Natural Selections

February 2024 Book Recommendations

By Lola Neal

2024 is upon us, and many of us have set our reading goals for the year. If you need some help getting started, look into these informative, entertaining, and thought-provoking picks.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot will walk  you through the history of one of the most important, and often misunderstood or forgotten, stories in modern biology. Henrietta Lacks was a Black woman living during the height of segregation and unregulated biological research, whose cells were taken without her consent – cells that became the first immortal human cell line. Revolutionizing tissue culture methods and research ethics forever, Henrietta’s story and that of her family and the scientists involved are told in this accessible and in-depth book. Join Skloot on a journey beginning in the early 20th century that still continues to this day.

Bloodchild and other Stories, by renowned science-fiction writer Octavia Butler, will transport you into a world of fantasy where you can ask yourself, “what if those scientific ‘what ifs’ were true?” Explore symbiotic relationships between humans and aliens, a world with a cure for cancer but other dangerous genetic disorders run rampant, viruses that eradicate human speech, and a tale that finally addresses what the government will do in the presence of extraterrestrial life. Though these stories are mostly works of fiction, Bloodchild will draw parallels to our current world, our relationships with those perceived as “different”, and what it means to develop treatments as scientists.

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell answers your question as to why that SoulCycle class felt and sounded so so…right. Montell, the daughter of mosquito and fruit fly neuroscientist Dr. Craig Montell and cell biologist Dr. Denise Montell, will break down some of the most prolific instances of cult behavior in our recent history and show you how many of our modern joys follow similar frameworks. From the Jonestown Massacre to the “ascension” of Heaven’s Gate to the crimes committed by the Manson Family, the language of each group will be assessed, compared, and contrasted. How does SoulCycle come in? Montell presents modern cases of “cult-ish” behaviors: fitness groups, multi-level marketing schemes, social media, and even Amazon. Yes, Amazon. If you need a refreshing, yet informative discussion on the human psyche and how we respond to words, check this one out.