Sunday, August 13, 2006

a longer list!

Interesting to compare McEwan's list (previous post) with the "top 100 science books of the century" compiled for American Scientist - not to be confused with Scientific American for their Nov-Dec 1999 issue. It was published with a series of commentaries by scientific luminaries and aithors on which book had influenced them. You can read the whole thing here.

American Scientist, incidentally, has much the best science book review coverage of any magazine I know - wide-ranging, authoritative, well written, and always available on the web. Now that New Scientist in the UK has more or less given up on books, it is one of the few places where significant science books which fail to catch the attention of literary editors get the attention they deserve.

The list covers technical books and biographiers as well as what we now call pop science, and is not one any sane person could set out to read through. But it is packed with interesting things.

Ian McEwan's top ten

Novelist Ian McEwan is a bit of a science buff, and put up a top fifteen list - a first stab at a popular science canon - earlier this year. It was unveiled in a talk he gave at a meeting to mark the 30th anniversary of Dawkins' Selfish Gene, itself a strong contender for most influential pop science title of recent years, if not the best book.

You can read McEwan's essay as published in The Guardian, or find it on John Brockman's Edge website, along with the rest of the talks.

His top titles:

A science canon

Francis Bacon Advancement of Learning

Antonio Damasio The Feeling of What Happens

Charles Darwin The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (ed Ekman)

Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene

David Deutsch The Fabric of Reality

Jared Diamond Guns, Germs and Steel

Galileo Galilei Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences

Brian Greene The Elegant Universe

David Hume A Treatise of Human Nature

Ernst Mayr This Is Biology

Steven Pinker The Language Instinct

Matt Ridley Nature Via Nurture

Voltaire Letters on England

Steven Weinberg Dreams of a Final Theory

EO Wilson The Diversity of Life

The Voltaire is there, by the way, because he explains Newtonian physics. I'd probably keep Deutsch, Diamond, and Greene, would prefer other books by Darwin, Damasio, Dawkins, Ridley, Weinberg and Wilson, and do without Hume, Pinker, Mayr and Bacon. But a nice place to start a discussion...

A good read?

A good read?

This blog's interest is popular science writing, especially the kind which ends up in books. There are thousands of them these days. What mainly interests me is what makes a good one. So posts will be about good or bad bits of books I happen to be looking at. Occasionally, I may stir myself to review a whole book, but that's not the main point. I am more interested in comparison and contrast, and testing out a few critical thoughts on the whole genre (if genre it be).

To start with, the comments are geared to an event in London in October which will try and identify the best science book ever. Visit the Royal Institution for details (though the event is at Imperial College).

I will be asking the three people who will be acting as advocates for their favourites - Armand Leroi, Maggie MacDonald and Tim Radford - to reveal their top titles in advance. We'll see what follows from that, before the event, and maybe after.