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Scientists suggest books to savor

book-926502_1920Although most schools are in session, days are growing shorter and the hint of autumn is in the air (in California, that means dry, brown and hot), there's still time to squeeze in a last summer read. Or call it a first fall read. In either case, the approaching Labor Day weekend provides an apt occasion, and a series of blog posts from the NIH Director's Blog provides fodder, in the form of recommendations from top scientists. Among those scientists: Stanford's own Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD.

What does the co-founder of optogenetics and of CLARITY suggest? He urges readers to pick up The Periodic Table, a set of short stories published in 1975 by Primo Levi, a chemist who survived the Holocaust. Deisseroth writes:

The vignettes within this volume, at each reading, seem to provide a fresh perspective on the human condition, and remain relevant despite (or perhaps because of) the rapidity of change in this condition. Among its more explicitly scientific themes, the special beauty of chemistry shines forth throughout (with particular resonance for me, as with many biologists, since my own first steps toward science were from a foundation of organic and synthetic chemistry, and still to this day all of my approaches to neuroscience and psychiatry remain rooted in chemistry). The book is also autobiographical and historical, infused with Levi’s personal perspective on the horrific sociology of rising totalitarianism; tragically, this perspective may be increasingly relevant today, and historians, linguists, social scientists, anthropologists, and biologists all find meaning here.

After traveling recently to India, Deisseroth was also motivated to read the History of Early India from Origins to AD 1300 by Romila Thapar. He writes:

The themes of human history that we are reliving today are so vivid, that every few pages a sentence or paragraph would leap out from the page, and I found I had to stop and put down the book for quite some time before continuing—unusual (at least for me) in reading a text of this kind.

The series also featured suggestions from several other scientists, including Shirley Tilghman, PhD, the former president of Princeton University, who gives a thumbs up to Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, a novel set at the end of the Vietnam War that ponders the nature of identity and to The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution In Our Time by Jonathan Weiner, the Nobel Prize winner in 1995.

I'm sold. Front porch, here I come.

Previously: Author Laura Hillenbrand: Leaving frailty behind, Recommended holiday reading for the medicine and science enthusiast and The book that made me go to medical school — and other good reads
Photo by StockSnap

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