My favorite books about DNA from unique and interesting perspectives

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Sergio Pistoi Why did I love 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 inspiring account.

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…

Book cover of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Sergio Pistoi Why did I love 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.

By Rebecca Skloot,

Why should I read it?

5 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…

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

Sergio Pistoi Why did I love this book?

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

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…

Book cover of The Selfish Gene

Sergio Pistoi Why did I love 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.

By Richard Dawkins,

Why should I read it?

4 authors 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…

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

Sergio Pistoi Why did I love 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.

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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Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

What is my book about?

A magisterial history of Indigenous North America that places the power of Native nations at its center, telling their story from the rise of ancient cities more than a thousand years ago to fights for sovereignty that continue today

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

What is this book about?

Long before the colonization of North America, Indigenous Americans built diverse civilizations and adapted to a changing world in ways that reverberated globally. And, as award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal vividly recounts, when Europeans did arrive, no civilization came to a halt because of a few wandering explorers, even when the strangers came well armed.

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread…

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