science books and notable books

I’ve really been enjoying reading a lot of science books lately.  I think since I’m not working, my brain is fresh, and at the end of the day, I enjoy diving into something moderately technical.  While I did some science reading while working, in general I was pretty sapped at the end of the day, and wanted to read something completely different.

If you’re looking for some great science books, my recent favorites are:

  • *Spillover / Quammen
  • The Body / Bryson
  • She Has Her Mother’s Laugh / Zimmer
  • *Heart: A History / Jauhar
  • *The Emperor of All Maladies / Mukhergee
  • *The Ghost Map / Johnson
  • The Hot Zone / Preston
  • *The Gene / Mukhergee
  • Sapiens / Harari
  • I Contain Multitudes / Yong

(Some of these are obviously more technical/science-y than others.  Books marked with * are my favorites.)

Anyone else have a science book to recommend?

The New York Times notable books just came out, and I have to say, I’m pretty disappointed with the selection of science books.  Here is the list:

  • BECOMING WILD: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace
  • THE BOOK OF EELS: Our Enduring Fascination With the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World
  • THE END OF EVERYTHING (Astrophysically Speaking) By Katie Mack
  • HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD: Inside the Mind of an American Family By Robert Kolker (on schizophrenia)
  • OWLS OF THE EASTERN ICE: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl By Jonathan C. Slaght
  • THE SIRENS OF MARS: Searching for Life on Another World By Sarah Stewart Johnson
  • UNTIL THE END OF TIME: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe By Brian Greene

So, out of 100 notable books, seven are on science – one on animals, one on eels, one on owls, two on how the world will end, one on the search for ET life, and one on schizophrenia.  While a couple look interesting, where are the books on viruses and bacteria and biology?  Am I the only one for whom COVID has made these topics particularly interesting this year?  Maybe other people just want to escape them.  I guess I feel if I could understand how diseases work a little better, perhaps it would give me a modicum of control.  That’s a fantasy, no doubt.

3 thoughts on “science books and notable books

  1. becca

    I really liked Gene. Have you read anything by Mary Roach, they are on the lighter side of the science reading genre, but I really enjoyed Stiff. Also Packing For Mars was pretty surprisingly accurate, at least of the student microgravity experience. (Also, I loved Hot Zone in high school, it almost made me like biology…)

    Maybe science periphery, I really liked Lab Girl. and The Glass Universe, and Latitude.

    I am always disappointed at the NYT book selections (at least recently, they used to be good). I have to wonder if they are real readers, or if they just are buying into what the publicists/publisher want the literati to be into…

  2. Jennifer

    Lab Girl is on my list. I’ll have to check the others out. I looked at Stiff, but I thought it might be a little too dark for my taste right now.

    Who wrote Latitude?

    I think all these newspapers and even awards like the Booker are pandering to a certain extent. It’s about reputation, about choosing books that are sufficiently difficult to understand (think Booker there), about having gender, race and sexual diversity, and so on. Really great books make the cut regardless, but a lot of so-so books and some really horrible ones get through.

    For example, I love Margaret Atwood, and some of her books are spectacular, but I don’t think The Testaments deserved to win. I think it won because of her reputation, the popularity of the TV show, and politics. Also, I dare you to check out Ducks, Newburyport, a Booker finalist. Just read the first five pages and let me know what you think.

    Of the Notable books this year, I’ve read two. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is good, not amazing for me, but sufficiently unique I think it’s great that it’s on the list. I started The Mercies and could not bring myself to finish it. (Lesbian relationship meets witch trials in the far north of Europe. Just too predictable and depressing for me.) And Writers and Lovers by Lily King was decent, but hard to believe it’s really one of the top 100 books this year.

  3. becca

    Ha, I meant Longitude not Latitude. (Actually Longitude is the point of the book.)

    I agree about the pandering. But I’ve never held any allusions in my taste in “quality” books. I read a lot, but I read a lot of things that would never win critical acclaim. Perhaps I have plebeian taste when it comes to literature?

    Lab Girl is great, one of my top books of the year (from 2 years ago now); there’s even a brief overlap where “events” were occurring at GT while we were there…. do you remember that rumor about someone who was living in the CS building? Could have been the EAS building instead…

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