Looking for a book to read?

By Grant Jacobs 17/08/2010

Tired of trashy novels with over-blown action, ludicrous sex, and a dead body-count that makes the Yorkshire Ripper look like an ineffectual dweeb?


If you’re in the northern hemisphere you’re probably looking for reading on the beach. (Forest, ocean, or wherever you take yourself for a recreational break In Real Life.)

Those like me far south of the equator are more likely looking for fire-side reading on cold nights. I’d add a decent wine and nibbles on the side. Or a single malt. Chocolate for the chocoholics.

Every now and then I list a few books with a science angle to them. Here I offer a few places to search for new candidates for your shelves.

Bora Zivkovic has a list of recently-published and up-coming books written by authors who also write blogs. Look through the comments too, as more are suggested there. There is also some interesting discussion about the relationship between blogging and books, with many of the comments coming from authors.


Jennifer Ouellette plugs her own The Calculus Diaries over at Cocktail Party Physics, with a few words on Written in Stone.

Looking ahead to Christmas, pre-orders for Jennifer Rohn’s new book, The Honest Look, should be available soon. The book will be out in mid-November. She has blogged about her book at Mind the Gap. (Now that’s as ‘London’ as a blog title can get! That metallic ‘Mind the Gap’ is still stuck in my head like a scene from a bad sci-fi movie.)

Worth keeping an eye on is Science magazine’s Books et al page, which lists books received and reviewed. (The books received are reported with each issue of the magazine.) Although there is relatively little lighter reading on the Science book list, there is an interestingly wide range of titles that may invite you to look at a topic you hadn’t considered before.


You will need a subscription to the journal to read the reviews, but the lists themselves are open access and worth browsing.  I find the quickest way to find the recently received books is to drop to the bottom of the page and choose either the latest books received or books received over the past three months, sorted into topics. Details include the US dollar (and sometimes British pound) price and ISBN number for the book.

Those who are subscribers to Science can read Some Stops for Summer Trips.

As far as I am able to tell Nature does not have a comparable on-line list, or if they do I haven’t found it! (If someone knows of the link, let me know.) They do have regular book reviews for subscribers.

Other sources of lists of books are the LabLit list (which I have previously written about) and lists on other blogs, such as Chad Orzel’s Scientist-Approved Beach Reading and Professor Salmo Timo’s Book List of Popularized Natural and Behavioral Sciences (now a little dated, but it may still be useful for some).


long discussion offering book suggestions broadly in the science-related area can be found at Less Wrong.

If you already have a subject matter in mind, you could try searching the subjects at Open Library. If you search for ‘science’, for example, you will get a list of sub-topics, that you can delve into further. You can do similar browsing at the commercial book sites, but I don’t want to be promoting one over others by their absence. OpenLibrary is neutral in this respect.

Good luck browsing – and happy reading!

Other articles on Code for life:

What is your relationship with your research notebook?

Book sales, frumpy readers, and mental rotation of book titles

I remember because my DNA was methylated

Professors, lost souls with great oratory power?

Career pathways for NZ science Ph.D. students

0 Responses to “Looking for a book to read?”

  • She does too. I should know better, as I read it…! Thanks for pointing it out my omission.

    (I presume the cat and the birds get along?)

  • If you’re looking for local books to read and have an eReading device, the NZETC has a complete set of Nineteenth Century New Zealand Novels available either on the web or as ePub eBooks http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-corpus-nineteenthCenturyNovels.html

    “Erewhon” by Samuel Butler is the one you’re most likely to have heard of, but there are some famous names in there, including Sir Julius Vogel (Prime Minister) and his son, Edward Robert Tregear (anthropologist of dubious views), Clara Cheeseman (sister of the early botanist), etc.

  • Written in stone is on my must-buy list. I love Brian Switek’s writing 🙂

  • My focus was current books with a science-related theme, but of course we don’t want to limit reading to only that! 🙂

    There are huge archives of free books that are out of copyright, etc. Project Gutenberg comes to mind, for example. They claim to have 33,000 books available to download, and apparently have 100,000 available through associates, etc. Must resist the temptation to go and trawl for classic sci-fi and science…

    Great to learn that some New Zealand classics can be gotten in similar fashion!

  • Alison,

    He does write well. He’s one of a small collection of people (IMHO) who aren’t scientists by training who write about science well. I was going to put the cover of his book in the post actually, but ran out of space! It’s a lovely cover of fossilised shells.

  • stuartyeates raises the question of ereading devices.

    Anyone here have one?

    I am tempted but as yet there seems to be only the Kobo device from Whitcoulls (and a new Kindle soon). One of my son’s is using an ipad which seems pretty successful.

    But I am intrigued to hear experiences of the smaller ereaders which are more mobile.

  • I bought a kobo, but found it didn’t display macrons correctly, and since I’m currently studying te reo Māori I returned it. They accepted it back as ‘not fit for purpose’ and gave a full refund (they said it wasn’t designed for ‘foreign languages’). There are a number of workarounds for it, which mainly involve packaging entire fonts in every eBook, which is a complete kludge.

    The kindle about to be released in NZ doesn’t support ‘ePub’ which is the open standard for eBooks (conversion to their propriety format can be achieved using the calibre software).

    Both the kobo and kindle are ‘e-ink’ devices which are orders of magnitude lighter, less power hungry and easier on the eyes than the more conventional displays in iPads/iPods/cellphones. The kobo was quoted at 7000 page turns per battery charge (~10 novels). e-ink devices, however, can’t do video, because they have a very slow refresh rate.

  • Interesting to learn more about e-readers. I confess to being slow taking up new technology, partly wanting to wait for them to mature (to avoid lemons, etc.) and partly because to keep the budget in check! (An exception would be higher-end CPUs in desktop/server machines, but that’s a different story related to work needs.)

    Doesn’t Unicode give all the macrons needed to present Maori? You’d think these devices would support Unicode.

  • The macrons for te reo Māori are in Unicode, but they’re not in what’s called ‘latin1’ which is essentially ASCII+support for mainstream European languages. I imagine that most mathematical and scientific symbols are also going to be outside latin1 too.

    The kobo does full unicode in the list of work titles (and maybe authors), but latin1 in the actually body of the text.

    If anyone is looking to see whether their reader supports macrons, I suggest maybe Te Kāhui Kura Māori (Māori Studies postgraduate student writing) at: http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-Bid001Kahu.html Click the ‘ePub’ symbol on the right hand side for the download.

  • If anyone was looking for a copy of Jennifer Ouellette’sCalculus Dairies, it’s now available on Amazon.com today. (H/T: the author on twitter.)