For any readers who expected a long essay on Chile, this is not it. Instead, as a sort of preamble to Chile, I want to tell you about the two books that served as much of my “airplane reading.”
I found both books, Genentech, The Beginings of Biotech by Sally Smith Hughes and Science Lessons, What the Business of Biotech Taught Me About Management by Gordon Binder and Philip Bashe, as part of my homework for my own non-fiction book on the rise and fall of Scios and Natrecor. They are both university press publications, from the University of Chicago Press and Harvard Business Press, respectively. That, of course, explains why they weren’t on the tables at the front of your local bookstore when you came in to browse.
Does anyone else still do that? My favorite Ann Arbor bookstore is Nicola’s Books, and I drop in whenever I’m in the neighborhood. Anyway, back to the topic at hand.
The title pretty well explains the subject of Genentech. Hughes does not spare scientific detail, but she writes about it deftly, blending into the narrative. Readers with even the most basic understanding of genetics will hardly notice that they have gotten a short lesson on recombinant technology along with a great story. Some of you may know that Gordon Binder is a former CEO of Amgen; he focuses primarily on the financial growth of the company. Again, the story is so well told that it carries the weight of venture capital financing, cash burn, and initial public offering strategies without a whimper.
With both of these books, I found myself re-experiencing the excitement of my first undergraduate biology course. The Watson-Crick model of DNA was still new science. The whole world of biology had taken on new shape and meaning, and the individuals who started these companies blended science and business in a totally new way.
I loved David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers; these two books capture the same spirit of innovation in a discipline that has been part of our (at least, my) professional life.
Here’s another highly recommended example of outstanding non-fiction writing: Peter Moore’s The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future.
Why is this post on The Weekly Packet devoted to recommending three obscure non-fiction books? (The Wright Brothers is a best-seller; I’m not counting it.) First, I can’t imagine writing about politics. Second, it’s still too cold to fish. Third, I wanted to slip in just a teeny plug for the nesiritide book because I just finished a second draft.