.
Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, by Alex Hutchinson (2018.09.05)
I was most intrigued to learn how endurance is a mental construct, and that the psychological aspects of sports and endurance had so much control over our performance. Hell, I didn’t even know that sports psychology existed, let alone that it makes so much sense with what I have seen and experienced over my years in high level sports. And I especially loved the stories about Jens Voight and his high threshold for pain. “Shut up legs!”
The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, by Daniel Coyle (2018.08.24)
This book had some great stories on successful organizations that have fun and amazing corporate cultures. Great pointers on keeping the rank-and-file ranking and filing… But a research lab is fundamentally different from most work environments that I know of. We promote the open exchange of ideas and concepts, and the best ideas don’t come from the top down, they are organic and based in experience and hard data. The author notes that the culture for a creative group is different, but doesn’t explore this in depth. A nice read on organizational culture nonetheless.
Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World–Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It, by Ken Alibek (2018.07.29)
I finally picked up Biohazard while on vacation this summer, and it was an awesome read. During the cold war the Soviet propaganda machine led their citizens to believe that the US was making biological weapons, which convinced the scientists and doctors to throw morals and ethics out the window and contribute to the largest biological weapons development program known to man. Thinking about microbes and viruses as just clever bugs that wield raw power, it is easy to see how people could exploit them for nefarious purposes. This book did a good job in drawing out the “light side” vs “dark side” of research and development, and how powerful biomedical developments have both positive and negative potential uses. Biotechnology is powerful, which is probably why so many people freak out about biohackers doing weird science in their garages…
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline (2018.08.09)
A little treat of some fantasy. Expect a bigger blog posting about how this book changed my views on fiction vs nonfiction reading.
The Coming Storm, by Michael Lewis (2018.08.15)
A quick story about the current state of NOAA and the politics of weather.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou
Phenomenal. And amazing that people could be so brazen in their lying to investors and perpetuating the fraud. Great writing, and it was cool to learn the backstory to Theranos while the legal battle rolls on.
How to Change Your Mind, What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, by Michael Pollan (2018.06.14)
This book confirms what I have encountered with work- that politics has tremendous power over science and medicine. The potential for use of serotonin analogues for psychoactive-assisted psychotherapy seems compelling. From palliative care, PTSD, even for anxiety/depression, suppression of the default mode network makes sense and should be further explored.
The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business, by Patrick Lencioni
This one was recommended in the Bio Twitterverse, and it did not disappoint. There were actual exercises listed in the book to help lay out an organizational plan, and get healthy communication going within an organization. Now if only more people in business would read it!
Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, by Dan Harris
This was a continuation of Dan Harris’ first book on meditation but was structured more as a guide to get started with meditation. He partnered with a meditation guru, and they toured the US in a bus. I think Harris is very self-promotional, but at least he has a good message and is promoting mindfulness and a broader re-imagining of American culture. The dialogue is honest, and it skirts along the edge of being self-helpy.
The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, by Dan Barber (2018.02.18)
I loved this book. It forced me to rethink how I look at food and our entire agricultural production systems. From the microbial relationship with the deeply-rooted plants, to the whole ecosystem views of the dehesa in Spain, this book managed to give a good history on agriculture, brought us up to the present, and then made some solid predictions on the future on our food. The storytelling and perspective can easily be translated to other topics- and actually this book was recommended by someone interpreting it through the lens of the pharma industry. What is the history, where are we now, and how much of our evolved system is just based on the prior architecture, vs what does it really need to evolve beyond the historical system. Deep and moving philosophy, in a book by a chef.
Gut: The Inside Story About Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, by Giulia Enders (2018.02.18)
The gastrointestinal tract is amazing, and so under-appreciated. I remember my anatomy teacher lecturing on the gut, and that lesson seems so elementary and simplistic compared to what we know now. My dissertation was in a colorectal cancer lab, and now I research inflammatory bowel disorders, so I guess I’m drawn to the gut. But even if I wasn’t, this book is fascinating.
A Walk With Purpose, by Michael D. Becker I’m listening to the audio book for this one during my commute. The narrator grates on me, and the author is definitely not a writer, but the story is still solid and worth hearing. It is also sad to read the story of Michael Becker while also seeing his tweets about his ongoing battle with cancer.
Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age, by Luke Timmerman The farmboy that bloomed at Caltech and had a HUGE lab. But I love the focus on developing technology to advance biology.
A Rare Breed: How people and perseverance built BioMarin into one of the world’s most innovative companies, by Daniel S. Levine and Daniel P. Maher (2018.02.08) – Interesting insights and back stories, but the writing wasn’t the best.
Creativity Inc., Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull
(20180125) – A very cool blend of the back story of Pixar with the growing pains of a creative organization. I love the parallels that Ed draws between art and science, and how he was even split between the two career paths at a younger age. Notes Day sounds like a great exercise, but I think most organizations would not be receptive to the honest/candid feedback they would receive. And although I’m not an Apple fanboy, I thought the afterword about Steve Jobs was touching and showed the depth of their relationship.
