23 May 2006

10 books you must read before you die

I recently gave a talk in FABI on this topic. It went down very well, as most of the talks presented there are on brain numbingly boring subjects, such as the phylogenetic relationships between different kinds of fungi scraped from telephone poles (I'm not making this up) or trapping banana weavils with pheromone traps. So I decided to do something different. These scientists almost never read anything outside their specific field of study, but I do. Or at least try to, every now and then. Here then is my list, in no way endorsed by the authors or their publishers. Please be reminded that this is not a ranked list, and all books are regarded equally (well, Almost Like a Whale is slightly more equal than the others).

1 Voyage of the Beagle Charles Darwin
Documenting Darwin's 1831 journey of discovery that sparked his theories of evolution and natural selection.

2 The Golden Ratio Mario Livio
Discusses phi, a number not only known for its aesthetic qualities in art and architecture, but also ubiquitous in physics and nature.

3 The Red Queen Matt Ridley
The real deal on how sex evolved and how sexual selection has shaped the human mind.

4 Stiff Mary Roach
The secret history of the exciting 'life' of cadavers.

5 The Diversity of Life Edward O. Wilson
Beautifully written treatise on biodiversity and environmental ethics.

6 Rivals Michael White
Illustrates how rivalry has been a driving force in scientific discovery through the ages.

7 The Selfish Gene Richard Dawkins
The gene is the unit of selection and really doesn't care about much else than passing on to the next generation.

8 Innumeracy John Allen Paulos
Why are people afraid of numbers? Is it fate or coincidence? How does the media misinterpret statistics? Are the odds in your favour?

9 Orchid Fever Eric Hansen
Enter a realm of obsessed smugglers, murderous Victorians, bureaucracy, red tape, and little old ladies.

10 Almost Like a Whale Steve Jones
Darwin's Origin of Species updated for the 21st century. It will amuse you, astound you and leave you with a new-found passion for biology.

For those anoraks among you, here are the books on my long list that didn't make the cut (and I'm not implying that I've actually read all of these, but hey, I need something to read in future, too). Trilobite and Counting Sheep were my favourites from this long list.

11 The Quark and the Jaguar Murray Gell-Mann
The unified theory of everything and beyond.

12 Six Degrees Duncan J. Watts
Ever play that Kevin Bacon game? This book is on the science of networks: social, economic, electronic. Diverse.

13 The Ancestor's Tale Richard Dawkins
A pilgrimage through time with our genetic relatives to meet our common ancestors. At each convergence we're joined by sister groups, until finally all life is connected, a big family reunion at the start of it all.

14 Wonderful Life Stephen Jay Gould
Arguably the best volume on palaeobiology. The fossils of the Burgess Shale shed light on how strange the Primordial Soup might have been.

15 Longitude Dava Sobel
The history of cartography comes to life in this tale of greed, ignorance and heroism.

16 Gödel Escher Bach Douglas R. Hofstadter
Gödel's mathematical theorems, Escher's art and Bach's music are linked together to illuminate the mysteries of the human thought process.

17 Counting Sheep Paul Martin
Why do we sleep? What happens when we're asleep? How does this intriguing process go wrong? Find it all here, as well as tips on how to get a good night's rest.

18 Trilobite Richard Fortey
The natural history of an ancient arthropod, a witness to evolution, told with spark and enthusiasm.

19 Beyond Supernature Lyall Watson
Telepathy, reincarnation, poltergeists and telekinesis cannot be explained by logic or science, right? Guess again.

20 The Meaning of It All Richard Feynman
Feynman's inspiring lectures on the value of science, science and religion, pseudoscience, and science and public perception.


Lexi said...

i feel so under read.......your list sounds very interesting......makes me wanna go read them all.......and now to brood and create my own list

arcadia said...

fascinating list. so much to read, so little time. i'm sure the dinner party conversations of the scientists who listened to the talk have greatly improved too.

~d said...

~d said...

jeez. can you get that?
and then do an alligator search. it is the first one, from Monday's paper.

**what is arcadia's avatar?**

AND! thank you for the book list.

~d said...

**lexi**I feel the same way. It is a wonderful list, but how inept do I feel now?

gm said...

Great list! I already had two of the books on my reading list for the year (yes, my studies is forcing me to PLAN any reading, which sucks).

arcadia said...

~d: my avatar's a painting by a brilliant artist named michael borremans. check him out.

Karen Little said...

I used to consider myself well read. I don't anymore.

arcadia said...

jy spreek die waarheid, karen.

arcadia sak haar kop in skaamte en verlaat stil-stil die vertrek.

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

I leave you guys alone for one day, and you leave me ten comments for my ten books!

lexi: please do, I'm a big fan of lists.

karen: you've always made me feel like I've read nothing when it comes to the classics and contemporary fiction, so maybe this makes us even?

GM: I agree, having to plan for reading time sucks. I'm writing up my thesis now, and time is my most precious commodity.

arcadia: you avatar's a painting?! It's photo-realistic, then. Well done, Mr Borremans, whoever you are...

~d: thanks for the link, will check it out ASAP.