A Summer Reading List for Biotech Pros
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an upbeat view on how genomics and mobile computing devices are going to shake the healthcare industry out of its worst and most inefficient habits. There are points where I think Topol is too optimistic about how quick and radical the change will be—after all, information technology has been around a long time, and hospitals still struggle to use it—but this is a highly accessible read about changes bound to shake up this industry that makes up about one-sixth of the U.S. economy. Steve Burrill, the biotech investor, chimed in with a recommendation for this book in his recent talk at the Life Science Innovation Northwest conference. Author David Ewing Duncan had an interesting review of Topol’s ideas in The Atlantic in March.
“Just Kids” by Patti Smith. In the spirit that all scientists and executives should seek to be well-rounded, here’s a recommendation that has nothing to do with science. The famous musician apparently has a lot to say about growing up, enough for Bosley to recommend this autobiography. As one reviewer on Amazon put it, “here is Patti Smith lying bare exactly how she came to be what she became. The result is a fascinating and spellbinding narrative that you can scarcely set down.”
“Burning Entrepreneur – How to Launch, Fund, and Set Your Start-Up On Fire!” by Brad Feld. The high-profile tech VC, a backer of Zynga, is one of the best bloggers on tech startups you can find on the Web. Now he has an e-book out which is full of inspiration, which is often in short supply during these hard times for biotech. David Shaywitz, the director of strategic and commercial planning at South San Francisco-based Theravance, said Feld’s book “captures passion and excitement of innovation, manages to be both inspirational and down-to-earth, with obvious affection for people and the sharing and developing of exciting ideas.”
“White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine” by Carl Elliott. This book does a solid job of summing up the many ways in which the modern pharmaceutical industry lost its moral compass. While I’m sure many good people in the industry are tired of hearing about ethical lapses, denying the problem isn’t going to help solve it, or restore broad public support for pharmaceutical R&D. Thanks to Stewart Lyman for the recommendation.
“Restless Genius: Barney Kilgore, The Wall Street Journal, and the Invention of Modern Journalism,” by Richard Tofel. I’m reading this one now. It has nothing to do with biotech or science, but says a lot about a little-known character who has had a big influence on the world of journalism today. Many people in journalism don’t even know his name, but Kilgore was the driving force who led the Wall Street Journal to become the most widely read and respected financial news source of the 20th century.
“Watson and DNA: Making a Scientific Revolution” by Victor McElheny. Watson, of course, is one of the biggest names in DNA, as the co-discoverer of the famous double helix structure. Watson is also a controversial character who McElheny got to know well later in life when Watson was the director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and McElheny was the communications director. Thanks to my colleague Wade Roush for this suggestion.
[Added: 7/16, 10:40 am PT]
“Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” by Chip and Dan Heath. This book “uses an “elephant / rider” metaphor with our rational brains being the ‘rider’ trying to control our emotional ‘elephant’ along a path that is often full of roadblocks,” says Jacquelyn Miller of Foundation Medicine. The book uses a lot of case studies about ingrained behaviors, but Miller says the authors found a way to tie them all together with a clear framework. “This book does a great job of taking huge problems (health care, anyone?) and showing how small changes can be very impactful,” Miller says.
[Added: 7/17 9:15 am PT]
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. This book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, the woman who gave rise to the famed HeLa cells that have been integral to biology for decades. Maureen Suda recommends this title, which earned lots of critical acclaim in 2010. “The book is a reminder that the cells were part of someone — a mother, daughter, sister, wife — not just a tissue sample. It provides reflection on the intersection point of race, poverty and science,” Suda says.