Siddhartha Mukherjee: By the Book

From The New York Times:

The author of “The Emperor of All Maladies” read some bizarre things researching his latest book, “The Gene,” “including comics from the 1950s that fantasized about future human mutants.”

SidWhat are your favorite books about medicine?

Randy Shilts’s “And the Band Played On,” about the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal,” about how systems of care can affect the way we die. And Ian McEwan’s “Enduring Love,” a novel spun out of an obsessive psychiatric syndrome.

Was there any book that influenced your decision to become a writer?

Without a doubt: Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz.” Levi, notably, defined himself first as a chemist and then as a writer. He has a particularly charming essay about why scientists can be good writers because they distill and clarify, because they boil questions down to their tar, because they understand the Silly Putty-ness of language. If chemists can write like Levi, then God help the writers.

What was the most interesting book you read while researching “The Gene”? And what was the best book you read for “The Emperor of All Maladies”?

I read a wide and bizarre collection of books for “The Gene,” including comics from the 1950s that fantasized about future human mutants, and a popular genre from the 1930s — I guess we might call it Eugenics Lite — that advocated the measurement and breeding of the best babies (blue-eyed, white) to improve the national gene pool. Perhaps the most interesting was Eugen Bleuler’s first case description of schizophrenia from 1911 that reads like the most incredible novel. For “Emperor of All Maladies,” the one book that I particularly scoured for inspiration was Richard Rhodes’s “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” — an epic account of the Manhattan Project. I cannot think of another book that makes scientific history more riveting.

More here.