Science Book Challenge ’09
Last year, the Science Book Challenge was one of my favourites, so I was very excited to see it’s being hosted again by the always polite and erudite Jeff (who is not a book blogger, but runs Ars Hermeneutica which is devoted to making science popular). Isn’t the button this year stunning? It’s the best challenge button I’ve seen so far! You can read all about the challenge, and I encourage you to sign up: you have all year to read three books related to science and “nature’s wonders,” which Jeff helpfully explained further when I asked:
“Nature’s Wonders” is pretty broad, but I wanted it
to be broad. I want people to see “science reading” as almost
anything that is (usually) nonfiction, and takes an analytical and
rational viewpoint, so I think it could include just about everything
except the “supernatural”–unless the author takes a skeptical stance
about that topic.
I’ve decided to attempt to read and review at least one science book a month this year, because I did win a best nonfiction award, which gives me a lot to live up to! And I’m hoping you’ll see all these great science books and be inspired to join. ;) If you want to read about the awesome science books I’ve reviewed, just use that Categories tab over the right…under non-fiction reviews, you’ll find a science category. Non-reviewed ones I’d recommend include: The Voyage of the Turtle by Carl Safina, Genome by Matt Ridley, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan, and Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. Now on to the pool of potentials: because I’m me, and I love lists, I might have gone a little overboard. It’s a big list (42 titles), so I’ve broken it down into sections named for this years theme: The Wonder of…Elements (chem.), Animals (bio.), Evolution (bio.), Plants (bio.), Our Brain (bio.), the Skies (physics), Numbers (math) and Random Wonders (I couldn’t categorise everything!).
The Wonder of Elements
- The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat by Eric Roston: I’m determined to read some pop chemistry books this year, and since this one’s all about carbon, it’s like pop organic chemistry! That’s extra science points right there. ;) I picked this based on the Ars Hermeneutica book note.
- Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World by Rick Lane: recommended by the lovely Rebecca, who shares in my quest for pop chemistry books.
- Hydrogen: the Essential Element by John Rigden: continuing the element-title theme, Rebecca recommended this one as well. I admit to being less interested in hydrogen than the other elements, but this book is about how scientists studied hydrogen for two centuries, and I always enjoy a good history of scientific thought.
- Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson: I came across this one in the Ars Hermeutica booknote, and Rebecca suggested it as well. In her comment, she said it was the one that sounded most interesting to her, and I completely agree! Among other things, it discusses the birth control pill, pepper, and yes, tin buttons.
- Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks: I mentioned this one recently. To summarise: I love Sacks, boarding school, and Britain during WWII. Hence, perfection.
- The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus by John Emsley: did you see that title?! And here’s the first sentence of the description: “Discovered by alchemists, prescribed by apothecaries, exploited by nineteenth-century industrialists, and abused by twentieth-century combatants, phosphorus is one of nature’s deadliest- and most fascinating- creations. Now award-winning author John Emsley combines his gift for storytelling with his scientific expertise to present an enthralling account of this eerily luminescent element. ” Of course it’s on the list!
The Wonder of Animals
- Eye of the Albatross by Carl Safina: I loved his The Voyage of the Turtle, and I’m reading Song for the Blue Ocean this month, so is it any surprise that I want to read more of his work?
- Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger by Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson: this account of a “conservationist road trip through Tasmania” made it on the list thanks to Jeane’s glowing review.
- The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking and the Search for Lost Species by Scott Weidensaul: another selection based on Jeane’s review (this will quickly become a theme of this section). This one looks at various endangered and extinct species (not just birds!).
- Hope Is the Thing With Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds by Christopher Cokonos: another of Jeane’s contributions, this one is all about extinct birds, specifically those of North America.
- The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird by Bruce Barkott: apparently endangered and extinct birds are a new theme for me! This one was recommended by Nancy Pearl, and the cover is soooooooo pretty.
- A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons by Robert Sapolsky: another book discovered at Jeane’s blog, but at least this one is about monkeys and not birds! And culture shock, since Sapolsky was in East Africa.
- Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing the World’s Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them by Bridget Stuchbury: and we’re back to endangered birds, lol. Nancy reviewed this one and it sounds sad but interesting. Also, the cover is another gorgeous one!
- Spell of the Tiger: The Man-Eaters of Sundarbans by Sy Montgomery: this book isn’t out until February, but aren’t tigers the coolest?! lol Montgomery travels to the area around the Bay of Bengal, and this book is both a travelogue and naturalist look at some fierce animals.
- Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien: we’re back to birds again, but as soon as I saw the cover I just went ‘awwwwwww’ in my head. And seriously, you know you wish you had a pet owl too. ;)
- The Hedgehog’s Dilemma: A Tale of Obsession, Nostalgia, and the World’s Most Charming Mammal by Hugh Warwick: speaking of cuties, I’ve always thought hedgehog’s were pretty adorable as well. Warwick is a ‘British environmental writer.’
- Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures by Bill Schutt: a scientific look at the real-life vampires.
- Queen Must Die: and Other Affairs of Bees and Men by William Longgood or Sweetness and Light: The Mysterious History of the Honeybee by Hattie Ellis: I’m not sure if either of these have a lot of science in them, but bees seem interesting, so I figured I could at least check them out from the library and see!
The Wonder of Evolution
- The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins: I know he’s controversial, but this this ‘ancestry of life’ receives high marks. I wanted to read it this year and didn’t quite make it-definitely want to get to it next year!
- Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex by Olivia Judson: hehehehe. What an awesome premise! Various species write in to a sex advice columnist for help, and her answers include explanations of evolutionary biology. Dude.
The Wonder of Plants
- The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan: I have yet to read any of Pollan, despite his status as darling of the book blogosphere (I’m a vegetarian, so a book called The Omnivore’s Dilemma doesn’t have much appeal to me). But it seems like he’s a great writer, and this book which focuses on four plants (apple trees, tulips, potatoes, and marajuana) sounds really interesting.
- Tree: a Life Story by David Suzuki and Wayne Grady: I love trees. A lot. If I were ever to get a tattoo, it will be of three kinds of tree leaves (olive, apple, and oak). So this book, which looks at the story of a five-hundred-year-old Douglas-fir, sounds just about perfect.
- Oak: The Frame of Civilization by William Bryant Logan: Now if I love trees that much, does it surprise you that I’m including another book about them on here? This one is about my very favourite tree of all-the oak.
- Flowers: How They Changed the World by William C. Burger: I came across this book in the Ars Hermeneutica booknote, and it sounds very interesting.
The Wonder of Our Brain
- Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer: I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book, which looks at the neuroscience side of creative endeavours.
- The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature by Steven Pinker: when I read The Wisdom of the Bones, language ended up playing a pretty big role towards the end. It seemed really interesting, and I took a linguistics class in college, so this book sounds right up my alley!
- Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf : what is it with neuroscientists and Proust?! lol I don’t think I need to explain to any of you avid readers while I’d be interested in a book looking at the science of reading…
- The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God by David J. Linden : this one combines a general explanation of neuroscience with specific case studies. It also has one of the weirdest covesr ever.
The Wonder of the Skies
- An Ocean of Air: Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere by Gabrielle Walker: I really enjoyed her other book, so this one has to be on the list as well!
- Miss Leavitt’s Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe by George Johnson: woot for feminism and science playing happily together, as discussed in the Ars Hermeneutica book note! In the early 1900s, Harvard paid women 25 cents an hour to catalogue stars in pictures from telescopes. Miss Leavitts, one of those women, made quite a contribution to astronomy.
- The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next by Lee Smolin: I fell in love string theory, as it was presented by Brian Greene, but apparently there are some problems with it. *sigh* So I should probably find out what they are!
- The Stars by H.A. Rey: a YA book aimed at people who want to look into the night sky and know what they’re looking at! That would be me. :)
- Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe by Martin Rees: a summary of cosmology, which means “the study of the physical universe considered as a totality of phenomena in time and space”.
- Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions by Lisa Randall: a physics book that looks at string theory, particle physics, and cosmology.
The Wonder of Numbers
- Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife: I’ve never read a math book, so I’d like to get to at least one for this challenge. And this one sounds pretty interesting!
- The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number by Mario Livio: this is another well-reviewed math book. Not to mention, I’ll seem extra-smart when I start talking about ‘phi’and other people say ‘don’t you mean pi?’ and I respond with a whole discourse on the golden ratio. ;)
- The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow: a book about stats and probability, from an author who co-authored A Briefer History of Time. Those are some impressive credentials!
- The Boilerplate Rhino: Nature in the Eye of the Beholder by David Quammen: this is a selection of Quammen’s columns for Outside magazine. I so enjoyed reading a collection of columns from a different science writer (Death By Black Hole) that the format really appeals to me. According to the Ars Hermeneutica book note, this one should be good.
- Cats’ Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People by Steven Vogel: this is an exploration of biotechnology, both nature- and man-made. I found it in the Ars Hermeneutica book note.
- Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Ligh by Mort Rosenblum: I love chocolate, so of course I want to read a whole book about it. :) And the Ars Hermeneutica book note had good things to say.
- How to Dunk a Doughnut: the Science of Everyday Life by Len Fisher: there are nine chapters, and each focuses on the science behind an everyday event. Seems like a neat general overview.