Tuesday, November 28, 2006

More, better best books...

Now Discover magazine has a list of the 25 best ever science books, in the December Issue - with Darwin in the top two spots.

Like the RI event, this has the flaw that science books from all periods are treated as if they are the same kind of thing, so Newton, Galileo, Vesalius are equated with Weinberg and Dawkins... But some interesting entries on the full list.

There's an online vote for the best ever, too, open until mid-December.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Let them read books...

After noticing Tony Blair's recommendation of popular science books as an aid to science education the other week, I find the latest (2006) edition of the excellent annual Best American Science and Nature Writing takes a similar tack.

Guest editor Brian Greene (regular editor Tim Folger finds the pieces, the guest then chooses which ones go in the book) says he's been promoting this idea in the US for some time.

People ask him, he says, how to turn school students on to science. The problem, he reckons, is more how to offer a curriculum which does not turn them off. "I've been advocating that schools introduce a new course, one in which students spend the entire term reading and discussing a wide selection of compelling popular science books and articles".

He doesn't say what to choose, beyond materials "that cut a wide swath through the sciences, from their established underpinnings up to cutting edge research".

A whole term would never fit in with the National Curriculum, but I've wondered for a while why schools in Britain don't make more use of popular science books, so much more appealing than the average GCSE or A-level text.

But which ones?

Friday, November 17, 2006

on accuracy

Someone with a sharper scientific eye than me pointed out today that Primo Levi makes some rather obvious mistakes about photosynthesis in Carbon, probably the most celebrated chapter of The Periodic Table.

This doesn't detract from his poetic style. But does it weaken the claim that it deserves to be regarded as the best science book ever? I think so.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Thouhgtful piece in the New York Times, which argues that the traditional "great man" science biography needs rethinking because modern research is all about collaboration and orchestrated effort. (Thanks to Tom Miller for pointing this out).

I don't believe it myself (the death of biography, not the teamwork). Publishers and readers like biographies, however historiographically teeth-grinding they turn out to be. Even better if the media can create a personal opposition to portray an issue - as with Venter and Sulston over ownership of the human genome. And both now have books devoted to them.

But Peter Dizikes' piece says a lot of other interesting things, too. He also lists some scientists ripe for biographical treatment including (according to Dan Kevles) Carl Sagan. That's odd: I've read two biographies of Sagan already.

Anyway, you can read Dizikes' piece here.

Friday, November 03, 2006

a leader speaks

"We need to make science popular again - to bring it back to people. We have seen recently some excellent popular books - Steve Jones, Richard Dawkins, Steven Hawking, Bill Bryson, whose A Short History Of Nearly Everything sold over two million copies and which was sent to every secondary school".

Thus Tony Blair, in his speech today about how Britain's path to the future is "lit by the brilliant light of science". Shades of the white heat...

Wonder how Richard Dawkins feels about being singled out by the great statesman/war criminal (delete which is ever is inapplicable)?