Science

BAD BLOOD: SECRETS AND LIES IN A SILICON VALLEY STARTUP by John Carreyrou

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For years Theranos was the “it” company in the Silicon Valley. It was the perfect startup–using technology to create an unprecedented medical device that promised to save lives. Theranos bragged that with just a finger prick, its devices could run hundreds of blood tests with a higher degree of accuracy than traditional lab tests. The icing on the cake was Theranos’ young, charismatic, female CEO, Elizabeth Holmes. Investors, scientists, and pharmacies were lining up to get in on the ground floor with this female Steve Jobs and the technology that would revolutionize the industry.

But not everyone was so excited about Theranos’ product, as investigative journalist John Carreyrou first discovered when approached by a fearful whistleblower. Despite threats of litigation, and NDAs, and a toxic culture of secrecy and bullying, a handful of Theranos’ former employees felt compelled to speak out about the faulty devices and numerous lies Holmes was feeding to investors and consumers. Her aggressive and secretive tactics may have been part of Silicon Valley’s tech culture, but Theranos had a key difference: they manufactured medical devices. Their lies were putting people’s lives in danger.

Fighting a multi-billion dollar company and its lawyers was no small feat, but Carreyrou pursued the truth and ultimately published a series of articles in the WSJ that brought Theranos to its knees. In this gripping book, he describes the corruption of Theranos in detail and demonstrates the frightening ways that Holmes exploited a “fear of missing out” to lead investors and business partners to completely disregard regulations, business protocols, and basic common sense.

LAST OF THE GIANTS: THE RISE AND FALL OF EARTH’S MOST DOMINANT SPECIES by Jeff Campbell

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How would you feel if you encountered a 12 ft. tall bird? Or a 6 ft. tall, 10 ft. long ox?  As strange and potentially alarming as they might sound, these and other giant creatures ruled their ecosystems until humans hastened their extinction.  In his book, Campbell describe the origins, history, role, and extinction of thirteen “giants” of nature.  Each account is incredibly interesting, but detailed and written with a sophisticated, scientific style that may not appeal to all of the teen readers to whom it is marketed.  Despite a few half-hearted and awkward references to social media, and an occasional break in tone for an attempt at teen-speak, the book reads like a scientific article.  So while it won’t attract a broad teen audience, it is fantastic for high schoolers and adults who are interested in the subject matter and looking for a well-researched, thorough narrative about the evolution, impact, and decline of each species–as well as a glimpse into the future of possible back-breeding to restore giants into the ecosystem. 

An engaging read which I recommend to older teens and adults who are interested in biology and/or history.

BRAIN ON FIRE: MY MONTH OF MADNESS by Susannah Cahalan

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Susannah Cahalan’s illness came out of nowhere.  One day she was living a perfectly normal life as a New York Post journalist; weeks later she was strapped to a hospital bed, experiencing seizures, paranoid hallucinations, and catatonia.   The doctors were ready to send her to a psychiatric ward, but her family insisted that there must be a medical cause.  Something was wrong with Susannah, and it wasn’t mental illness.  After a month of tests, procedures, and turmoil, doctors finally found a diagnosis just in time to save Susannah’s life.  Although Susannah has nearly no memories of her “month of madness,” she has reconstructed her path through illness and recovery based on family recollections, journals, and hospital records.  Her memoir is intense and fascinating, forcing readers to reexamine their perception of mental illness and reminding us how little we know about the remarkable human brain.  I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in memoirs or medicine!

THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND by William Kamkwamba

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Although his culture placed great importance on magic, William Kamkwamba always knew the importance of science and education.  He was determined to succeed in primary school and make it to one of the top secondary schools in Malawi.  But drought and famine destroyed his dreams, plunging his farming family into poverty and forcing him to drop out of school.  Once the famine subsided and survival was no longer the only thought in his mind, William decided to educate himself. At his village’s library, he stumbled upon the text book Explaining Physics and began to experiment with the concepts and technology described in the book.  His house filled up with the trash he collected from the junkyard for his experiments.  People in the village began to mock him, thinking him mad.  But when he created a windmill that produced electricity for his home (and eventually a reliable water pump to stave off famine) he became a hero to his village and to scientists around the world.

In this autobiography, Kamkwamba tells the story of his childhood and his eventual success as an inventor and scientist.  The story is a blend of cultural history and detailed scientific narrative, all told with Kamkwamba’s great sense of humor.  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is truly inspirational and will be particularly engaging for readers with an interest in both world cultures and science.

SHADOW DIVERS: THE TRUE ADVENTURE OF TWO AMERICANS WHO RISKED EVERYTHING TO SOLVE ONE OF THE LAST MYSTERIES OF WORLD WAR II by Robert Kurson

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The world of commercial diving is competitive.  The minute a shipwreck’s location is leaked, dive teams will sprint to it, hoping to get their hands on some of its fascinating artifacts.  The divers that received the secret coordinates to “something big” lying sixty miles off the coast of New Jersey (and 230 feet below the ocean’s surface) were excited to explore an untouched wreck.  But they were not prepared for what they found: a sunken German U-Boat, undocumented in any historical record.  The divers were elated with the discovery–especially John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, two experienced and adventurous divers who also shared a passion for history.  Each diver hoped to be the one to discover the U-Boat’s identity and its story.  But diving to 230 feet is perilous, and it wasn’t long before the wreck began to claim lives.  As most of the surviving divers gradually gave up on the dangerous wreck, only Chatterton and Kohler remained, determined to discover the U-Boat’s identity–even at the risk of their own lives.

I could not put this book down!  Before I began reading Shadow Divers, I knew nothing about commercial diving.  The logistics and dangers of deep sea dives are fascinating, as are the stories of the people who engage in such a life-threatening activity.  Between the danger and suspense of each dive and the intriguing mystery of the U-Boat, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history, who likes survival stories, or even who enjoys reading thrillers.  It is wonderful–a new favorite!

Thanks for the recommendation, Sally!