100 books like The Social Life of DNA

By Alondra Nelson,

Here are 100 books that The Social Life of DNA fans have personally recommended if you like The Social Life of DNA. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Mary Shanklin Author Of American Castle: One Hundred Years of Mar-a-Lago

From my list on nonfiction with fantastic storytelling.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a lifelong journalist, I’m riveted by stories that dissect actual events. Nonfiction is my wheelhouse and I’m fortunate to have a related body of distinguished work. Over the decades, I’ve written for exceptional newspaper and magazine editors who taught me the craft of making reality not only engaging – but also meaningful. Instead of ignoring the not-so-convenient truths – details that might be swept away by a historical fiction writer – I hunt for them. My coverage of inequities, hurricanes, and real estate scams has taught me: show, don’t tell. Any author who can take a mountain of interviews, details, facts and color and transform it into a thought-provoking story, they have my attention. 

Mary's book list on nonfiction with fantastic storytelling

Mary Shanklin Why did Mary love this book?

Only dogged research could unearth the story of how one Black woman’s death – and the harvesting of her cells – could change the course of medical research.

It is a story of how some innocuous biological matter could grow into a hothouse of excess. Pharma companies enriched themselves reproducing the cells of Henrietta Lacks but did little or nothing for the family who lost their matriarch.  

For me, this book unleashed the idea of shaping deep research into a story can change our view of society.

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 Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters

Jorge L. Contreras Author Of The Genome Defense: Inside the Epic Legal Battle to Determine Who Owns Your DNA

From my list on genetics for the general reader.

Why am I passionate about this?

Though my undergraduate degrees are in electrical engineering and English, I have always been fascinated by the natural world. When I was a kid, my mother -- herself a mainframe computer programmer who loved her college biology courses -- bought me a microscope. I used it to peer at everything from the microscopic inhabitants of the canal behind our South Florida home to the onions and celery that we were having with lunch. Now I’m a law professor, but in addition to patents and property, I also teach about genetics and medical ethics. I think it’s really important that we all understand something about how the world works, how the law regulates it, and how we can try to change those aspects of it that aren’t working well.

Jorge's book list on genetics for the general reader

Jorge L. Contreras Why did Jorge love this book?

It is hard to believe that Matt Ridley’s grand tour of the human genome was published back in 1999. Yet even today, more than two decades later, Ridley’s engaging, chromosome by chromosome investigation of our genetic make-up remains a marvel that has never been equaled. From the genes that enable the most basic chemical processes in our cells to those that determine our height and eye color, the mysterious “junk DNA” that lives between our genes, and speculation about the ways that genes affect personality, behavior, and society, Ridley brings science to life in this engaging and timeless book.

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 Selfish Gene

Dennis L. Krebs Author Of Survival of the Virtuous: How We Became a Moral Animal

From my list on how we became a moral animal.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was younger, I got into a lot of trouble. Many good-hearted people helped me. In part, this inspired me to become a clinical psychologist. When I was in graduate school at Harvard, I became disillusioned with clinical psychology and inspired to figure out why people are motivated to help others. During this process, a lecturer from the Biology Department, Robert Trivers, approached me and we exchanged drafts of papers we were writing. Trivers’ ideas caused me to see altruism and morality in an entirely different, and much more valid, way. In Survival of the Virtuous I demonstrate how psychological findings on altruism and morality can be gainfully interpreted from an evolutionary perspective.  

Dennis' book list on how we became a moral animal

Dennis L. Krebs Why did Dennis love this book?

More than thirty years ago, when I was conducting research on the psychology of altruism and moral development, a biologist recommended that I read The Selfish Gene

Reading Dawkins’ book caused me to change my theoretical orientation completely.  It enabled me to see that if I wanted to understand altruism and morality, I needed to understand how the genes that guide the construction of the mental mechanisms that cause us to help others evolved. 

Although the title of the book implies that we are selfish by nature, the contents explain how selfish genes can guide the development of unselfish animals.  

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

John Langdon Author Of The Science of Human Evolution: Getting it Right

From my list on tell us who we are.

Why am I passionate about this?

My sister once remarked that listening to our mother’s stories about living during World War II made it sound like we missed something really exciting. That is what history has always been for me–something I missed out on, for better or worse. What would it really have been like? Could I have survived? Family genealogies bring history to me on a personal level; archaeology and paleontology extend that wonder much deeper into the past. During the time I taught anatomy and human evolution at the University of Indianapolis, I tried to be as interdisciplinary as possible, both in study and teaching. I continue this in my retirement. 

John's book list on tell us who we are

John Langdon Why did John love this book?

This book is less about who we are than how we relate to nature. It is important for all of us to be reminded periodically that humans are only actors in a much larger and more powerful environment that operates beyond our control. Many books have been written in the past 50 years about the next pandemic, and David Quammen’s account of how diseases spread from animals to humans is one of the best. For me, it puts the daily feed of political bickering and distant violence in a refreshing perspective, mixed with a level of invigorating nervousness. 

