The best books about DNA from unique and interesting perspectives

Who am I?

Sergio Pistoi began his career as a molecular biologist before a radiation accident turned him into an evil science-writing superhero. He was an intern at Scientific American and a stringer for Reuters Health. His credits include Scientific American, New Scientist, Nature, and various Italian print and radio outlets and publishes multilingual videos on his YouTube channel Rockscience. He works as a  communication and science consultant for research for companies, research organizations, and EU projects. He is also the author of DNA Nation, a popular science book about the rise of DNA social networks and home genomics. He hides in Tuscany, Italy, with a fake identity. 


I wrote...

DNA Nation: How the Internet of Genes is Changing Your Life

By Sergio Pistoi,

Book cover of DNA Nation: How the Internet of Genes is Changing Your Life

What is my book about?

Millions of people have done it: with a few clicks and some spit, and at less than the cost of a fancy dinner, you can buy a reading of your DNA online. With this in hand, you can find out where you came from, trace relatives around the world and find new friends on a genetic social network. You can learn about your predisposition to disease, get a genetically tailored diet, understand the sports to which you or your children might be more suited, and even find a date. It’s the dawn of consumer genomics, where the progress of biology meets the power of the Internet and big data.

Sergio Pistoi, a journalist and a DNA scientist, investigated this brave new world first-hand by interrogating his own genes, and has provided a practical, informative, and thought-provoking survival guide to home genetic testing. From medicine to food, from social networking to genealogy and advertising, this book will show you how the DNA revolution is beginning to have such a profound impact on our daily lives and privacy and why it will influence the choices we make.

The books I picked & why

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Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters

By Matt Ridley,

Book cover of Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters

Why this book?

This book comes from an era when the map of the human genome was yet to come but it is still a reference and a great read for its gripping narrative and scientific accuracy. Every chapter (one for each human chromosome) tells the story of a significant human gene. Although outdated by the incredible progress of genomics, I think Genome is a must-read and an inspiring account.

Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters

By Matt Ridley,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Genome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The most important investigation of genetic science since The Selfish Gene, from the author of the critically acclaimed and best-selling The Red Queen and The Origins of Virtue.

The genome is our 100,000 or so genes. The genome is the collective recipe for the building and running of the human body. These 100,000 genes are sited across 23 pairs of chromosomes. Genome, a book of about 100,000 words, is divided into 23 chapters, a chapter for each chromosome. The first chromosome, for example, contains our oldest genes, genes which we have in common with plants.

By looking at our genes…


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By Rebecca Skloot,

Book cover of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Why this book?

The story of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman who died of cervical cancer in the 1950s and whose cells, named HeLa are still used in research, is both an epic family recount and a reflection on the evolution and dilemmas of Bioethics. Skloot’s gripping first-person narrative and solid journalistic style made this book a bestseller, and the subject of a movie. I loved the way it humanized science through the perspective and extraordinary stories of ordinary people.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By Rebecca Skloot,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an introduction by author of The Tidal Zone, Sarah Moss

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells - taken without her knowledge - became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta's family did not learn of her 'immortality' until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences . . .

Rebecca Skloot's fascinating account is the story of the life, and afterlife, of one woman who changed the medical world for ever. Balancing the beauty and drama…


The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome

By Alondra Nelson,

Book cover of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome

Why this book?

The book explores the impact of home DNA testing for ancestry in the Afro-American community. One of the best and focused essays on the social consequences of DNA technology, rich with telling examples. 

The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome

By Alondra Nelson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Social Life of DNA as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A Favorite Book of 2016, Wall Street Journal
2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction (Finalist)
2017 Day of Common Learning Selection, Seattle Pacific University
2020 Diana Forsythe Prize (Honorable Mention)
2020 Best Books of the Year, Writers' Trust of Canada

The unexpected story of how genetic testing is affecting race in America
We know DNA is a master key that unlocks medical and forensic secrets, but its genealogical life is both revelatory and endlessly fascinating. Tracing genealogy is now the second-most popular hobby amongst Americans, as well as the second-most visited online category. This billion-dollar industry has spawned popular television…


The Selfish Gene

By Richard Dawkins,

Book cover of The Selfish Gene

Why this book?

An all-time classic in popular science, the reference for approaching evolution and (bonus point) the first book to introduce the term “meme”. The Selfish Gene comes from the late 1970s but has many hints to understand contemporary biology, epidemics, and even, well, memes.

The Selfish Gene

By Richard Dawkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Selfish Gene as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The million copy international bestseller, critically acclaimed and translated into over 25 languages.

As influential today as when it was first published, The Selfish Gene has become a classic exposition of evolutionary thought. Professor Dawkins articulates a gene's eye view of evolution - a view giving centre stage to these persistent units of information, and in which organisms can be seen as vehicles for their replication. This imaginative, powerful, and stylistically brilliant work not only brought the insights of Neo-Darwinism to a wide audience, but galvanized the biology
community, generating much debate and stimulating whole new areas of research. Forty…


Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

By David Quammen,

Book cover of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

Why this book?

Sweat, dirty jobs, genetics, viruses, and outstanding journalism are the ingredients of  this wonderful, gripping book that anticipated the coronavirus pandemic. The starting point to understand where the recent pandemics came from, and where to expect the next ones.

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

By David Quammen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Spillover as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 2020, the novel coronavirus gripped the world in a global pandemic and led to the death of hundreds of thousands. The source of the previously unknown virus? Bats. This phenomenon-in which a new pathogen comes to humans from wildlife-is known as spillover, and it may not be long before it happens again.

Prior to the emergence of our latest health crisis, renowned science writer David Quammen was traveling the globe to better understand spillover's devastating potential. For five years he followed scientists to a rooftop in Bangladesh, a forest in the Congo, a Chinese rat farm, and a suburban…


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