Did you enjoy the September reading challenge? Was there a great mind on the book list that resonated with you, or did you yearn to dig deeper into our explored ideas? Did you come to love Marie Curie, develop a fascination for code-breaking after reading about Elizabeth Smith, or do you now see Steve Jobs’ quest for perfection every time you look at your iPhone? These great minds quite literally changed the world.

While we read about pioneers in physics and tech last month, this month’s list of great minds is largely about biology and medicine. It’s a reading list filled with books about truly remarkable people. Are you ready to read some genuinely good books?

Books on Great Scientists of Biology & Medicine

Last month, we asked the question: what leads regular people to make amazing discoveries about the world around them? What drives great minds towards discovery? If you’re continuing to look for the common threads that weave through the stories of “great minds,” these books are certain to help you make those connections. We’ve got the stories of biologists, doctors, nurses, researchers, and more. As you explore these stories, you’re guaranteed to discover more about life, its meaning, and your place in it. Let’s get reading!

Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist

Adrian Desmond and James Moore, 1999

Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist Book Cover by

Adrian Desmond and James Moore, 1999
Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist

When it comes to famous biologists, Charles Darwin is certainly at the top of the list. But what do you really know about this man who made such a controversial contribution to the scientific world?

As it turns out, Darwin was a great guy. He was well-liked and got along with pretty much everyone. He had ten children and was a doting, dedicated father and a loving, loyal husband. Desmond and Moore bring Darwin to life in this biography, a prime example of outstanding non-fiction writing.

Darwin may be a scientific icon today, but in his lifetime, he was very much a real person who loved, laughed, worried, and took very real risks that affected his life and his family’s life.

Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis

Kim Todd, 2007

Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis by Kim Todd.
Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of MetamorphosisChrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis

Before Darwin, there was a woman named Maria Merian. Merian was born just years after Galileo shocked the world by suggesting that the earth orbited around the sun and not the other way round.

At fifty, Merian, a naturalist and artist took her fascination for caterpillars and their transformation and embarked on an expedition to study metamorphosis across the Atlantic. She published a book filled with her observations and watercolor illustrations (the guild did not allow women to paint with oil.)

Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis is well written, and the illustrations are breathtaking. This book is full of vision, curiosity, determination, and a passion for life. Metamorphosis is mind-boggling; the idea that the cells of a caterpillar would completely break down into a liquid and then rebuild themselves as a butterfly takes my breath away. Merian agreed, and this is her story.

Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA

Brenda Maddox, 2002

When you think of early developments in understanding DNA, the names Watson and Crick immediately jump to mind, and for a good reason. These men were brilliant scientists who made significant advancements in their field of research.

However, Rosalind Franklin needs to be included. Ms. Franklin is the female scientist – who produced X-ray diffraction images of DNA that confirmed its double helix structure. Sadly, she died of ovarian cancer at the early age of 37 before Watson and Crick were awarded the Nobel Prize, and her name and contribution were almost lost to history.

Brenda Maddox corrects this oversight in this fascinating account of a brilliant woman whose great mind contributed to one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century.

Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale

Gillian Gill, 2005

Was Florence Nightingale a noble spinster with a preference for martyrdom, or was she a powerful, passionate woman whose actions cried out for freedom? You’ll thoroughly enjoy searching for the answer as you get to know Florence in this compelling biography that combines history and biography with great storytelling.

This book is a witty, intelligent, and well-written look at the history of nursing, the Victorian era, and the life of an extraordinary woman.

Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize

Sean B. Carroll, 2013

The scientist in this brilliant book is Jacques Monod, winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries surrounding the genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis. His work with proteins, cells, RNA, and all the rest earned him the distinction of being regarded as one of the fathers of molecular biology.

The philosopher in this book is Albert Camus, an author and activist widely known for absurdist and existentialist writings.

Both men lived separate lives in Pairs at the start of WWII and joined the resistance to oppose the Nazi invasion and liberate France. While their fields of interest were radically different, they became fast friends following the war, and both men went on to win Nobel Prizes for their work.
In your search for insight into what makes great minds great, you’ll savor this look at how courage and friendship influenced genius.

Microbe Hunters

Paul de Kruif, 2002

Author Paul de Kruif provides a delightful look at many scientists who pioneered the study of microbes and vaccines. Microbe Hunters will make you want to pull out a microscope and look for yourself at the remarkable things these scientists, doctors, and bacteriologists discovered. 

This book was originally published in 1926, but it continues to fascinate. You’ll learn about great minds like Pasteur, Koch, Metchnikoff, Theobald Walter Reed, Paul Ehrlich, and many others. The writing is engaging and reads a bit like a novel, which is the mark of great non-fiction storytelling.

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

Walter Isaacson, 2021

Last month’s reading list featured two titles by Walter Isaacson, and if you loved those science biographies, you’re sure to eat this one up as well. 

It’s about American biochemist Jennifer Doudna, co-winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Emmanuelle Charpentier, for their work on the development of genome editing. This book debuted in the number one spot on The New York Times non-fiction best-seller list in March 2021, and once you pick it up, you’ll understand why.

Genetics, the human genome, and the gene-editing technology called CRISPR are becoming table talk here in the US as advancements in these areas become more and more mainstream. If you want to know what the future holds, this book is for you.

The Great Scientific Ideas of Biology & Medicine

Again, this month we’re diving into books about biology and medicine that are informative and enjoyable to read. To that end, these books will satisfy.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot, 2010

Almost all of the great medical discoveries of the past 100 years, including the polio vaccine, AIDS treatments, advanced cancer research, gene mapping, and more, can be traced to one sample of cervical cancer cells taken from Henrietta Lacks. HeLa cells are widely used by students and researchers everywhere, but only a few people knew their origin story before this book. Ms. Skloot tackles many issues well in this book, including race, class, and medical ethics, and her science writing is spot on.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

Siddhartha Mukherjee, 2011

The Emperor of All Maladies isn’t a person’s biography; it’s the biography of one of the world’s most pervasive and evasive killers. As you read this book, you follow everything related to cancer, from its initial discovery to the latest treatments and everything in between. 

Author Siddhartha Mukherjee brings considerable skill to this topic, and the result is a page-turning story of the successes and failures in the war on cancer. This book won a Pulitzer Prize and is the basis for a Ken Burns documentary. It’s epic, thrilling, and eye-opening.

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine

Lindsey Fitzharris, 2017

Lindsey Fitzharris sheds light on the outrageous world of nineteenth-century surgery in this dramatic book and the early days of modern medicine. Between 1860 and 1875, surgeons became bolder and more skilled, but mortality rates remained high. What was the cause of all the infections? Lister, a Quaker surgeon, had an idea. 

The Butchering Art is an eerie tale and not for the faint of heart. You’ll want to keep your hand sanitizer close by as you learn how Lister solved the mystery and changed history.

Take a Deeper Dive into Biology, Medicine, and Great Minds

Biology is the science of life, and these books are ultimately about life. As you dig into these amazing books, you’ll discover how others have approached the big questions we all ask about life and its meaning and how their answers, in many cases, have changed how we think about what it means to be alive. You can find these and other books about science and scientists at Discover Books. With low prices and free shipping, you can add all these titles to your cart today.

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