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2017 STPF Fellows’ Choice Reading List

Welcome to the inaugural STPF Fellows' Choice Book List. After a round of lively submissions from current and alumni fellows, we have compiled a list of 12 books that received the most submissions. These books relate in some way to science and/or science in public policy and are useful reads for any scientist or engineer, in and outside of government.

Thanks to all of the fellows who took the time to share their recommendations. Congratulations to Colin Brinkman, 2016-18 Executive Branch Fellow at State, who won a random draw for an Amazon gift card!

Even more great reads can be found in "Fall into a new book" in Science Magazine. See in-depth book reviews from fellow fellows 2011-15 Executive Branch Fellow Katherine Himes, 2003-04 Legislative Branch Fellow Colin McCormick, 2011-12 Executive Branch Fellow Gillian Bowser, 2013-14 Executive Branch Fellow Judy Keen, 2012-14 Executive Branch Fellow David Kahler, 2015-17 Executive Branch Fellow Chantelle Ferland-Beckham, 2010-11 Executive Branch Fellow Mari-Vaughan Johnson, and 2013-15 Executive Branch Fellow Karoline Pershell.

Cadillac Desert


Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner.

An older entry on our list, 1986’s Cadillac Desert investigates land development and water policy in the U.S. West. From the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to the Hoover Dam and Colorado River Storage Project, Reisner gives an in-depth account of the environmental and political history of land and water in a region that has seen drought, wildfires and vast environmental degradation in the past few years. What some scholars have called Reisner’s magnum opus is a warning of the long-term negative effects of development policies on water quantity and the environment.


The Emperor of all Maladies


The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

The 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner for general non-fiction, The Emperor of All Maladies, gives the history of cancer—a history which traces back 4,600 years to ancient Egypt. Called “an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal,” Mukherjee invites readers to learn about cancer and its history while simultaneously feeling the personal and emotional impacts the disease has caused for thousands of years. 


I Contain Multitudes


I Contain Multitudes, by Ed Yong.

I Contain Multitudes was published last year to enlighten the public on recent breakthroughs in microbiology. As Yong delves into the science of the microbiome he takes us through a lively and descriptive lineup of microbial life, ones that live on our skin, in our gut and on our eyes. Whether you’re a biologist or simply have an interest in the things that live in and on you, I Contain Multitudes is a satisfying read.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

Recently turned into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks covers the life of a woman who has been immortalized in medicine through the continued use of her cells in medical research. What makes this book even more impressive is how it deals with the ethical issues of race and class in scientific research. Drawing in scientific writing with personal reporting and illuminating prose, Skloot’s book is a #1 New York Times Bestseller.


Lab Girl


Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren.

Author Hope Jahren has been likened to doing for botany what Oliver Sacks’s had done for neurology and Stephen Jay Gould had done for paleontology. Jahren writes about the strangeness and majesty of plants, from the cactus’s ability to wait years for rain to corn’s astonishing rate of growth. For anyone looking for a first-person account of botany, geobiology and what it means to be a scientist, Lab Girl is the book.


Master of the Senate


Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert Caro.

Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate, published in 2002, is a biography of the 37th president, Lyndon B. Johnson. It chronicles his rise in the U.S. Congress as well as his time as the Senate majority leader. Legislative fellows would do well to read its 1,167 pages as it gives deep insight into the workings of Congress.


Merchants of Doubt


The Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.

One of the very popular books on the list is The Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. The authors compare the current controversy over global warming to historical controversies in tobacco smoking and acid rain to show how a few scientists helped think tanks and private corporations to combat and challenge scientific consensus on a variety of issues. 




Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari.

First published in Hebrew, Sapiens is largely an account of human history through the lens of evolutionary biology. Harari posits that our species came to be dominant because it was the only animal who could flexibly cooperate in large groups. 


Science The Endless Frontier


Science: The Endless Frontier, by Vannevar Bush.

Vannevar Bush, director of the wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development for President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945, recommends a national approach towards science and research in his July 1945 report, Science: The Endless Frontier. Available for free online, Bush’s report gives invaluable insight into science’s worth to government. As he states, “A nation which depends upon others for its new basic scientific knowledge will be slow in its industrial progress and weak in its competitive position in world trade, regardless of its mechanical skill.”


This Changes Everything


This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein.

Klein argues that the crisis of climate change cannot be fixed through the current economic system, what she calls the era of neoliberal market fundamentalism. Klein won the 2014 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for this book, and it was adapted into a documentary in 2015. This Changes Everything presents a strong and controversial thesis, and backs it up with prose that is easy to read. 


The War on Science


The War on Science, by Shawn Otto.

Published last year, the title of this book clearly states its thesis. The War on Science: Who’s waging it; Why it matters; What we can do about it draws on facts, trends and history to demonstrate how scientific advances are ignored or even rolled back.


Weapons of Math Destruction


Weapons of Math Destruction, by Cathy O’Neil.

As decisions that affect us are increasingly being made by algorithms and mathematical models, you might expect that bias would be reduced. But in Cathy O’Neil’s book Weapons of Math Destruction, the opposite is true. Discrimination can be reinforced and algorithms go unregulated and unchecked. There are negative aspects of big data which can impact any aspect of our life, from finance to health and incarceration.


Joshua Colburn

Interim Program Associate