On Charlotte Bronte’s 201st birthday: what are our scientists reading?

Charlotte Bronte created, arguably, one of fiction’s greatest heroines — Jane Eyre. On this, her 201st birthday, the BHF research communications team have been catching up with some of our heroes and heroines (our researchers of course) to find out what they’re reading.

Recommended by a patient

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan is a Consultant Cardiologist at Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust and a BHF Intermediate Clinical Research Fellow.

She’s researching how to predict the heart rhythm abnormality and failure that causes early death in adults who were born with congenital heart disease. Her ambition is to improve the care of adults born with heart defects.

Sonya is currently reading When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi— a book recommended by one of her patients. It is about the life, experience of illness and death of the author, who was a neurosurgeon, gifted writer, doctor and scientist- and who knew he was dying at the time of writing the book.

“My patient told me that reading this book and the epilogue written by Lucy, Paul’s wife, is life enhancing and life enriching. And he’s right — it’s a deeply moving read.”

So far, Sonya has awarded the book 5 stars.

Reading for gold

Professor Leanne Hodson is currently in New Zealand competing in the World Masters Games in the rowing events.

As inspiration for her upcoming races she’s reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, the story of the University of Washington eight-oared crew that represented the United States in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and narrowly beat out Italy and Germany to win the gold medal.

When she’s not competing, Leanne (who is Associate Professor of Diabetes and Metabolism at the University of Oxford) studies how fat accumulates in the liver and how this can increase a person’s risk of heart disease.

Science in the 17th Century

Dr Hiten Mistry is a BHF Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham, where he is working out whether salt intake early in pregnancy could help to prevent pre-eclampsia.

He’s reading The Mesmerist by Wendy Moore, a story of two pioneering men of science set in the 1800’s. A time when operations were performed without anaesthesia and conventional treatment relied on leeches and toxic potions.

“ I’ve always been interested in the history of science and find some of the practices of early science and medicine fascinating! It’s amazing to think of the thought processes behind some very strange and painful ‘cures’ for diseases, although some were not so bad - such as surgeons offering a swig of brandy as a form of pain relief.”

A passion for antiques

BHF Professor Federica Marelli-Berg has a passion for antiques and was delighted to find her latest book, The Story of Antiques, in her local BHF charity shop.

For her fiction fix she’s also reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak which was given to her as a present by her uncle.

“The Book Thief is such a beautiful and poetic novel, all about love, death, and a young girl’s passion for reading.”

When she’s not reading, Federica works with her team at Queen Mary University of London to fight transplant rejection by studying the role that inflammation plays in a number of cardiovascular diseases.

She has given both books 5 stars.

An icon of British music

Another of our BHF Professors, Paul Riley, works at the BHF Centre of Regenerative Medicine University of Oxford, turning science fiction into science fact by working out how to regenerate the heart after a heart attack.

He’s reading Johnny Marr — The Smiths and the Art of Gun-slinging by Richard Carman, an account of the major influence of Johnny Marr as the lead guitarist and music writer of a highly influential band and icon of British guitar music.

“I like biographies/autobiographies as they document real life characters and real events (often stranger than fiction) and I’m a huge fan of The Smiths from my formative years of listening to music in the 1980s.”

He’s given the book 4 out of 5 stars — a rating which he says would’ve been higher if the book had included direct excerpts from Marr himself.