Looking for the perfect book to take with you on your summer vacation this year? We here at Hippo are big readers (obviously), and feel disoriented if we don’t have a book on the go—especially during the long light of summer. And so we tasked our Correspondents to provide a list of the top reads they’ve enjoyed in their fields. From music to anthropology to neuroscience, these are necessary, engaging books. And now, our first list (a riveting read in and of itself) by Microbiology and Immunology Correspondent, Katherine Wu.

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Dozens of immortalized cell lines are used by scientists across the world on a daily basis, but few pause their pipetting long enough to consider the origins of these cells, some of which were derived from human patients with aggressive cancer. Rebecca Skloot tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a young black woman whose cancerous cells were taken from her cervix without her knowledge only months prior to her death and the repercussions suffered by her family, who were neither compensated for nor informed of this procedure until years later. While this book is nonfiction, it reads like a novel, bridging issues as vast and diverse as race relations, health care politics, and the ethics behind science.
  1. Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif. This book will always have a special place on my shelf. It was recommended to me by my favorite professor in college, who inspired me to enter the field of microbiology and pursue infectious disease research. Microbe Hunters immortalizes the stories of the great pioneers in the field and the ingenious ways in which they used the limited tools around them to make groundbreaking discoveries about the bacterial culprits behind often fatal infectious diseases.
  1. And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts. This work of investigative journalism by an HIV-positive San Francisco Chronicle writer is both one of the finest recountings of the AIDS epidemic of the late 1970s and a cloaked memoir centering on the gay community of San Francisco in a time of turmoil, disease, and discrimination. While perhaps not the easiest read due to its length and heavy content, And the Band Played On is well worth the read for its frank yet even-handed depictions of death, politics, and medicine.
  1. My Own Country by Abraham Verghese. I first read this book nearly six years ago before my freshman year of college and its words still haunt me to this day. In its pages lie Verghese’s memoir of his time as a young physician in Tennessee as the AIDS epidemic was first beginning to rear its head. With little prior knowledge of the disease and no tools with which to prevent the deaths of hundreds of his own patients, Verghese chronicles his hardships and sheds light on an often-neglected component of medicine: beyond the drugs and paperwork, being a doctor requires faith, compassion, and perspective.
  1. To Repair the World by Paul Farmer. This collection of short speeches from the social activist and medical doctor Paul Farmer is a heartfelt call to arms. Farmer speaks frankly about the health disparities that still exist in today’s world, but always ends on an inspiring note: as a community, we are more than capable of achieving social justice.

Image Credit: Thyago – SORG|FX via flickr

About The Author

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Katherine Wu is a first year PhD student at Harvard University. Previously, she attended Stanford University, where she received a B.A. in Human Biology and an M.S. in Biology, and completed a Levinthal Fellowship in the Creative Writing department. In her final year at Stanford, she was awarded the Louis Sudler Prize in the Performing and Creative Arts for her work in nonfiction. In addition to her current research interests in infectious disease and bacterial pathogenesis at Harvard, she actively participates in HPREP, a mentoring program designed to recruit underprivileged high school students into health professions, and Science in the News, a graduate student-run organization that communicates high-impact scientific findings to the general public through online publications, public conferences, and annual lecture series.