The best books on biotechnology: the promise and perils of engineering life

Who am I?

K. Lee Lerner is an author, editor, and producer of science and factual media, including four editions of the Gale Encyclopedia of Science and the Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. His expansive writing on science, climate change, disasters, disease, and global issues has earned multiple book and media awards, including books named Outstanding Academic Titles. An aviator, sailor, and member of the National Press Club in Washington, his two global circumnavigations and portfolio of work in challenging and dangerous environments reveal a visceral drive to explore and investigate. With a public intellectual's broad palate and a scientist's regard for evidence-based analysis, Lerner dissects and accessibly explains complex issues. 


I wrote...

Biotechnology: In Context

By K. Lee Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, Adrienne Wilmoth Lerner

Book cover of Biotechnology: In Context

What is my book about?

Life is ancient, grounded in the physics, chemistry, and evolutionary biology of Earth. In contrast, today's biotechnology marshals new ideas and techniques with the potential to reshape the planet and life itself. The problems facing the world in fighting hunger, pollution, and disease cry out for innovative scientific solutions. For many, biotechnology offers a beacon of hope. For others, the manipulation of life sounds like a siren's song of peril.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

By Walter Isaacson,

Book cover of The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

Why this book?

Acclaimed biographer Walter Isaacson's book Code Breaker, profiles biochemist Jennifer Doudna and her innovative contributions to the development of CRISPR technology that has revolutionized genetic engineering. Doudna shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Emmanuelle Charpentier. Isaacson documents her life and work and well as exploring the potential and perils of gene editing. Isaacson vividly balances scientific explanations of how CRISPR works with coverage of debates regarding its morality. His book exposes the elbows-out world of conflicting egos and disputed patents within the high stakes biotech world.


She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

By Carl Zimmer,

Book cover of She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

Why this book?

Carl Zimmer's authoritative writing, grounded in both science and journalism, reads and captivates like a page-turner novel. Written for a general audience, Zimmer's rich exploration of the history and controversies surrounding how we pass genes and associate traits from one generation to another also offer insights into a field of science central to social and cultural issues related to ancestry, race, sexual differences, evolution, as well as inherited traits and diseases.


I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life

By Ed Yong,

Book cover of I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life

Why this book?

With both humor and scientific precision, Ed Yong takes us through the microscope lens into the world of microbes and microbiology that share our world and, in some cases, our bodies. Yong's book connects those worlds to show our interdependence. His book provides ample evidence that while disease-causing microbes grab most of the headlines, many others in the microbiome are essential allies for a healthy life and are critical to advancements in biotechnology.


Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech

By Sally Smith Hughes,

Book cover of Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech

Why this book?

Sally Smith Hughes' highly readable tale of the genesis of Genentech provides a no-holds-barred look into the gritty details of how biotech firms are born. Hughes reveals how scientists, lawyers, and venture capitalists work together and collide in a crucible of competing disciplines and desires to produce transformative advances. For those interesting in biotech entrepreneurship or simply investing in biotech, this book offers key foundational insights into the industry.


How to Make a Vaccine: An Essential Guide for Covid-19 and Beyond

By John Rhodes,

Book cover of How to Make a Vaccine: An Essential Guide for Covid-19 and Beyond

Why this book?

John Rhodes, author of The End of Plagues: The Global Battle Against Infectious Disease now offers us a timely, concise, and easy-to-digest book that spans the history of vaccines, including the recent development of mRNA vaccines now on the frontlines of efforts to quell the COVID-19 global pandemic. Rhodes' experience and expertise in immunology and vaccine development show in his clear and easy-to-understand explanations of how vaccines work and why they are an essential public health tool.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in biotechnology, vaccines, and the human body?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about biotechnology, vaccines, and the human body.

Biotechnology Explore 9 books about biotechnology
Vaccines Explore 6 books about vaccines
The Human Body Explore 32 books about the human body

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Genome, The Double Helix, and The Genome War if you like this list.