Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Science Books For Science Majors

Chris at Highly Allochthonous has tagged the entire geoblogosphere with this meme.

Here's what it is about:

Imagine: YOU are asked to assign a half-dozen-or-so books as required reading for ALL science majors at a college as part of their 4-year degree; NOT technical or text books, but other works, old or new, touching upon the nature of science, philosophy, thought, or methodology in a way that a practicing scientist might gain from.

Listed below are books that I would recommend. They made me think hard and long about science and its impact on people and society at large.

1. For Geology majors: The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester. One of those heroic stories where the reader starts rooting for a happy ending. This is the story of William Smith who in the 1790's embarked single handedly on a two decade old effort to create a geological map of England and against what seemed as hopeless odds succeeded. And oh... formalized the study of geology in the process.

2. The Limits of Science, The Threat and the Glory by Sir Peter Medawar. No one explained the nature, benefits and limits of science better than Peter Medawar. Immaculate prose, rigorous logic and sparkling wit. David Pyke in an introduction to his book writes:

Sir Peter Medawar was three great men. He was a great scientist, a man of great courage - and a great writer.

A lot to learn from his writings.

3) The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. How can you major in science without reading this? A book on evolution that inverts our traditional view of life and leaves us a little bewildered but enthralled.

4) The Atheist and the Holy City by George Klein. Not very well know but has some of my favorite essays on science and scientists. Worth reading even if just for one essay, Are Scientists Creative? Klein is a well know cancer biologist and there are several other gems on science and human nature in this book.

5) Life Cycles by John Tyler Bonner. I love this little book. Organisms are life cycles and it is these life cycles that have been elaborated through evolution to form the diverse and complex biosphere. The book has the feel of a personal memoir, a "career in science" kind of a book, but manages to pack an intellectual punch as well.

I like Chris's choice of Paradigms Lost. But since he has covered it I won't add it to my list though I do recommend it as well.


  1. Thank you for the link. I would search for these in our library today.

  2. I put my thoughts on Chris's blog today - and completely forgot to mention Peter Medawar!

  3. Lewis Thomas's "Lives of a Cell" is a great book in this regard. Actually, his essays are really wonderful.