#NonficNov Be/Ask/Become The Expert

November 15, 2021 Uncategorized 22

Welcome to week 3 of Nonfiction November! We have another classic #NonficNov prompt this week, hosted by Veronica of The Thousand Book Project. Visit her to link up your responses to this discussion topic and any nonfiction book reviews this week. You can also join Jaymi at The OC Book Girl for the Instragram challenge every day this month. Here’s the full text of this week’s prompt:

Be/Ask/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I always like to take two approaches to this topic, sharing a topic I’ve read a lot on and asking for your suggestions for topics that I’d like to learn more about. First, here’s my Ask the Expert for the year! I have two topics I’d love to learn more about – politics in the Middle East and the Snowden papers. Since both topics are divisive, I think reading multiple perspectives and books suggested by other readers could help me learn more accurate info on these topics.

Now, for my Be The Expert, I’ve decided to put together a list of nonfiction about genetics and genomics. I’ve always loved this topic (see: my career), but have really gotten back into reading about it lately. I’ve also sorted from easiest to most challenging reads to help you find the best books for you.

I’m Here for the Stories

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee is one of my favorite books of all time. I actually included it another Be The Expert 2013 and I’ve been recommending it ever since! It was an incredible blend of precise scientific descriptions with incredibly empathetic human stories around the author’s experience as an oncologist.

The Philadelphia Chromosome is the story of the first cancer treatment that targeted the specific, genetic mechanism that caused a specific cancer. It’s clearly covers some basic genetic info and then dives deeply into one specific story. I thought it was a great look at the collaborative way science works and the stories of individual scientists made it engaging.

The Violinist’s Thumb is accessible and engaging like The Philadelphia Chromosome, but takes a much broader look at genomics. I loved all the anecdotes and fun facts in this one.




I’m Up For A Chunkseter

The Gene is another Siddhartha Mukherjee masterpiece. It’s not quite as engaging and heartbreaking as The Emperor of All Maladies, but it’s still an incredible, thorough, clear intro to how genetics works. I’ve not read many books that did into the details this much.


She Has Her Mother’s Laugh is another long one, but more similar to The Violinist’s Thumb in its focus on fascinating anecdotes. The author includes some great stories and also considers philosophical questions about heredity and society that are still relevant today.

Code Breaker is an incredible biography of Noble Prize winning scientist Jennifer Doudna. I felt like I got to know Doudna, I got a clear explanation of of the science, and I got one of the better explorations of philosophical questions around gene editing that I’ve read. This is an all-time favorite read as well.


I Do Science

A Crack in Creation is a memoir by the same Jennifer Doudna in the biography I just mentioned. As a scientist, I had to read this. It’s a look at Doudna’s Noble Prize winning work from her own perspective and I think it’s predestined to become science classic. However, it wasn’t as engaging as the biography though and I actually felt like I didn’t get to know Doudna as well.

I loved The Genome Odyssey and thought it was pretty cool to read a pop science book that goes into detail about how genomic data is generated. However, in part based on conversations with my co-host Rennie, I have to say that it might go into too much detail. It covers some technologies that ended up being dead-ends and the explanations may not be clear enough if you’re not familiar with the topic.

22 Responses to “#NonficNov Be/Ask/Become The Expert”

    • DoingDewey

      As someone who does science for a job, I’m probably at least not the best person to determine how accessible science books are, but I definitely believe there are some you could follow if you wanted them! Not everything’s for everyone though and I know there are topics I’d just pass on too.

      • bookertalk

        I worked for a chemical manufacturer so had plenty of opportunities to be baffled by the science. It bothered me at first but then I realised they didn’t need me to understand the chemistry – they had hundreds of people already able to do that. What they needed was help to explain it to others.
        I did learn to fake some knowledge though!

  1. Rennie

    I love how you divided up your list! I’m definitely here for the stories so I think I need to finally get around to reading my copy of The Emperor of All Maladies. I’m especially motivated to hear that it’s one of your all-time favorites 🙂 The Violinist’s Thumb has been on my list for too long too, it sounds so good! And it’s great that you’ve been getting back into a favorite topic, that’s always a great feeling 🙂

    For books on politics in the Middle East, you should definitely browse through the archives at Maphead’s blog, if you don’t know him already (maphead.wordpress.com). He’s very well read on the Middle East and covers books from all different perspectives. His Be the Expert from a few years ago was on books about Iran by Iranian authors (https://maphead.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/nonfiction-november-be-the-expert-ask-the-expert-become-the-expert/)

    I’ve read some really good nonfiction on the Middle East, but not sure how deep into the general topic of politics it might go, depending on what your interests are. Although I kind of think anything from that area tends to be political in nature. The majority of what I can recommend is looking at terrorism too, so not sure how deep into that you want to go either – it sounds like you might want something more about the political structures, and Maphead probably has some better ideas there!

    But I can give you a couple to consider. My favorite is The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright, which is very wide in scope and covers so much of what was going on in the region leading up to the attacks. So it’s very political but also very readable – I know I’ve told you about my obsession with his writing!

    I also love The Underground Girls of Kabul: in Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg, which looks at the culture of girls in Afghanistan who are presented as boys, and a mother of one of the girls is actually a member of parliament so it has a good political background.

    I remember that Manal al-Sharif’s memoir Daring to Drive had a lot of good information about Saudi politics and how it affected everyday life and her work as well. It was really interesting and a beautifully written memoir.

    The Way of the Strangers by Graeme Wood is another that I love, it’s so readable and surprisingly entertaining (in some parts even very funny, kind of like a Jon Ronson-style) but it’s entirely Islamic State-focused as it looks at how they bent Islam to their own purposes and for implementing Sharia law. It does interview supporters from around the world though, so you get a good survey of different connecting political beliefs.
    Rennie recently posted…Nonfiction November Week 3: Be/Ask/Become The Expert: Foodoir and Food WritingMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      Thanks Rennie! I really have enjoyed getting back into reading about genetics and I loved the biology covered in Life’s Edge. I’m hoping to write a review later this week. As always, thanks so much for the great recommendations! I really appreciate the ones you’ve shared in this post as well.

      I also enjoyed The Undergound Girls of Kabul but that’s the only one of your recommendations that I’ve gotten too. The Looming Tower sounds especially good. I think I want something that focuses on the politics of the region and Lawrence Wright definitely won me over with The Plague Year, so I’d like to get to more of his backlist. Adding all of these to my to-read list 🙂

  2. MaryR

    I have a historical perspective for you on Middle East politics: Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson. This was a super-readable history.

  3. Jenna @ Falling Letters

    These topics are all far from my realm of experience, but I /have/ read a book about the Snowden papers! No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State is by Glenn Greenwald, who Snowden contacted to help leak the documents. As I said, I don’t know much about the topic so it’s hard to say how ‘good’ this book is but you can check out my review here: https://fallingletters.ca/2014/11/review-no-place-to-hide-by-glenn.html
    Jenna @ Falling Letters recently posted…23 Owned Books I Haven’t Read Yet [Unread November]My Profile

    • DoingDewey

      Thanks for sharing! I think there’s value in just finding more books to read on controversial topics so I’m hoping to read a bunch of the many books on Snowden at some point and I’ll add this to my list 🙂

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