Book review: How to change the world

Hi all, 116

Long time I haven’t written a book review, but here we go. A few month, when I was going trough my “PhD dip” (more on that later), this guy, a PI from the lab, recommended me to read this little book.

“How to change the world” by John-Paul Flintoff. 



The timing was perfect, as I started reading it in times were I thought there was nothing I could do to improve academia and science. Well, the book proved me I was wrong. And since then, we started, in our institute, a little initiative to improve things.

I would recommend that book to anyone, because it’s a very good rampart to resignation or resilience. The book it structure in small chapters, starting with “How to start to make a change”. First, it will show you how to overcome defeatism, explain strategies, and how to take the first step. I will also help you to identify what exactly needs change. And then, help you to make your idea beautiful, fun, appealing, etc … many important factors that come into account when one wants to change things.

I loved reading that book. It was a perfect, short, simple, motivational read. I would recommend it to anyone that is slowly sinking into resignation, or thinking of giving up. Because on should never stop fighting or give up on important matters. Especially not in the societies we live in, where it’s easy to do so.


Book review 3: Sydney Brenner – A Biography

I’m reading more and more often now, and continuously buy book from amazon, on hardcover or kindle version. One of the latest is this one:


“Sydney Brenner : A biography” by Errol Friedberg. (Amazon link here)

What did I think about it ? 

LOVED IT !  Sydner Brenner is one of these scientists that enters in the “living legends” category. If you wouldn’t know he still lives on the same planet then us (and gives conferences), you would bet this book describes a fictional and slightly unreal character.

I read it more like a historic novel about molecular biology then a biography; and was totally hooked to the story. For the biologists of my age (25), DNA, RNA, PCR, molecular cloning, sequencing genomes, are stuff we learned from text books as undergrads, without realizing it was such recent history. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that 40-50 years ago, people where trying to figure the very basics of DNA, genes, genetic code, mutations, etc … 

When reading the book, you are not even tempted to think  “come onnnn, how was that not obvious to you, geniuses ?” or be bored, because it’s written so well that you forget about your own knowledge, and “live” the discoveries with Brenner, Watson, Crick, Nirenberg, and so on. Seriously they could make a nerdy TV Show out of this. 

And you realize (because you tend to forget) that it’s easy for no one in science, not even “geniuses”. The chapter describing Brenner and Jacob doing the “Tape experiment” in California was an eye opener. For a month, they did not get any results and where completly depressed about it. But they did this “extra-mile”; taking a deep breath (at the beach); and going to the lab one more time. And make it work. Good to remember it when stuff fails.

Aside of the anecdote, the book is literally a journey trough Brenner’s scientific, from school in South Africa to Singapour & beyond. From the birth or molecular biology to next-generation sequencing. 

I learned so many things reading it, but also laughed a lot; because Brenner seems to be one quirky and funny fellow. One anecdote I can remember is this fake “personal communication” they put as a reference in a 70 pages long article as being from “Leonardo de Vinci” ! An one of the reviewers picked it up saying “Who is this italian guy ?” There are so may of these little jewels in the book, I will probably read it all over and bookmark them ! 

That last sentence probably tells you everything that actually needs to be said … 

Book review 2: I wish I’d made you angry earlier

I bought that book because I was intrigued by the title.

I wish I’d made you angry earlier is actually a series of essays on Science, Scientists, Humanity; written by Nobel-prize laureate Max Perutz.  (Amazon link here)

It is impossible to present Max Perutz in a few lines (That’s why we have Wikipedia); but basically, among his many achievements like solving structure of hemoglobin, he was also member and chairman of the Medical Research Council Laboratory (MRC) of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. It is just one of these places significantly enriched in Nobel Prize winners. (14 for that particular lab; like Fred Sanger, Watson & Crick, Sydney Brenner, …)

Getting back to our subject, his book was a delight to read. It is a series of essays that can be read more or less just by cherry picking the one you feel like reading at a precise moment. I like to say that it describes History and histories of science of the 20th century.

Thereby, it contains chapters about the making of the nuclear bombscience during cold warphilosophies of science, and the advent of molecular biology after WWII. (And more …)

I liked it because it does not contain meaningless gossips about scientists, but stories of the men and women behind famous scientist names. It makes these big names of science more human. The fact that they did their research in sometimes dramatic and difficult conditions makes you feel so lucky about our nowadays research conditions we tend to complain a lot about.

The preface is incredibly meaningful, and I probably read it about 10 times. Max Perutz notably writes : “Like children out on a treasure hunt, scientists don’t know what they will find”. This kind of sets the tone of the book.

One hidden jewel is Max Perutz’s “Commonplace Book” were he lists all the quotes of philosophers, scientists, writers that he likes. It’s such a pleasure to read them over and over.

I would definitely recommend this read to all people, scientists or not, who like to read about science. It is very accessible, witty, and clever.


PS: You’ll know why it is called “I wish I made you angry ealier” when you read it. That’s my cliffhanger.

Stay hungry. Stay Foolish.

For about a year now, we’ve been living in a post-Jobsian world. I know this sounds way to dramatic, but I like to make fun of my Apple geekness. Like a lot of people, I read  the biography of Steve Jobs, by Walter Issacson shortly after he passed away. I admit I was (and still am) quite fascinated by this personality and the incredible life he had. Despite the fact that he was probably self-centered, arrogant, and despotic; he was also incredibly visionary and clever.

I did enjoy reading more about this man, and complemented the book by watching some YouTube movies in their context. Somehow, iBooks did not manage to include them directly in the e-book. For shame.

Anyway, one of his very famous speeches is the one he gave to the students of Stanford in 2005. I find it quite inspirational, despite quite idealistic (but don’t we need it sometimes ?).

One of my favorite moment is that one:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

And also, he concludes with “Stay hungry. Stay foolish. “

Book review 1 : Mastering your PhD

Here come a new “series” of posts … books ! Not nerdy science articles, but real books that you can buy in hardcover for the old-fashioned ones (;-)) or download on your tablet for the geeks !  I wish I would take more time to read books instead of surfing the internet for hours, but somehow it’s a difficult take that step …

Anyway, there is a book that I read back to back about 6 months after I started my PhD, and surprise surprise, it’s about doing a PhD !

Mastering your PhD: Survival and Success in the doctoral years and beyond is a book written by Patricia Gosling and Lambertus Noordam, edited by Springer. (Amazon link over here)

What is is about ? 

It’s about all the not-directly-related-to-science aspects of the PhD, and the chapters come in the natural order all these subjects arise  : How to design good experiments, dealing with setbacks, how to deal with your lab mates and mentor, mastering presentations, first international conference, from data to manuscript, the final year, and what comes after … (and many more)

What did I think ? 

Thumbs up …  

-The book looks very serious and “academic”, but it’s actually very fun, and nice to read ! The description on the different types of research groups, from the “young ambitious investigator” to the “empire, lead by an old scientist and senior post-docs” was so good ! Also, the analysis of the different characters of the lab, like “Golden boy”, is very close to the reality …

-The advices given are realistic and totally applicable. Some of them seem actually very natural.

-It goes through the entire PhD path, so you can basically make usage of the book anytime.

Thumbs down … 

– The book consists mainly of  “theoretical” chapters, but offers here and there some “side stories” about a fictional research team. It sounds nice like that, but I did not like these parts that much, and skipped them towards the end.

– I cannot find anything else …

Well, I am not doing any “promoting” or publicity here, just giving my opinion about the book I read, you can judge by yourself if you want to read it or not sometime !