Books to Note: Summer 2008

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Books to Note

Moira A. Gunn. Welcome to Biotech Nation: My Unexpected Odyssey into the Land of Small Molecules, Lean Genes, and Big Ideas. New York: American Management Association, 2007. 258 pp. $24.95.

In her first book, the host of the weekly radio program Tech Nation breathlessly recounts her recent immersion into the world of biotechnology. Interweaving anecdotes, scientific explanation, interviews with scientists and executives, and personal commentary, Moira Gunn draws back the curtain on an industry that by some accounts makes up one third of the world economy. She frames the biotech picture with her own narrative of a scrappy journalist after the lead, and at times her personal anecdotes take the story off track. In her chapter on in vitro fertilization Gunn offers an account of her own amniocentesis; one could think of a few ways this might relate to the global biotech industry, but Gunn does not connect the dots. The reason for including the story of her hostile encounter with BBC staff members is still less clear, and Gunn's explanation-that it offers a lesson in failure, which in biotech is fodder for innovation—is tenuous. Her good humor lifts her out of her funk, however, and we get an engaging, lighthearted account of the author's impressions of the science, economics, politics, and personalities at play in the biotech nation and planet. --Eleanor Goldberg

Michael Hunter. The Boyle Papers: Understanding the Manuscripts of Robert Boyle. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007. xiii + 674 pp. $139.95.

Robert Boyle, one of the most prolific and influential scientists of the 17th century, is a subject of great importance to historians of science. Scholarship on Boyle's life and work has flourished in recent years, owing in large part to Michael Hunter's publications as well as to his attempts to catalog the voluminous and notoriously disheveled collection of Boyle's papers housed at the Royal Society of London. Comprising notes, correspondence, and detailed "work diaries," the collection documents nearly the full range of Boyle's intellectual activities, which varied from chemistry and medicine to philosophy and theology. Hunter's volume gives a better understanding of this material by providing several chapters describing the provenance and processing of the collection, in addition to the catalog itself. Just as the title implies, this volume contains the necessary material for a full understanding of the Boyle archive and provides scholars with an invaluable resource on this towering figure in the history of science and early modern thought. --Patrick Shea