Experiences with HIV and SARS should have taught us how vulnerable we are to new diseases. The 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which killed over 14,000 people, demonstrated how irrational and self-destructive we can behave when fear takes grip. Why, then, were we so unprepared, either medically or psychologically, to face…

By David Quammen,

Why should I read it?

4 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…


Book cover of Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo

Karen Levy Author Of Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance

From my list on human stories about technology.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a sociologist, and I study how technology shapes and is shaped by people. I love my job because I am endlessly fascinated by why people do the things they do, and how our cultures, traditions, and knowledge affect how we interact with technology in our daily lives. I picked these books because they all tell fascinating stories about how different communities of people have designed, used, or been affected by technological tools.

Karen's book list on human stories about technology

Karen Levy Why did Karen love this book?

I think I’m on my third or fourth copy of this book, because I keep giving it away! This is an absolutely stunning, gorgeously illustrated book about the spacesuits worn by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong during the moon landing. The bid to design the suits was won by the Playtex Corporation—the lingerie company!—over a bunch of industrial materials suppliers, because Playtex knew how to design for the body in ways the other firms didn’t. The book is organized into twenty-one chapters, in homage to the twenty-one layers of the spacesuit, and it’s a thing of beauty. It weaves together the history of aeronautics, the politics of the Space Race, technology design, and mid-century fashion so seamlessly, and makes you think about each of these topics differently.

By Nicholas de Monchaux,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface in July of 1969, they wore spacesuits made by Playtex: 21 layers of fabric, each with a distinct yet interrelated function, custom-sewn for them by seamstresses whose usual work was fashioning bras and girdles. This book is the story of that spacesuit. It is a story of the triumph over the military-industrial complex by the International Latex Corporation, best known by its consumer brand of "Playtex" - a victory of elegant softness over engineered hardness, of adaptation over cybernetics.

Playtex's spacesuit went up against hard armor-like spacesuits designed by…


Book cover of The Shabbat Elevator and other Sabbath Subterfuges: An Unorthodox Essay on Circumventing Custom and Jewish Character

Karen Levy Author Of Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance

From my list on human stories about technology.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a sociologist, and I study how technology shapes and is shaped by people. I love my job because I am endlessly fascinated by why people do the things they do, and how our cultures, traditions, and knowledge affect how we interact with technology in our daily lives. I picked these books because they all tell fascinating stories about how different communities of people have designed, used, or been affected by technological tools.

Karen's book list on human stories about technology

Karen Levy Why did Karen love this book?

Everyone who knows me has at some point had to hear me recount at least one anecdote from this book! Dundes was a professor of folklore, and this book is about all the ways Orthodox Jews navigate the prohibitions of the Sabbath. It includes a lot of incredible history about how technology plays a role in helping people do what they need to do without technically breaking the rules—like the Shabbat elevator in the title, which stops automatically at every floor in a building so that observant Jews don’t have to press a button to operate the elevator (which is prohibited). This book changed how I think about automation, and it’s so richly and respectfully written. One of my all-time favorites.

By Alan Dundes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Shabbat Elevator and other Sabbath Subterfuges as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of books written about Judaism and Jews, but this book is unlike any previously published. It focuses on the topic of 'circumventing custom' with special emphasis on the ingenious ways Orthodox (and other) Jews have devised to avoid breaking the extensive list of activities forbidden on the Sabbath. After examining the sources of Sabbath observance as set forth in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and rabbinical writings, some of the most salient forms of circumvention are described. These include: riding a special Shabbat elevator, unscrewing the lightbulb in the refrigerator, constructing an…


Book cover of The Joy of Keeping Score: How Scoring the Game Has Influenced and Enhanced the History of Baseball

Karen Levy Author Of Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance

From my list on human stories about technology.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a sociologist, and I study how technology shapes and is shaped by people. I love my job because I am endlessly fascinated by why people do the things they do, and how our cultures, traditions, and knowledge affect how we interact with technology in our daily lives. I picked these books because they all tell fascinating stories about how different communities of people have designed, used, or been affected by technological tools.

Karen's book list on human stories about technology

Karen Levy Why did Karen love this book?

A book about pencil-and-paper baseball scorekeeping might seem like an odd one to include on a list about technology! But that’s precisely the point: even though by-hand scoring seems like an unnecessary relic in the digital age, this book so beautifully explains why people do it anyway, and how much richness and storytelling and personality there can be in a practice that, at first glance, seems like it might just be rote transcription. Recording data isn’t a science—it can be an art, a tradition, and a joy unto itself.

By Paul Dickson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The history of scorekeeping, practical scoring techniques, notable scorekeeping blunders and idiosyncrasies, facsimiles of famous scorecards, and more-it’s all here in this “celebration of one of baseball’s most divine and unique pleasures” (USA Today Baseball Weekly).