The Art of Startup Fundraising: Pitching Investors, Negotiating the Deal, and Everything Else Entrepreneurs Need to Know, by Alejandro Cremades
(2017.12.11) – Some rehash from other startup books, but also some good info on the mechanics of financing options in the business world.
Drug Hunters: The Improbable Quest to Discover New Medicines, by Donald R. Kirsch and Ogi Ogas
(2017.12.09) – Another great book for the aspiring drug hunter. A nice history, good perspective, and in the end it comes down to the art vs science argument. Is drug design/hunting science or art? I would rather be lucky than smart…
The Antidote: Inside the World of New Pharma, by Barry Werth
(2017.11.24) – Very cool origin story on Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Required reading for a startup aiming to compete with the big bio’s!
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams I’m trying to introduce some fiction into my booklist, and this one seems universally recommended. It was fun and a nice change, but the ending seemed a bit whimsical and left me wanting something different. Still a good read and far less dense than the other books I’m reading!
Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities, By Amy Stewart A little dense, but fascinating information on the wicked side of plants. “Natural” is usually used to indicate something is wholesome and pure, but people often fail to realize how nasty plant chemistries can be. Cyanide is natural…
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, by Ashlee Vance
(2017.10.14) – A great read. It is so refreshing to hear about his drive and optimism. The book is a couple of years old, so a number of things predicted in the book are already commonplace. For example, the book described reusable rockets as a huge goal of SpaceX, and I just watched the broadcasts for two Falcon9 launches and landings just this week. I agree with Musk that we as a society are capable of so much more. We just need to build it…
The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz
Ben loves his gangster rap! Interesting read. Digital tech, but still mostly applies to biotech.
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story, by Dan Harris
(2017.08.28) – Meditation and mindfulness are intriguing, and it seems that everyone could use some relief from the constant barrage of information and stuff in our lives.
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari
(2017.07.14) – Interesting perspective on our successes in science and society, and how we will now focus our resources and efforts. Deeply philosophical, but a fun exercise and insightful.
American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road, by Nick Bilton
(2017.07.02) – Fantastic writing, and an amazing storyline about the founder of the Silk Road. I didn’t follow the developments in the real-life story, and actually managed to sequester myself from the final outcome and let the book do the storytelling. Interesting background, and had the website not been dealing in narcotics, guns, and poisons, he would be idolized by silicon valley. But ordering hits on former employees, and having the Hells Angels take people out- it definitely starts looking more like an organized crime operation rather than a startup. But I agree with Ross on one major item in our society today: good wi-fi is hard to find…
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, by Ed Yong
(2017.06.18) – It blew me away how much I under-appreciated our microbial co-habitants. Stellar, and I completely agree that it leads to a grander view of life. It makes me look at life differently, and helps me to plan my experiments not only around the animals that we are trying to help, but also how to navigate the whole community of organisms to treat the whole.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, by Mark Manson
(2017.04.26) – Started off strong, then became self-helpy mid way. But I love the talk of Bukowski’s headstone saying “Don’t Try” and some other gems. Then again, once it sinks in that you are receiving life advice from a younger “bro” whose claim to fame is a dating blog, it all starts to fall apart.
The Doors of Perception, by Aldous Huxley
Verbose and somewhat aged, but an insightful story about the author’s experience with mescaline. The concept of needing tuned filters so we can concentrate on a single item/person/task makes sense, but I had never thought about the implications of turning off those filters. Reminiscent of Shulgin’s rationale for working with phenethylamines.
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World, by Adam Grant
I loved the first few chapters. Some fun factoids on founders and the creative process, but I struggled towards the end of the book.
The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds, by Michael Lewis
Very cool. Insight into the intersection of psychology and cognition- basically it dives into how our minds work, and how our brains suck at statistics.
Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel, by Tom Wainright
The economics of the underground drug trade are staggering. I guess it makes sense that good business practices need to be followed whether the trade is legitimate or underground. The information provided on the drug war makes me question the years of questionable drug policy. Education is far more effective and economical than enforcement, yet I don’t imagine that we will be changing our aproach anytime soon.
Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry, by Christie Wilcox
A wonderful read for biochemists and novices alike. This book is fun and educational as it covers everything from evolution to illicit uses for venoms. It is eye opening to see the diversity of venoms and how animals have used them to gain an edge. Fantastic read!
Disrupted: My Mis-adventure in the Start-Up Bubble, by Dan Lyons
Another refreshingly irreverent story about life in a digital tech startup. Like Chaos Monkeys, there seems like a little bit of an axe to grind with the previous employer. But Dan clearly had more reasons to gripe (especially after pointing out the illegal activities in the last chapter!) . I even read the founder’s rebuttal on LinkedIn, and it only confirmed what was in the book. Instead of Kool-Aid, some startups are resorting to candy walls!
Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business, by Rana Foroohar
Financialization is an interesting concept, and easy to see it creeping into in all aspects of our society. This book also convinced me that I don’t need an MBA. The mindset taught is misaligned with long term business objectives and the overall health of a business and customer.
Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley, by Antonio Garcia Martinez
(Irreverent and fun- essential startup reading!)