The Book List

A list of science-related reading, all purely personal recommendations (in addition to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to College Biology, of course):

  • The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson. An exquisitely insightful analysis of the first big win for the scientific method, in this case to identify the true agent of cholera. A tragedy, a detective story, a history, a scientific page turner.
  • Musicophilia (the revised and expanded edition), by Oliver Sacks. You know those brain wedgies you get whenever you hear the refrain to “Puff the Magic Dragon”? Sacks takes that on here.
  • The Knife Man. Wendy Moore penned this biography of John Hunter, an 18th century surgeon who wasn’t afraid to wield his surgical knife on all creatures great and small, pregnant, dead, or almost dead. He broke any number of scientific ethical rules back before there really were many, and in the process founded or broke ground on about 10 different fields of science and medicine.
  • Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe. Simon Singh tells the story from the beginning–from its human beginnings in science, anyway–accessibly, clearly, and beautifully.
  • Galileo’s Daughter. Dava Sobel weaves a story of a little-known, obscure woman and nun who just happened to be a fine chemist in her own right…and one of Galileo’s daughters.
  • Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded. Simon Winchester explains the volcanic explosion heard around the world. There was this volcanic island. There they saw it…and then there they didn’t.
  • The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom. Graham Farmelo brings us the man and his physics, in the process unfolding in all of its richness the all-too-human foibles of the 20th-century pantheon of physics.
  • Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist. MIT professor Thomas Levenson brings the story and the science. You can’t put this one down…well, at least, not until you’ve finished reading the whole thing. And even then, you’ll still feel that…attraction. Maybe it’s just the gravity.
  • The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. Author Deborah Blum uses simple, graceful chemical descriptions and a palpable sympathy for the human condition to bring us the story of forensic medicine’s maturation in the 20th century. While Blum gives us a great tale of history, mystery, and science, she also takes the reader straight to the streets of New York City during the Jazz Age, and it’s a fascinating place to be.
  • Always required reading: Campbell and Reece’s latest edition of Biology.
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