Staff picks


In an editorial in the July issue, we suggest some recent popular science books that would make a nice summer read and hope that summer will not be the end of it. To keep you going, here are an extended list of older books, including some of our favorites and some of the genre classics. The list was assembled with the kind advice of editors, scientists and science writers.

In no particular order:

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins—although the tone tends to be of the lecturing kind, the clarity of the argument is amazing and this is a must read if you will ever encounter skeptics of evolution theory

Consilience by Edward O. Wilson (and his memoir Naturalist)—an erudite argument for the unity of human knowledge, bridging gaps between areas of science and humanities.

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene (or his The Fabric of the Cosmos, depending whether you have a soft spot for string theory or relativity)

The Double Helix by James Watson—a first-hand account of the discovery of the structure of DNA (Francis Crick’s A Mad Pursuit is another first-hand account which makes a nice companion to Crick’s biography mentioned in the editorial)

Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel—a human touch brought brilliantly to the biography of Galileo, and the historical conflict between science and religion, based on his correspondence with his illegitimate daughter, the nun Suor Maria Celeste.

Genius, James Gleick’s entertaining and science-heavy biography of Richard Feynman (consider also the biography of Isaac Newton by the same author)

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond—a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of human civilizations from the biologist’s perspective (and his more recent Collapse analyzing the fall of human societies)

Right Hand, Left Hand by Chris McManus—won the Aventis Prize for Science Books in 2003 and offers an erudite reflection on the breaking of symmetry in nature at multiple scales—molecules, cells, organisms, and culture.

Natural Obsessions by Natalie Angier—a science writer’s 1988 account retracing the events that lead to the discovery of the ras oncogene.

If you would rather go for short stories, watch for the 2007 editions of The Best American Science (and Nature) Writing series coming out in the fall.

As we have said before, this is not an authoritative list, so feel free to send us your suggestions for additions and your comments on what these books can bring to a scientist.

Happy summer reading!

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