Science-y reading

By Grant Jacobs 10/04/2013

A reading list, a blogging website and a few books for my readers to check out.

Enjoy ”fiction featuring a scientist as a central character, plying his or her trade as a profession in the real world”? You’re looking for lablit. Jennifer Rohn, author of two lablit novels herself,* has just added 29 additions to The List at LabLit. Check it out for reading ideas. (You can contact them if you think they’ve missed any out.)


U20 Science is a blog collective for teenagers writing on science. It sounds a great initiative – newcomers are welcome and you can encourage it as readers, too. I guess you can think of it as a sort-of sciblogs (this place!) for people who aren’t yet old and grumpy!

(Pendants: you can quibble with details of what they offer—they’re younger, after all—but if you must point out things be a mentor, not a critic – encourage them to peek a little closer at these things that obviously interest them enough to write about them rather than be negative.)

Below are a few books I’m unlikely to find time to properly review that I’ve encountered lately:

My previous post was a consequence seeing Simon Flynn’s The Science Magpie in the local library. I’m not the target audience for this book. In largish notebook-sized format and 269 pages of body text it’s small book containing a collection of snippets – poems, factoids, equations, quotes and whatnot. Not being the target audience not a lot of it appeals to me, but a few are interesting enough for me to stop and read. The book is intended for those without a science background or, perhaps, someone younger: for them it would be more interesting. My main grump is that while he introduces potentially interesting things for readers he rarely elaborates on them. While it will in part be a limitation of the small size, it feels less satisfying and perhaps opportunities missed, as it were. Perhaps it’s just the frustrated science communicator in me? I have little doubt this will have wider appeal to those who enjoy factoids and are less familiar with science.


A book I would like to have time for, but haven’t is Quirks of Human Anatomy: An Evo-Devo Look at the Human Body by Lewis Held, Jr., which tries to present some of what evo-devo has to offer to non-scientists or, at least, those not wanting the full textbook or literature treatment of topics. The topics should have wide appeal, e.g. Were we once all hermaphrodites?, How did we become the only “naked apes”?, Could choking have been avoided?, Why do our ears start out on our neck? and so on. The text is (reasonably) conversational, if sometimes lapsing to more formal description. While mostly informal, I still can’t help feeling it’s perhaps better tackled by people who are prepared to put a little effort in as the descriptions are direct explanations rather than by analogy, as you might get in, say, a magazine article. More then, for someone who really wants to know about these quirks of our bodies than someone who wants an insubstantial gloss. It should also be interesting (even useful) for those who are starting out studying biology. The inclusion of citations in the body text** and overall layout ‘sells’ a textbook feel to a casual glance. I can’t help wondering if it’d have attracted a wider audience more readily with a different presentation.


One book I do hope to find time to tackle is Rebecca Stott’s Darwin’s Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists. (Also subtitled The Secret History of Evolution.) I’ll leave commentary for later in the small hope that I find time to read this. Her invitation to reading this in the Preface is interesting, opening with saying that she grew up in a Creationist household and an account of how her grandfather had razored out the page on Charles Darwin from the family’s copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Her book takes it’s start from Darwin’s list of predecessors he included as a preface, An Historical Sketch, in later editions of On the Origins of Species. Stott says she explored these men and others (and they are all men, she laments), looking for those who might have be “obscured by the shadow of Charles Darwin.”

What am I currently reading? I’m nearing the end of Peter Watts’ science fiction novel Blindsight. (No spoilers, please!)


* I believe a third is on the way.

** To my thinking, citations are problem for books like this. They want to include citations in some way, but how to do it without disrupting the flow of the reader who isn’t interested in them? In this case a full-size character rendition of the numbers-in-square-brackets used in wikipedia is adopted. Citations occur frequently, so they’re quite prominent.

Other book-related posts on Code for life:

Seduced by logic

Ancient books (or I’d rather be reading)

Writing a popular science book; links and writers’ warnings

Teaching kids critical thinking

Book review: Buried Alive

0 Responses to “Science-y reading”

  • Hey, thanks for this Grant. Especially the Lablit list. Just the sort of fiction I enjoy and I have only read a few of these so far.

  • o no… I have so many books on my to-read list already. I cannot read fast enough, literally – I don’t think I will get through my list before I die! But, if I do, hopefully I can find lablit again to peruse the titles there.

  • Claire –

    “I have so many books on my to-read list already. I cannot read fast enough,”

    I know that feeling!

    I have to admit at a first reading I read ‘die’ for ‘do’ in “But, if I do, hopefully I can find lablit again…”, i.e. “But, if I die, hopefully I can find lablit again…” Ha! Cue discussion about book-reading zombies? And why no zombie movie ever features them.

    Swapping zombies for vampires, I’ve now made it to the ‘Notes and References’ epilogue of Blindsight, which opens with

    Abridged references and remarks, to try and convince you all I’m not crazy (or, failing that, to simply intimidate you into shutting up about it). Read for extra credit.


    [… (citations omitted)]

    followed by passages riffing off published research science to build up a history of vampires. Not my usual fare, but fun to re-play the real science a different way for imagination’s sake.