The best books about mad scientists both real and fictional

Christopher Rankin Author Of Ann Marie's Asylum
By Christopher Rankin

Who am I?

Christopher Rankin is an author, the host of the Vanadium podcast on YouTube, and a scientist in the field of renewable materials. He was awarded a PhD in materials science from the University of Pennsylvania and holds several patents. A lifelong lover of science, Rankin hopes to encourage greater public interest and a broader understanding of technical subjects.

I wrote...

Ann Marie's Asylum

By Christopher Rankin,

Book cover of Ann Marie's Asylum

What is my book about?

Ann Marie has just earned her Ph.D. in chemistry at age sixteen when she receives a mysterious and lucrative job offer. The new position at the infamous Asylum Corporation takes the young chemist and her alcoholic mother from their working-class Philadelphia neighborhood to coastal California. 

She becomes fascinated with her new boss, Dade Harkenrider, a famed but reclusive scientist, labelled Dr. Death by internet conspiracy theorists and rumored to be involved in witchcraft and murder. As Ann Marie grows closer to her new mentor, a sinister plot by a secretive coven is unfolding in the city. This monstrous force is stealing pets and children in an effort to breathe life into an ancient and terrifying evil.

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The books I picked & why

Oryx and Crake

By Margaret Atwood,

Book cover of Oryx and Crake

Why did I love this book?

One of the darkest portrayals of what can happen when science is divorced from all ethics, Margaret Atwood’s 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake shows just how much damage once mad scientist can do. Crake is a genius by every measure, excelling in math, science, and engineering but he has a troubled soul.

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Oryx and Crake as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



Pigs might not fly but they are strangely altered. So, for that matter, are wolves and racoons. A man, once named Jimmy, lives in a tree, wrapped in old bedsheets, now calls himself Snowman. The voice of Oryx, the woman he loved, teasingly haunts him. And the green-eyed Children of Crake are, for some reason, his responsibility.


Praise for Oryx and Crake:

'In Jimmy, Atwood has created a great character: a tragic-comic artist of the future, part buffoon, part Orpheus. An adman who's a sad man; a jealous…

Book cover of Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control

Why did I love this book?

The historical accounts of the rise and reign of chemist Sidney Gottlieb seem like deep YouTube conspiracy theory. How could a trusted government official, a scientist, be drugging unwitting subjects, civilians, even his own coworkers? This is one of the most bizarre and important tales from American cold war history.

By Stephen Kinzer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Poisoner in Chief as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The visionary chemist Sidney Gottlieb was the CIA's master magician and gentle hearted torturer - the agency's "poisoner in chief." As head of the MK-ULTRA mind control project, he directed brutal experiments at secret prisons on three continents. He made pills, powders, and potions that could kill or maim without a trace, and he secretly dosed unsuspecting American citizens with mind-altering drugs. His experiments spread LSD across the United States, making him a hidden godfather of the 1960s counterculture, and he was also the chief supplier of spy tools used by CIA officers around the world.

Stephen Kinzer, the author…

Altered States: A Novel

By Paddy Chayefsky,

Book cover of Altered States: A Novel

Why did I love this book?

This story of a scientist becoming obsessed with the psychedelic world was part of the inspiration for writing Ann Marie’s Asylum. The sensory deprivation tank, the electrodes to the head, and the hallucinogenic potion made from exotic jungle plants were bits that just had to make it into one of my books. 

By Paddy Chayefsky,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Altered States as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1978, hardcover edition, Harper & Row, NY. 184 pages. One of our finest teleplay / screen writers, the man responsible for THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY / HOSPITAL / NETWORK / and many others. This is his first novel, about a young scientist entombed in an isolation tank.

Book cover of The Boys from Brazil

Why did I love this book?

Doctor Josef Mengele, the worst of the mad scientists, is in hiding after the war but planning a comeback, heading a secret project to genetically reincarnate Hitler. The most frightening part about his plan to bring back the Nazi Fuhrer is the degree of scientific rigor in the biology and psychology underlying the design.

By Ira Levin,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Boys from Brazil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this classic thriller, Ira Levin imagines Dr Josef Mengele's nightmarish plot to restore the Third Reich. Alive and hiding in South America, thirty years after the end of the Second World War, Mengele gathers a group of former colleagues for a sinister project - the creation of the Fourth Reich. Ageing Nazi hunter Yakov Lieberman is informed of the plot but before he hears the evidence, his source is killed . . .

Spanning continents and inspired by true events, what follows is one of Levin's most masterful tales, both timeless and chillingly plausible.

Praise for Ira Levin:


Book cover of The Scientist: A Metaphysical Autobiography

Why did I love this book?

John Lilly, a Caltech and University of Pennsylvania trained doctor who also probed the murkiest waters of the psychedelic experience, was the inspiration for Dade Harkenrider in my book, Ann Marie’s Asylum. Lilly was a genius, who crossed over the edge more than once.

By John C. Lilly,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Tells the story of John Lilly's discoveries from his early experiments; mapping the brains of monkeys and communication with dolphins, to his experience with consciousness expanding drugs. The book includes an update on Lilly's work on human/dolphin communication and returning animals to the wild.

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