About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Back From DC | Main | F. A. Cotton, 1930-2007 »

February 22, 2007

Inspirational Reading?

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

An undergraduate reader sends along this request:

I was wondering if you had some recommended readings for a second year student, eg books that you have read and made a palpable impression on you when you were my age.

That's a good question, despite the beard-lengthening qualification of "when you were my age". The books that I would recommend aren't the sort that would require course material that a sophomore hasn't had yet, but rather take a wider view. I would recommend Francis Crick's What Mad Pursuit, for one. It's both a memoir of getting into research, and a set of recommendations on how to do it. Crick came from a not-very-promising background, and it's interesting to see how he ended up where he did.

Another author I'd recommend is Freeman Dyson. His essay collections such as Disturbing the Universe and Infinite in All Directions are well-stocked with good writing and good reading on the subject of science and how it's conducted. Dyson is a rare combination: a sensible, grounded visionary.

Another author to seek out is the late Peter Medawar, whose Advice to a Young Scientist is just the sort of thing. Pluto's Republic is also very good. He was a fine writer, whose style occasionally comes close to being too elegant for its own good, but it's nice to read a scientific Nobel prize winner who suffers from such problems.

I've often mentioned Robert Root-Bernstein's Discovering, an odd book about where scientific creativity comes from and whether it can be learned. I think the decision to write the book as a series of conversations between several unconvincing fictional characters comes close to making it unreadable in the normal sense, but the last chapter, summarizing various laws and recommendations for breakthrough discovery, is a wonderful resource.

Those are some of the ones that cover broad scientific topics. There are others that are more narrowly focused, which should be the topic of another post. And I'd also like to do a follow-up on books with no real scientific connection, but which are good additions to one's mental furniture. I have several in mind, but in all of these categories I'd like to throw the question open to the readership as well. I'll try to collect things into some reference posts when the dust eventually clears.

Comments (26) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Book Recommendations | General Scientific News | Who Discovers and Why


1. Ron on February 22, 2007 10:32 PM writes...

What do you think about the book "Uncle Tungsten" by Oliver Sacks?

Permalink to Comment

2. ethers on February 22, 2007 11:11 PM writes...

I vote for Jerome Berson's Chemical Creativity.

Permalink to Comment

3. KinasePro on February 22, 2007 11:41 PM writes...

Tao Te Ching
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Wait... Science? Inspiring? Humbug.

Permalink to Comment

4. milkshake on February 23, 2007 1:22 AM writes...

I liked "Surely joking, Mr Feynman" The guy was a hillarious nut.

Permalink to Comment

5. Lou on February 23, 2007 5:14 AM writes...

I liked "The Doctine of DNA" by Richard C. Lewontin. It's a short book. I read it when I was doing my Ph.D. and it left me to think about research and things...

Permalink to Comment

6. milo on February 23, 2007 6:51 AM writes...

"A Ph.D. Is Not Enough", by Peter J. Feibelman, Feynman's three volume set of Physics lectures and "A Brief History of Time", by Steven Hawking.

Permalink to Comment

7. Mike on February 23, 2007 8:02 AM writes...

"Dancing Naked in the Minefield" by Kary Mullis. It's one of the few science books that has made me laugh out loud. Any of Feynman's books intended for the general public are also great.

Permalink to Comment

8. georgeh on February 23, 2007 8:22 AM writes...

Goedel, Escher, Bach - An Eternal Golden Braid

Permalink to Comment

9. Ryan on February 23, 2007 9:18 AM writes...

How about recomending some books for someone who will be starting his phd in the fall in organic synthesis. Currently I am devouring Classics in Total Synthesis.

Permalink to Comment

10. Reluctant Chemist on February 23, 2007 10:53 AM writes...

For the new Ph.D., I recommend Timothy Claridge's "High-Resolution NMR Techniques in Organic Chemistry" (if you don't already have it).

I've been reading through "The Best American Science Writing, 2006", and it has proved pretty interesting.

Permalink to Comment

11. dearieme on February 23, 2007 10:54 AM writes...

Second year? Try to find a copy of "An Approach to Chemistry" by F D de Korosy. He revisits High School chemistry and really makes you think through with him the evidence for e.g. the existence of atoms. No hindsight, no shortcuts: what evidence and arguments first persuaded chemists of their existence? Beautifully done. His Dedication is worth a look too.
And you must read Medawar. And also Watson's The Double Helix.

