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I just finished listening to The History of Rome podcast, and it is a listen worth every minute of the 73+ hours its almost 200 episodes run for. Created by Mike Duncan, this podcast is a thoroughly researched, well written, and extremely engagingly narrated journey through over 1000 years (753BC-476AD) of the history of one of the greatest empires to have spread its influence over a vast area and sizable fraction of the world’s population of its time. Starting from the legendary (mythical?) establishment of Rome by Romulus in 753 BC, the podcast covers the period of Rome as originally a small kingdom in Italy, to its transition into a strong republic, which controlled large swathes of territory surrounding the Mediterranean, to the Roman Empire, to its fissure into Eastern and Western halves, finally culminating in the fall of the Western Empire in 476 AD.
That women have historically been under-represented in the public sphere, including the fields of business, politics, and science and technology over the years is undoubted. But in addition to being both under-represented and under-recognized in science, (or maybe because of it), the “scientific research” regarding women may not have been performed, over the centuries, in an entirely objective manner. This is what science journalist Angela Saini discusses in her thought provoking book Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong - and the New Research that’s Rewriting the Story.
A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution is a very engaging from-the-trenches account of what is arguably the biggest breakthrough in biology in the last few decades. Jennifer Doudna, a professor of Chemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of California, Berkeley1, is one of the two people (the other being the Max Planck Insitute for Infection Biology’s Emmanuelle Charpentier) who are the two main brains behind the discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system. Standing for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, this system primarily exists in bacteria, as a system to fight against invading viruses. However, in studying this bacterial system as RNA biochemists, Doudna and Charpentier uncovered the power of CRISPR-Cas9 to act as an incredibly precise gene-editing system, potentially changing many aspects of biology and biotechnology forever. A Crack in Creation, co-written by Doudna with her former graduate student Samuel Sternberg2, who is currently a faculty at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University, is her first hand account of this revolution, from the perspective of her role in it.
As an interesting (but ultimately trivial) personal note relating to the CRISPR revolution, I did my PhD in the UC Berkeley-UCSF Graduate Program in Bioengineering from 2011-2017, working in the Teresa Head-Gordon lab, located on the second floor of Stanley Hall, which houses many labs from the departments of Chemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Bioengineering. The Doudna lab is located on the seventh floor of the same building. Pretty much the entire period of over which the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system was discovered, I was working in the same building, 5 floors below where this revolution was taking place. Right from the beginning, I was hearing of some amazing work that the Doudna lab was doing, in the same building, but it wasn’t really until the public awareness of the power of CRISPR increased that I realized just how revolutionary a discovery it was. ↩
While this book is written by the two co-authors, its narrative is entirely in Prof. Doudna’s voice. Hence in my overview, I will continute to refer to that single voice as representative of both of them. ↩
पुरुषोत्तम लक्ष्मण देशपांडे हे मराठी भाषेतील स्रेष्ठ लेखक, नाटककार, संगीतकार, आणि वक्ता होऊन गेले. पुण्यात एका मराठी घरात जन्माला आल्यामुळे, आणि वाचन प्रिया असणारे पालक असल्यामुळे पुलंच्या सर्व कामाचा लहानपणापासून सहवास मला लाभला आहे. त्यामुळे मराठीतल्या काही सर्वोत्कृष्ठ कलाविष्कारांचा मला आस्वाद घेता आला. हा लेख काही पुलंच्या अफाट कारकिर्दीचा समावेश करण्याचा प्रयत्न नाही आहे. किंवा त्यांच्या कामाचं समीक्षण करण्याचा प्रयत्न तर मुळीच नाही आहे. तेवढा माझा अभ्यास नाही आणि माझी पात्रता देखील नाही. मात्र केवळ एक रसिक म्हणून त्यांच्या लेखनाचा, त्यांचा नाटकांचा, त्यांच्या संगीताचा, आणि त्यांच्या वक्तव्याचा माझ्यावर जो प्रभाव झाला, त्याचा आढावा घेण्याचा हा एक लहानसा प्रयत्न आहे.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is 2010 book by Columbia University cancer physician and assistant professor of medicine Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee. This book is a magesterial work summarizing the history of cancer research over the past 2000 years, focussing in particular on the last ~100-150 years. I had read the book a few years ago, and it is one of my favorite works of popular science. (It was one of the books on my Book Bucket Challenge list.)
The word “Intelligence” comes with a lot of baggage. In particular, any attempts to discuss a quantification of intelligence are often met with healthy skepticism, with claims like “There isn’t any one intelligence”. I myself also thought the same, that IQ tests were quite nebulous attempts to quantify with a single number something that was quite a multidimensional property. However, reading Stuart J. Ritchie’s fantastic primer on the subject, Intelligence: All That Matters brought home the point that the reason I thought like that was that all I had every read on the subject were some vague newspaper articles, and I had never actually read anything from an active researcher in the field. Intelligence is a fascinating brief primer on the subject of intelligence research, going through what intelligence is, where it comes from, how it is tested for, why it matters, and how it can be changed. Ritchie is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Cognitive Aging at the University of Edinburgh, whose primary research focus is studying Human Intelligence, so when writing about this, he knows what he is talking about.
Stephen Fry’s Great Leap Years is an amazing whirlwind tour through the history of technological innovation. As far as I can tell, the currently available 6 episodes comprise series 1 (and hopefully more series are to follow), which is a deep dive into the history of innovations in fields of information and communication.
Bad Blood by Wall Street Journal journalist John Carreyrou is a gripping page turner, telling the story of Theranos, the company which had set out to revolutionize the biomedical point-of-care-diagnostics space. The various problems with Theranos have been reported multiple times, starting with Carreyrou’s first explosive expose in WSJ over the past couple of years. But this book, extensively researched and compiled through interviews with multiple former Theranos employees presents a picture of a company in utter chaos, with boss Elizabeth Holmes affecting a Steve Jobsian style to try to emulate her hero, and her boyfriend and second-in-command Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani maintaining an atmosphere of mistrust and intimidation among all employees.