Book cover of The Fires: How a Computer Formula, Big Ideas, and the Best of Intentions Burned Down New York City--and Determined the Future of Cities

Karen Levy Author Of Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance

From my list on human stories about technology.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a sociologist, and I study how technology shapes and is shaped by people. I love my job because I am endlessly fascinated by why people do the things they do, and how our cultures, traditions, and knowledge affect how we interact with technology in our daily lives. I picked these books because they all tell fascinating stories about how different communities of people have designed, used, or been affected by technological tools.

Karen's book list on human stories about technology

Karen Levy Why did Karen love this book?

My copy of this book has so many dog-eared pages and “!”s scrawled in the margins that it’s almost ridiculous. This is the story of how, in the 1960s, New York City and the RAND Corporation used algorithmic modeling to decide where to locate fire stations in the city. It was pretty much a disaster: because of the choices the modelers made about what to measure and how to measure it, they ended up cutting services to many of the poorest neighborhoods in NYC. Joe Flood is a journalist, and it shows—this book is stunning in how it combines the stories of human beings with crystal-clear accounts of the technical decisions made by the computing “whiz kids.”

By Joe Flood,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

New York City, 1968. The RAND Corporation had presented an alluring proposal to a city on the brink of economic collapse: Using RAND's computer models, which had been successfully implemented in high-level military operations, the city could save millions of dollars by establishing more efficient public services. The RAND boys were the best and brightest, and bore all the sheen of modern American success. New York City, on the other hand, seemed old-fashioned, insular, and corrupt-and the new mayor was eager for outside help, especially something as innovative and infallible as "computer modeling." A deal was struck: RAND would begin…


Book cover of The Genome War: How Craig Venter Tried to Capture the Code of Life and Save the World

Roger Highfield Author Of The Dance of Life: Symmetry, Cells and How We Become Human

From my list on what big data is and how it impacts us.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m the Science Director of the Science Museum Group, based at the Science Museum in London, and visiting professor at the Dunn School, University of Oxford, and Department of Chemistry, University College London. Every time I write a book I swear that it will be my last and yet I'm now working on my ninth, after earlier forays into the physics of Christmas and the love life of Albert Einstein. Working with Peter Coveney of UCL, we're exploring ideas about computation and complexity we tackled in our two earlier books, along with the revolutionary implications of creating digital twins of people from the colossal amount of patient data now flowing from labs worldwide.

Roger's book list on what big data is and how it impacts us

Roger Highfield Why did Roger love this book?

This might not look like a big data book but, for me, the race to read the human genome marks the birth of big data in biology, in the form of a tsunami of DNA sequencing data. I edited Craig Venter’s A Life Decoded, the first genetic autobiography, which explored the implications of becoming the first person to gaze upon all six billion ‘letters’ of their own genetic code. While working on Craig’s extraordinary story I came across The Genome War and thought James Shreeve did a brilliant job in describing the drama, rivalry, and personalities in the race to sequence the very first human genomes between government-backed scientists and Celera, Craig’s company.

By James Shreeve,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The long-awaited story of the science, the business, the politics, the intrigue behind the scenes of the most ferocious competition in the history of modern science—the race to map the human genome.
On May 10, 1998, biologist Craig Venter, director of the Institute for Genomic Research, announced that he was forming a private company that within three years would unravel the complete genetic code of human life—seven years before the projected finish of the U.S. government’s Human Genome Project. Venter hoped that by decoding the genome ahead of schedule, he would speed up the pace of biomedical research and save…


Book cover of Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past

Michael Muthukrishna Author Of A Theory of Everyone: The New Science of Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We're Going

From my list on changing how you see the world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professor of economic psychology at the London School of Economics with affiliations in developmental economics and data science. Before that, I was at Harvard in Human Evolutionary Biology. During my PhD, I took graduate courses in psychology, economics, evolutionary biology, and statistics. I have undergraduate degrees in engineering and in psychology and took courses in everything from economics and biology to philosophy and political science. As a child, I witnessed the civil war in Sri Lanka; a violent coup in Papua New Guinea; the end of apartheid in South Africa, living in neighboring Botswana; and London’s 7/7 bomb attacks. I’ve also lived in Australia, Canada, USA, and UK.

Michael's book list on changing how you see the world

Michael Muthukrishna Why did Michael love this book?

The new science of DNA reveals a lot about how we think about identity.

Humans are a migratory species and our stories are complicated. Ancient DNA don't always match people's stories about their ancestors. Rather than being in a place for thousands of years, sometimes we replaced those who were there before or only the males of the group.

Sometimes we completely replaced the group that was there before but the original group's culture persisted or even replaced the invading culture. The book complicates our understanding of indigeneity and belonging.

By David Reich,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Who We Are and How We Got Here as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The past few years have witnessed a revolution in our ability to obtain DNA from ancient humans. This important new data has added to our knowledge from archaeology and anthropology, helped resolve long-existing controversies, challenged long-held views, and thrown up remarkable surprises.

The emerging picture is one of many waves of ancient human migrations, so that all populations living today are mixes of ancient ones, and often carry a genetic component from archaic humans. David Reich, whose team has been at the forefront of these discoveries, explains what genetics is telling us about ourselves and our complex and often surprising…


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