Permalink to Comment

12. Theodore Price on February 23, 2007 11:24 AM writes...

Apprentice to Genius: The Making of a Scientific Dynasty by Robert Kanigel changed my life... its the story of Julius Axelrod and his mentorship of a generation of pharmacologists.

Permalink to Comment

13. DRogers on February 23, 2007 12:46 PM writes...

Primo Levi, "The Periodic Table". A remarkable reminicence about science colliding with the profound events of life. I especially liked the chapter "Chromium", which describes how easily our chemical recipes become immutable and fixed, often for reasons long since passed.

Permalink to Comment

14. CC on February 23, 2007 1:37 PM writes...

"The Periodic Table" -- just a beautiful book

"Natural Obsessions" -- what research is really like in the trenches, academia department

"The Double Helix" -- classic, if contrived

"The Eighth Day of Creation" -- what genuinely happened during the "The Double Helix" period

"Intuition" -- what research is really like in the trenches, fiction department

"The Billion Dollar Molecule" -- what research is really like in the trenches, industry department

One I keep hearing about, and keep meaning to read, is "Soul of a New Machine".

Permalink to Comment

15. Wavefunction on February 23, 2007 3:19 PM writes...

Dyson's latest offering, "The Scientist as Rebel" is also worth a read. Disturbing the Universe is fantastic.
For NMR, Derome's book provides a rigorous and sparklingly pointed perspective not seen elsewhere. Claridge is also good.

Permalink to Comment

16. Beth Halford on February 23, 2007 5:59 PM writes...

My household copy of Max Pertuz's "I Wish I'd Made You Angry Earlier" has been read so many times it's falling apart.

Although not about chemistry, Dennis Overbye's "Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos" is a good sciencey read too. I wish I hadn't "loaned" my copy out 5 years ago.

Permalink to Comment

17. joel on February 23, 2007 10:44 PM writes...

For an incoming graduate student:

"Purification of Laboratory Chemicals"
Armarego, et al.

Permalink to Comment

18. Philip on February 23, 2007 11:47 PM writes...

I really liked "The Ascent of Man" by Jacob Bronowski when I read it as a younger man (circa: 1976). I also enjoyed "The Double Helix" and "The Eighth Day of Creation". Books by Sagan and Lewis Thomas ("Lives of a Cell") were also good.

"The Billion Dollar Molecule" was a lot of fun since I was working on rapamycin at the time and knew a lot of the books characters.

Every scientist worth shooting should be required to read "On Growth and Form" by D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson.

Unfortunately, I don't read anything anymore. I just surf the web.

Permalink to Comment

19. Chris on February 24, 2007 3:32 AM writes...

Almost anything by CP Snow, but in particular "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution" and "The Search". If you are interested in an academic career perhaps read "The Masters".

Permalink to Comment

20. bootsy on February 24, 2007 12:40 PM writes...

I heartily third the nomination of "The Billion Dollar Molecule". It's fun read, and moreso when you know the people involved. It was nice to reread it recently and see that it still held up.

Two others:
"Voodoo Science" by Robert Park - a great exposition on how science goes from wrong to fraud.

"The Secret of Scent" by Luca Turin - A good poke in the eye to us people who think we know how receptors work by someone from the outside. Even if you don't agree with him, it's a thought provoking read.

Permalink to Comment

21. Chrispy on February 25, 2007 5:05 PM writes...

Ireland's book: Organic Synthesis (Foundations of Modern organic chemistry)is an absolute must-read for the synthetic chemist. It is transformative. It was published in 1969 and so focuses on the bread-and butter.

Also: Woodward's old papers. There aren't that many but they are long and make good reading.

Permalink to Comment

22. chemlove on February 26, 2007 5:01 AM writes...

I don't remember the name of the book but its about derrick bartons life, published by the rcs. in the form of essays written by famous chemists telling storys. comes off as kind of a bastard sometimes, but familiar to those who know synthesis. the story by gilbert stork is particularly good/shocking

Permalink to Comment

23. Michael on February 28, 2007 10:05 AM writes...

glad to see someone else comment on Jacob Bronowski - I found his "Science and Human Values" a valuable read while in grad school

Permalink to Comment

24. srp on March 4, 2007 8:48 PM writes...

If you haven't read it, The Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif is a romantic history of the great early microbioligists. de Kruif was Sinclair Lewis's technical adviser when he wrote the novel Arrowsmith, also recommended.

Permalink to Comment

25. Ivan on March 29, 2007 6:49 AM writes...

The Same and not the Same, by Roald Hoffmann

Permalink to Comment

26. Anonymous on January 22, 2008 9:05 AM writes...


Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry