So I’ve recently become inspired by Mrs. Apaprent-dip-but-with-a-different-last name. She has also started blogging, she is a humanities person (humanitite? that sounds like a mineral, I like it), and has become involved with various online challenges, basically reading X number of books from category Y in time amount Z. Considering my recent posts putting forth my belief that geology needs good public outreach folks, she suggested I start a similar sort of challenge. The idea is that I will come up with 5 science books written for non-scientists that I will read and blog about in the space of a year. 5 books in a year, I know, big challenge, it may go more quickly, but I didn’t want to make it impossible, and I want as many people to join me as can. 5 books in a year, that’s a little under 1 book every two months, which means I can do this at my normal “non work related reading” clip, just that the selections will be more focused. This seems reasonable (even considering my recent pushes to finish up papers and prepare for a field season). What I would like advice on though are books to read. The ground rules:
- It must not be a text-book or overly technical treatment, it should be something intended for a more general audience, something you could find in a well stocked bookstore.
- At the same time, it can’t be lame. I know that word can mean lots of things, but I want works that are “dense,” not picture books or coffee table books.
- I’d prefer at least 2 of the 5 to be geology or earth science related, the other 3 could be any other branch of science.
- I’d like most of them to be relatively recent books, in other words, I don’t want this to be a tour of the classic science texts of yesteryear.
- No biographies. As much as I like those, I want the main purpose of the book to be explaining or exposing some aspect of science.
- No wilderness manifestos. I love reading Ed Abbey, but it isn’t what I am looking for right now.
So I have an idea of some books that fit this bill. I have already read them, but they may give you a good idea of what I mean.
- The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. This is one of the best books, let along science books, I have ever read. It is fat and intimidating, but impossible to put down.
- The Age of the Earth by Brent Dalrymple. This book grew out of material he had prepared for a court case, and therefore aimed at people with no background. Still, as a geochronologist, I found it complete and fascinating.
- A Beast the Color of Winter by Douglas Chadwick. This is a natural history of mountain goats. In college I was lucky enough to work on a field project in northern British Columbia. We spent a lot of time in remote camps, high in the coast ranges. I was, and still am amazed by Mountain Goats, and how stupid and timid they made me look trekking around in the mountains. This book was a surprising read for me, I originally bought it hoping for good goat pictures, but the way he describes the goats is just amazing. This book also begins with one of my favorite quotes :
“It is only a statement of physical fact to say: Mountains are as close as the surface of our planet reaches towards the heavens. The purest air, the purest water, and the purest light on earth are found among these great uplifted forms.”
Excellent, let’s see what kind of a list we can generate, pass this along to anyone you can think of, at the very least, even if no one else wants to join the challenge, it would be great for me to compile a list of books that we professional scientists consider to be among the best.
So here is where you come in. First, I solicit volunteers to join me, with a start date of March 1. Second, I need suggestions for books, I don’t care what discipline, just let me know what you consider to be the best science writing around.