The Best Books About Biotechnology


Here's my biotech reading list. I'd love your help fleshing it out.


I've spent the last few weeks creating a syllabus for myself on the world -- people, techniques, theory, history -- of biotechnology. I've talked with some scholars, accepted some Amazon recommendations, and done some rummaging around in bibliographies, but I'm only getting started. I thought I'd list my recent acquisitions here in hopes that you'll help me flesh my little self-taught course out. You know how to get a hold of me: comments here, @alexismadrigal, or amadrigal[at] 

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(Oh, and I'm also looking for journals and blogs that I should be keeping an eye on.) 

Right now, I'm pretty heavy on the theoretical and anthropological investigations of biotechnology. I'd like more basic texts on the techniques and some more scientist/technologist accounts of their own work and how it's shaped their thinking. If you can't tell from the readings, what I'm most interested in is the nature of life from the perspective of the people who manipulate it. 

Here's the list, sorted alphabetically by author last name:

Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era by Melinda Cooper

Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy by Sarah Franklin

Invisible Frontiers: The Race to Synthesize a Human Gene by Stephen Hall

How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics by N. Katherine Hayles

Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas by Stefan Helmreich

Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech by Sally Smith Hughes

Refiguring Life by Evelyn Fox Keller

Secrets of Life, Secrets of Death: Essays on Language, Gender, and Science by Evelyn Fox Keller

Making Sense of Life: Explaining Biological Development with Models, Metaphors, and Machines by Evelyn Fox Keller

UPDATE! Additions from readers:

Frankenstein's Cat by Emily Anthes
Suggested by Kristopher Hite

Her-2 by Robert Bazell
Suggested by @jacquimiller via email

Red Canary by Tim Birkhead 
Suggested by Jackson Cahn in the comments

Biology Is Technology by Rob Carlson
Suggested by Adam Rutherford

Regenesis by George Church and Ed Regis
Suggested by Todd Gailun

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
Suggested by @jacquimiller via email

Suggested by watson42 in the comments

Our Posthuman Future by Francis Fukuyama
Suggested by Todd Gailun

The Eighth Day of Creation by Horace Freeland Judson
Suggested by Todd Gailun and Mike Mossing via email

Lords of the Fly by Robert Kohler
Suggested by Peter Sachs Collopy

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddharta Mukarjee
Suggested by @jacquimiller via email

The Strongest Boy in the World by Philip Reilly
Suggested by Odoacer in the comments

From Alchemy to IPO by Cynthia Robbins-Roth
Suggested by @jacquimiller via email

Creation by Adam Rutherford, out June 2013
Suggested by Ed Yong

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Suggested by Nicole Zara

Gene Dreams by Robert Teitelman
Suggested by Ben Temple via email

The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas
Suggested by Todd Gailun

Double Helix by James Watson
Suggested by @jacquimiller via email

The Future of Life by EO Wilson
Suggested by @jacquimiller via email

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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