I thought it might be helpful to share my, hopefully spoiler-free, thoughts on the books I’ve read over the past year or so. Most of them I enjoyed, but some were more helpful or entertaining than others. Its also worth mentioning that most of these books were readily available through my local library.
As I’ve taken on more responsibility hiring and managing our data science team at Talus, I thought it would be wise to take time to learn how to be an effective manager and leader. These skills are typically ignored during postdoc and graduate training in academia, but are critical in my current role.1
This is a classic text that I’m sure most folks who have gone to business school have read. Although the writing undoubtedly feels dated, there is a good reason why this one is a classic: it’s packed with helpful advice for managing effectively. It covers topics like managing time, setting priorities, and decision making. One of the pieces of advice that has stuck with me is to focus on your team’s strengths—on honing them and using them effectively—rather than trying to round out weaknesses. I’d definitely recommend reading this one if you have any role in managing people or projects.
Are you responsible for hiring people? Read this book! This is probably the most recommended book on hiring these days and I agree with that recommendation. It walks through precisely how a hiring process should work—planning, types of interviews, key questions to ask, etc—to maximize the signal-to-noise of the hiring process. It also mentions areas where hiring efforts commonly fail and how to fix those.
Working at an early stage biotech startup means I should learn more about the business and history of biotech, right?
This book chronicles Joshua Boger and the inception of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, following their pioneering work in rational drug design. I really enjoyed this one. The writing is superb and the biographies throughout provide details that connect the reader with the Boger and the other folks in the story. The book does a great job capturing the science and highlighting the tension that can exist between doing good science and telling compelling narratives for fundraising. My only disappointment with the book is that the epilogue wasn’t long enough! All-in-all, I’d recommend this book for anyone at a drug discovery startup or thinking about biotech.
I read this book directly after “The Billion-Dollar Molecule,” having seen it pop up on Twitter and the Bits in Bio Slack. Alas, I was disappointed. This book follows the development of BTK inhibitors, a recent blockbuster drug for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. However, it makes little effort to delve into the scientific developments and almost wholly focuses on the companies’ financials—either stock prices or who the investors were. I found the story to be uncompelling too: The inhibitors themselves were licensed or purchased from buried projects in other companies, so when not talking about financials, the book describes the clinical trials that brought these drugs to market and the drama brought on by poor management within the companies. It also seems to trivialize the role of pre-clinical data in initiating a clinical trial. Finally, the biographies are pretty shallow in comparison to those found in the “The Billion-Dollar Molecule.” I feel that I may be a bit harsh, because of the direct comparison to “The Billion-Dollar Molecule.” The book itself is ok—it is relatively short and does contain some useful lessons to learn—but there are better books to read for someone like me.
As now a father of three, here are some books I read this year that I’d definitely recommend!
This is the number one resource I’ve found for learning about the birth process and how best to support my wife through it. It provides a detailed overviews of the birth process and what to expect, goes in-depth into the medical procedures that are common during the birth process, talks about pain-management, and provides practical advice for a good birth experience. This is a book to read well before going to the hospital, but dog ear essential pages for reference when you inevitably forget things and need to look them up again. My wife and I both felt this book helped us make informed decisions about preferences and overall helped provide a great experience welcoming our kids into the world. I recommend this book for anyone who’s partner is expecting!
There are all kinds of opinions and theories for how to best care for kids in the early months, but we have personally had an excellent experience using “On Becoming Babywise” for our kids. This book covers some essentials for baby care and provides a useful framework for caring for your child’s needs. The core of the book is about how to manage your child’s day by organizing it into eat –> wake –> sleep cycles in a way that is neither too flexible or rigid. We’ve found that the methods described within have worked great with our kids and given us the gift of sleep in relatively little time!
If you are a potty training your child, read this book! It is short and easy to read—I read it in a single sitting—but it can save you so much frustration and headaches. We failed pretty miserably for the first few days when trying to potty train our oldest; then we discovered this book and it turned our fortunes around quickly. For our second, we started potty training using the methods outlined in here and it indeed only took three days. I cannot recommend this one enough!
I also enjoy reading books for fun! Here are the couple I managed to squeeze in:
I know I’m way behind, but I finally read this sci-fi classic—before seeing the movie! Herbert does a terrific job with world-building; you can really feel the interstellar politics, with all of their complexities and tensions. One of the things I love about the book is how new objects are often described only by their function, leaving it almost completely for the reader to imagine what they may look like. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I’ll say that I loved the book and it is far better than the movie—but the movie is great too! I’ll be reading the rest of the series soon.
I’m not a WWII buff, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I won’t go into detail here, but for me the book really highlighted for me that the adoption and effective integration of new technologies takes time and commitment. Change is always difficult to bring, and even when successful, often folks will want to tack new technologies onto what they already do—even when it is obviously suboptimal. The book is well-written and if you listen to any of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcasts,2 you’ll be sure to hear his voice in your head as you read it. The one caveat I’ll note is that critics did take issue with accuracy and lack of detail in the book, but I’m certainly not able to comment on these criticisms either way. I enjoyed the book and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
My current reading list for the rest of 2023
These are the books I currently have on my reading list for 2023, in no particular order:
Anything you would add or remove? Disagree with my opinions? Let me know on Mastodon (@email@example.com) or Twitter (@wfondrie).
These skills also critical for the academic starting their own lab! ↩︎
I quite like Revisionist History. ↩︎