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Are scientists in novels trending?

43 new additions to the Lab Lit List!

Jennifer Rohn 16 June 2014

New geeky finds: Stacks of summer reading

This novel features what may be the only scientist ever to appear on a cover clutching a sex-crazed woman

We are thrilled today to present our latest update of the Lab Lit List, which contains a record-breaking 31 lab lit novels, along with nine in the crossover section (speculative fiction with great scientists), two films and one play. In addition to our many readers who nominated works for consideration, we'd like to thank the National Public Radio station WCAI for running a fascinating piece on lab lit fiction, which gave us a generous name check as well as recommended some great books in the process. Thanks are also due as always to our List Curator, Asa Karlström, for her kind assistance and infinite patience in chasing down obscure leads.

The books, as ever, cover a broad range of genres, styles and themes: thrillers and everyday dramas, comedies, tragedies. From these, we catch a glimpse of what it is like to research in the fields of mathematics, physics, medical biology, ecology and many more. This time around we have a few more foreign-language translations (from the Dutch, Chinese and French) and two that do not have English translations: one German novel and what might be the only example of Hebrew lab lit - Too Late by Zvi Yanai, reviewed recently by our regular contributor Professor Steve Caplan. We've added another rare example of a children's lab lit novel, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. Real scientists from history make appearances, including (hard to avoid in lab lit) Isaac Newton, along with Alexandre Yersin and the entire scientist cast of The Manhattan Project - twice. But most of the scientists are figments of the authors' imaginations, interpreted either by scientist-turned-writers or by writers who presumably wanted to stretch themselves by writing what they didn't know.

One reader noted that the novel The Dark Frontier by engineer Eric Ambler, published back in 1936, could well be the first fiction ever written about the nuclear bomb. Another possible first is the Mills & Boon/Harlequin pulp romance book Leave Me Never by Suzanne Carey, which may feature the only scientist ever to appear on a cover clutching a sex-crazed woman (whose bodice is presumably ripped at some point between its pages - we haven't actually mustered up the courage to check it out personally).

Although our readers and researchers uncovered quite a few forgotten tomes, we were particularly pleased that a significant fraction on the List were published in the past year. In fact, I suspect that the graph I published in Nature back in 2010 about the increasing frequency of lab lit is likely to predict a real trend, and some time soon I plan to update that graph to include the deluge of recent additions we've added to the List since. But alert readers finding lost gems is what has really bolstered the numbers; we've come a long way since the launch of back in 2005 when there were fewer than a hundred titles in the list - with this update we have exceeded 200.

We hope that you continue to enjoy the List, and if you think anything’s missing, please do contact us. Equally, if you think there’s a book on the List that actually doesn’t qualify, we’d like to hear from you. (We don’t always read every nomination from cover to cover, and sometimes cannot track down copies, so we rely on our nominators to steer us in the right direction.) Remember, ‘lab lit’ is defined as fiction featuring a scientist as a central character, plying his or her trade as a profession in the real world – it is not science fiction. At the moment, for resource reasons, we are not including self-published works on the List, though some day we may be able to add these. For more information about the genre, and to see all of our titles, please check out The List.

In today’s update:



by Andrew Miller
Historical Fiction: In 18th Century Paris, an engineer trying to solve the problem of an overly full cemetery starts to realize that politics is everywhere.
Links: Amazon (UK)

The Loop

by Nicholas Evans
Drama/Romance: A wolf biologist has to counter hatred against her object of study in a small town.
Links: Amazon (UK)

Good Benito

by Alan Lightman
Drama: A professor of physics struggles with life and in a tale of disillusionment.
Links: Amazon (UK)

Principles of American Nuclear Chemistry

by Thomas McMahon
Drama: The lives, scientific discoveries and excitement of the Manhattan Project through the eyes of a teenager.
Links: Amazon (UK)

Loving Little Egypt

by Thomas McMahon
Drama: A physics prodigy hacks into the telephone grid in 1920s to counter saboteurs.
Links: Amazon (UK)

The Jackhammer Elegies

by Stefan Jaeger
Thriller: A structural engineer teams up with an FBI agent to stop a criminal mastermind.
Links: Amazon (UK)


by Richard Marshall
Thriller: A scientist explores connections between the disputed theories of Lamarck and his own family’s past.
Links: Amazon (UK)

The Dark Frontier

by Eric Ambler
Thriller: A physicist gets involved with international spies in a fictional Eastern Europe country in the 1930s to prevent a nuclear disaster.
Links: Amazon (UK)

Decoded: A novel

by Mai Jia
Drama: The story of a semi-autistic mathematical genius and one of the great code-breakers in the world (translated from the Chinese)
Links: Amazon (UK)

Plague and Cholera

by Patrick Deville
Historical fiction: Microbiologist Dr Alexandre Yersin is brought to vivid, thrilling life (translated from the French).
Links: Amazon (UK)

Sex, Rain, and Cold Fusion

by A.R Taylor
Drama/comedy: A charming physicist cad flees Caltech and his three girlfriends for the Pacific Northwest.
Links: Amazon (UK)

The Resurrectionist

by Matthew Guinn
Drama: A medical college in South Carolina discovers mysterious bodies from a century ago.
Links: Amazon (UK)

Letters from Yellowstone

by Diane Smith
Drama (Epistolary): A group of scientists on an expedition in 1898 to catalogue the flora and fauna of Yellowstone Park before tourists, the railroad, local entrepreneurs and poachers destroy it.
Links: Amazon (UK)

