By Steve Lane
Training graduate students how to ask good questions and continuing to “think,” as cliché as it sounds, is paramount in the training of the next generation of scientists. By taking time to read recreationally, students can continue to hone these skills outside of the classroom. By selecting scientifically oriented titles, this exercise can not only hone critical thinking skills, but provide useful information and provide some enjoyment. It is in this vein that I have provided a short list of a few titles I have enjoyed during my studies, aside from the very popular titles like Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, and any of the Feynman lectures, that I found to be thought-provoking, informative, or both.
- The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan): One of the greatest scientific minds from the past 50 years, Carl Sagan delves into absurdity and discusses the dangers of pseudoscience and general “quackery” as he emphasizes and insists on the importance of well-reasoned scientific thought in the modern world. Essential reading for those looking to fine-tune some of their reasoning skills, better arm themselves against those who continue to perpetuate nonsensical information, or those who simply want to be entertained by a brilliant science educator.
- Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (Michael Shermer): In a similar vein to Sagan’s book, Michael Shermer, the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic Magazine, provides an equally informative and entertaining academic investigation into pseudoscience and the natural propensity some people have for believing seemingly outlandish “things” like pseudohistory, superstitions, conspiracy theories, and psychics to name a few.
- Politics of Excellence: Behind the Nobel Prize in Science (Robert Marc Friedman): This book surprised me since I had purchased it on a whim because I like science, history, and orders that meet Amazon’s minimum requirements for free shipping. What I got was a truly fascinating investigation into the politics, both personal and national, behind the selection process for the Chemistry and Physics Nobel Prizes during the first 50 years of the 20th century. I also developed a realization of how petty some of these brilliant scientists were when it came to doling out accolades for their colleagues. The influence Arrhenius had on the selection process, particularly with regards to Einstein’s own scientific legacy, makes this worth book worth reading.
- What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Randall Munroe): Randall Munroe, author of the popular online comic series XKCD, embarks on a journey seeking answers to ridiculous hypothetical questions, like what would happen if you pitched a ball at near the speed of light, or if you took a dip in a spent nuclear fuel rod coolant tank, using math, science, and a heavy dose of humor. While clearly the most easily readable, absurd, and hilarious book on the list, Munroe still manages to provide great answers to these questions by applying scientific theory and sound reasoning using his “unique” perspective to answer these hypotheticals.
Editor’s Note: Thank you for reading today’s post! If you would like to write a review on any of these titles listed above, or another of interest to our audience, we’d love to highlight your perspective on The AAPS Blog. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.