NutriBite-Sized Book Reviews

By Erin Coffman

In between reading abstracts and journal articles, sometimes I like to read for pleasure too! 😱

Of course, being a grad student in a STEM field it’s hard to stray too far from science, but here are some great science-related reads that I’ve squeezed in recently that were hard to put down and get back to work.


200224_Erin_Picture1Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro

This New York Times Bestseller is a memoir by Dani Shapiro, an award-wining novelist in her own right, telling a story that highlights some of the pitfalls of modern science. DNA testing is one of the hottest areas of scientific research and public interest, leading to a thriving direct-to-consumer genetic testing market. Shapiro tells her story of what happens when the results you get back aren’t what you were expecting-in this case, that her biological father is not actually her father. This page turner takes you along on her journey navigating family secrets, archaic scientific practices, and what inheritance really means? A mystery novel, exploration of self (nature or nurture?), and a cautionary tale of the consequences of DNA analysis, all wrapped in beautiful prose.


200224_Erin_Picture2The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Another New York Times Bestseller (important to always used trusted sources!), I think this should be required reading for all researchers. This biography explores bioethics and tackles the history of unethical medical practices, racial experimentation, and their lasting effects generations later. “HeLa” cells are ubiquitous in scientific culture and most students are familiar with these first “immortal” human cells to be grown in culture. These cells have gone on to be used for vaccines, cancer research, gene-mapping, cloning, etc. This memoir articulates the overlooked story of the human being whose cancer cells were taken from without the knowledge and consent of her family, and its impact decades later. Rebecca Skloot took over a decade to research and get to know the Lacks family to tell their story with grace and care, and in a compelling and poignantly human way. This novel will open your eyes and challenge the way you think of your own research and its impact, including potential unintended consequences.


200224_Erin_Picture3Becoming by Michelle Obama

The woman that needs no introduction-former First Lady of the United States, wife of the 44th president, Barack Obama, and mother of Sasha and Malia. Mrs. Obama divulges her life story with humor and honesty, giving us firsthand accounts of both her public and private life, including her personal and professional successes and disappointments. I chose this memoir because I think as grad students it’s easy to see people at their pinnacle and lose sight of how hard they’ve worked to get there. It is also important to keep in mind that in those moments when you’re feeling run down or overwhelmed-you’re becoming the future version of you. I also chose this because of the incredible work she did to get kids active (Move more!) and to improve school lunch programs during her tenure. It is an inspirational examination of the balancing act of work, relationships, self, and navigating it all with dignity, grace, and humor.


Peer-edited by Anandita Pal

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