Tödliches Geflecht

by Axel Brennicke
Drama: (In German) A young molecular biologist discovers potential foul play in Southern France.
Links: Amazon (UK)

The Rosie Project

by Graeme Simsion
Drama: A geneticist who hasn’t had luck in dating turns his quest into an experiment and meets a woman who turns everything upside-down.
Links: Amazon (UK)

Imaginary Friends

by Alison Lurie
Drama: Two sociologists infiltrate a cult as participant-observers and are at risk of getting pulled under.
Links: Amazon (UK)

True Jacob: A Novel

by Tom Sriver
Drama: An American physics professor enlists after Pearl Harbor and is charged with finding a fabled uranium mountain on Java.
Links: Amazon (UK)

The Signature of All Things

by Elizabeth Gilbert
Historical drama: A female botanist in the Enlightened Age makes her way in the world.
Links: Amazon (UK)

These Are Our Children

by Julie Maxwell
Drama/comedy: A professor of neonatal medicine invents a new machine to save babies while his illicit lover is pregnant; is the baby his or her husband's?
Links: Amazon (UK)


by Thomas Hoover
Drama: A clinic conducting stem-cell clinical trials seems to work wonders, but is it ethically sound?
Links: Amazon (UK)

The People in the Trees

by Hanya Yanagihara
Drama: A scientist medic and an anthropologist find an extremely long-lived yet senile tribe on an Micronesian island – do they have the keys to immortality?
Links: Amazon (UK)


by Tim Winton
Lab Lit Lite: A boy grows up wanting to understand the sea and becomes a biologist.
Links: Amazon (UK)

The Only Witness

by Pamela Beason
Thriller: A gorilla is the only witness to a crime, and her psychologist trainer has to use her as an eyewitness.
Links: Amazon (UK)

Leave Me Never

by Suzanne Carey
Silhouette® Romance: Possibly the only pulp romance novel ever written that contains science and where the (brutish) male love object is a scientist.
Links: Amazon (UK)

Too Late

by Zvi Yanai
Semi-Autobiographical Drama: (In Hebrew) A man's ode to his lost ecologist brother.
Links: our review

Roger's Version

by John Updike
Drama: A professor of divinity gets embroiled with a computer scientist who wants to prove the existence of God.
Links: Amazon (UK)

The Wives of Los Alamos

by Tarashea Nesbit
Drama: The wives who accompany their husband to the Manhattan Project tell their collective story.
Links: Amazon (UK)

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

by Jacqueline Kelly
Children's fiction: A girl in 1889 learns about Darwin and being a naturalist from her Grandfather, but society does not approve.
Links: Amazon (UK)


by Andrea Barratt
Historical fiction: A group of five interlinked short stories tells the tale of discovery throughout the ages.
Links: Amazon (UK)

Secondary Immunization: A Scientific Mystery

by BB Jordan
Mystery: Virologist Dr. Celeste Braun finds the corpse of an FBI agent.
Links: Amazon (UK)

A Fierce Radiance

by Lauren Belfer
Historical fiction/thriller: A photojournalist captures the race to develop antibiotics during WWII, and stumbles over espionage, blackmail and murder.
Links: Amazon (UK)

Crossover novels

Ratner’s Star

by Don DeLillo
Drama: In the near future a brilliant mathematician is living with Nobel prize winners to decipher transmissions from outer space.
Links: Amazon (UK)

Fluke: I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings

by Christopher Moore
Drama: A marine biologist studies humpback whales, which shouldn't be able to spell – should they?
Links: Amazon (UK)


by Robert J. Sawyer
Thriller: What would you do if you saw your future in a flash? And what would the world do?
Links: Amazon (UK)

The Infinities

by John Banville
Magic realism: The family of a mathematician who contributed to the foundations of quantum physics has to deal with his terminal illness.
Links: Amazon (UK)

The Jericho Deception

by Jeffrey Small
Thriller: A Yale neuroscientist is on the verge of a groundbreaking discovery unlocking the secrets of God before a war breaks out.
Links: Amazon (UK)

The Colony

by A.J. Colucci
Thriller: A super-colony of ants is sweeping in to attack New York City – can the world's greatest ant expert save the day?
Links: Amazon (UK)


by Jeff VanderMeer
Drama/Thriller: A biologist and her team explore dangerous and unknown territory. The first of a trilogy.
Links: Amazon (UK)

In The Garden of Iden

by Kage Baker
Drama/Thriller: A botanist travels back in time to collect samples from an Elizabethan garden. Series.
Links: Amazon (UK)

The Discovery of Heaven

by Harry Mulisch
Magic realism: An astronomer who loves fast cars, nice clothes and women meets a cerebral chaotic philologist who cannot bear the banalities of everyday life (translated from the Dutch).
Links: Amazon (UK)



(Dir. Steven Soderbergh)
Thriller: A realistic tale of the outbreak of a deadly pandemic and the scientists struggling to save the world.
Links: IMDb


(Dir. Alex Karpovsky) Thriller: A scientist becomes dangerously obsessed by a fellow researcher in the lab.
Links: IMDb


Newton's Darkness: Two Dramatic Views

by David Pinner
Historical fiction: Two plays about two of Newton's infamous conflicts: one with Hooke, and one with Leibniz.
Links: Amazon (UK)