After months of silence and many projects finalised, here I am in my new University office with endless new ideas for our bright future! Let us make this come back not over-conceptual and simply throw several suggestions for cozy Science reading during the winter season.
Drawing inspiration from The Brain Pickings, I noted down in my diary a list of books that might become Christmas presents to myself in the coming December:
1. The Where, The Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science
A science book like no other, The Where, the Why, and the How turns loose 75 of today’s hottest artists onto life’s vast questions, from how we got here to where we are going. Inside these pages some of the biggest (and smallest) mysteries of the natural world are explained in essays by real working scientists, which are then illustrated by artists given free rein to be as literal or as imaginative as they like. The result is a celebration of the wonder that inspires every new discovery. Featuring work by such contemporary luminaries as Lisa Congdon, Jen Corace, Neil Farber, Susie Ghahremani, Jeremyville, and many more, this is a work of scientific and artistic exploration to pique the interest of both the intellectually and imaginatively curious.
Founded 175 years ago, the National Library of Medicine is the world’s largest medical library, with more than 17 million items dating from the 11th century to the present in its holdings. Today it is home to a rich worldwide heritage of objects, from the rarest early medical books to delightful 20th-century ephemera, artifacts, and documentary and animated films. Despite more than a century and a half of classification and cataloging, buried in the sheer mass of this collection are wondrous items largely unseen by the public and obscure even to librarians, curators, and historians. The individual objects brought to light in this book glow with beauty — or grotesquery or wit or calamitous tragedy — and include spectacular large-scale, color-illustrated medical books; rare manuscripts; pamphlets and ephemera; “magic lantern” slides; toys; stereograph cards; scrapbooks; film stills; posters; and more from the 13th to the 20th century, from Europe, Africa, North America, and Asia. Specially selected and showcased inHidden Treasure, they once again speak to us, charm us, repulse us, amaze us, inform us, and intrigue us.
3. Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution by Theodore W. Pietsch
For the past 450 years, tree-like branching diagrams have been created to show the complex and surprising interrelationships of organisms, both living and fossil, from viruses and bacteria to birds and mammals. This stunning book celebrates the manifest beauty, intrinsic interest, and human ingenuity of these exquisite trees of life.
Theodore W. Pietsch has chosen 230 trees of life—from among thousands of possible contenders—dating from the sixteenth century to the present day. His arrangement gives readers a visual sense of the historical development of these diagrams and shows how, in Darwin’s words, “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
4. Big Questions from Little People & Simple Answers from Great Minds by Gemma Elwin Harris
The questions children ask are often so simple, so basic, that they turn unwittingly yet profoundly philosophical in requiring apple-pie-from-scratch type of answers. To explore this fertile intersection of simplicity and expansiveness,Gemma Elwin Harris asked thousands of primary school children between the ages of four and twelve to send in their most restless questions, then invited some of today’s most prominent scientists, philosophers, and writers to answer them.
(Please pay special attention to how scientist reply to the question “How we fall in love?” and “What happens to us when we are in love?”)
5. Ignorance: How it drives Science by Stuart Firestein
Knowledge is a big subject, says Stuart Firestein, but ignorance is a bigger one. And it is ignorance–not knowledge–that is the true engine of science.
Most of us have a false impression of science as a surefire, deliberate, step-by-step method for finding things out and getting things done. In fact, says Firestein, more often than not, science is like looking for a black cat in a dark room, and there may not be a cat in the room. The process is more hit-or-miss than you might imagine, with much stumbling and groping after phantoms. But it is exactly this “not knowing,” this puzzling over thorny questions or inexplicable data, that gets researchers into the lab early and keeps them there late, the thing that propels them, the very driving force of science. Firestein shows how scientists use ignorance to program their work, to identify what should be done, what the next steps are, and where they should concentrate their energies. And he includes a catalog of how scientists use ignorance, consciously or unconsciously–a remarkable range of approaches that includes looking for connections to other research, revisiting apparently settled questions, using small questions to get at big ones, and tackling a problem simply out of curiosity. The book concludes with four case histories–in cognitive psychology, theoretical physics, astronomy, and neuroscience–that provide a feel for the nuts and bolts of ignorance, the day-to-day battle that goes on in scientific laboratories and in scientific minds with questions that range from the quotidian to the profound.
Turning the conventional idea about science on its head, Ignorance opens a new window on the true nature of research. It is a must-read for anyone curious about science.
Read what Brain Pickings have to say about these and other books on Science here.