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Editors’ Best Books for ECRs

As grad students and researchers, we all have several books or at least one book in particular that has inspired us and stayed with us years after turning the pages. Perhaps these books even inspired us to get started with science in the first place. Given that winter is such a great time to curl up with a book and a blanket, we at the PLOS ECR blog decided to share our favorite science-related titles. Happy reading!


Community Editor, Andreas Vilhelmsson

Betrayal of Trust: the Collapse of Global Public Health by Laurie Garrett

(Hyperion Books, 2000)

A book that truly inspired me as a graduate student in public health was the book Betrayal of Trust by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Laurie Garrett. At the time, as a PhD-student, I did not think of public health and genetics in the same sentence, but this changed upon reading this book. Garrett really encouraged me to broaden my view on public health and understand all public health problems as essentially global public health problems.

You see, Garrett had not just written a book handling the present and future public health, but it was also a guide to its history, in which Garrett describes, for instance, how Russian scientists had developed a genetically modified strain of anthrax that was resistant to all vaccines and antibiotics, and how nations voluntarily created genetically modified “superbugs.” The scientists she portrayed combined basic biology and public health in an unprecedented manner – it was almost like reading a thriller!  All of a sudden, public health was also a tale of global security and biological warfare; without the knowledge of modern genetics it would be impossible to comprehend such things as viruses, antibiotic resistance, immunology and inherited disease. The book is a must-read for every public health student (and everyone else).

You will find a longer description of how this book affected me in a post I wrote for PLOS Biologue in 2015


The War on Science: Who’s Waging it. Why it matters. What we can do about it. by Shawn Otto

(Milkweed Editions, 2016)

This book takes on a problem many researchers are facing today, specifically, what Otto calls the war on science. Today, we are finding ourselves being questioned and silenced in a way that was not imaginable only a few years ago. There is a worrying trend of scientific illiteracy in the public, where groups of skeptics, may it be regarding climate change or vaccination, can foster a sense of belonging and push towards an antigovernment agenda. What Otto essentially argues is that we need science in order to be free. A thought-provoking book that will benefit all of its readers, but especially researchers in the early stages of their careers wondering how they will get their message across in an increasingly politicized playing field.


The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It by Marcia Angell

(Random House, 2004)

When published, this book became a real eye-opener for many readers when it came to revealing how corrupt the pharmaceutical industry had become. And since its author was the former editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine Marcia Angel,  the message could not be accused of belonging to a non-credible source without insight. To me, the book was a great introduction to what would become my research interest in pharmaceutical regulation and thus had a great impact on my science agenda to come.


Community Editor, Meredith Wright

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond by Sonia Shah

(Sarah Crichton Books, 2016)

While this book covers scientific topics, specifically infectious disease, what I actually love about it is the way Sonia Shah threads history and culture into the science. I am a huge proponent of highlighting how science is inextricable from our daily lives, and Pandemic shows that this has always been true. She uses famous pandemics from throughout human history to explain epidemiology and the science behind the spread of various pathogens. If you’re at all like me, you’ll love learning about what life was like during various epidemics and what lessons were learned. And you’ll get a thrill out of asking your friends, “Did you know Aaron Burr was partially responsible for cholera in NYC?” (See pages 100-103).


The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

(Scribner, 2010)

While interviewing at Weill Cornell back in 2013, one of the current students recommended this tome to me as a book worth reading before graduate school. It was fantastic advice, particularly for someone with an interest in the relationship between research and medicine. Mukherjee beautifully tells the history of cancer research and treatment while also recounting stories from his own training. The writing is riveting, powerful, and unforgettable.


How Come? Every Kid’s Science Questions Explained by Kathy Wollard

(Workman Publishing, 2014)

It is with a smile on my face that I recommend an updated version of my childhood favorite, “How Come?” by Kathy Wollard. In fifth grade, I literally cried when I thought I lost my dog-eared copy of this book (thankfully, it was found). This book answers the questions so many of us had–why is the sky blue? why is grass green?–using science and cartoons. This book encouraged my curiosity and helped inspire my love of science. Get it for an awesome kid in your life, but give yourself the treat of flipping through it first. And if you love the cartoons, I’d also suggest checking out this recent ‘Ten simple rules for drawing scientific comics’ post from PLOS Computational Biology.



Featured Image: Library Entrance, Italy. The image belongs to the flickr account of Wall Boat is used under no copyright with a Creative Commons CC license Attribution 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) as a public domain dedication.


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