Books, Science

Books on cancer — science and history

Interested in cancer research? Here are the books to read:

Siddhartha Mukherjee:
The Emperor of All Maladies (2011)

I have written several times already about this Pulitzer- prize winning book – it’s really great and everybody interested in cancer research should have read it.

Ok, that was an easy pick! After all Mukherjee was all over the news in the last year. But there is more:

Meet the scientists

Harold Varmus:
The Art and Politics of Science (2009)

The life of a Nobel laureate, who started in Literature and is the current Director of the National Cancer Institute. Even though I don’t care too much about the politics and administration of the NIH, I enjoyed this book, because Varmus seems to be a very interesting person.

Robert Bazell: Her2 — The Making of Herceptin, a Revolutionary Treatment for Breast Cancer (1998)

“Her2 is a story of dramatic discoveries and strong personalities, showing the combination of scientific investigation, money, politics, ego, corporate decisions, patient activism, and luck involved in moving this groundbreaking drug from the lab to a patient’s bedside,” writes Amazon correctly.

Natalie Angier: Natural Obsessions – striving to unlock the deepest secrets of the cancer cell (1989)

A journalist visits the Weinberg lab in it’s glory days and describes every-day life in the lab — discovery of human oncogenes and tumor suppressors inclusive. A rare view into how a scientific lab works.

“[Natural Obsessions] is about how scientist think and how they feel, and how they behave. It is about the rush of ecstasy that comes when an experiment works, the virulent paralysis that follows failure, and the many stretches of confusion and ambiguity in between. It is about how scientists are as human as the rest of us, only smarter and with less attractive footwear,”

writes Angier in the introduction to the 1999 edition. Never mind the shoes: this is a story of blood, sweat and tears. One step forward, one slap in the face. For years working 15h a day without much to show for it, unless you are one of the lucky few that happen to have a breakthrough — molecular biology seems to be a job for masochists. I’m happy I’m on the computational side.

Meet the family

Rebecca Skloot:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010)

I wrote about Skloot’s book before. It’s a very readable book — a bit short on the science maybe and sometimes over-emotional (‘What a poooooor family’) — but it got me thinking about medical ethics, patient consent and genetic privacy.

Meet the science

Robert Weinberg:
One renegade cell – How cancer begins (1999)

Oncogenes, tumor-suppressors, cell cycle, immortalization — all bases covered without much jargon and ideal for a first introduction into cancer biology.

Robert Weinberg:
Biology of Cancer (2006)

A textbook … sorry: the textbook! Everybody in the field has it standing in their bookshelf. Some of us have even read it. I’m still working on it …


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