Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Great Science Book Challenge #3

As some of you know from this earlier post, I am soliciting suggestions for good science books for a challenge I am taking on. I am also looking for other volunteers, but most important right now, with the March 1st deadline approaching, I need more suggestions for general audience science books. Thanks to those who have sent them along, and see the list so far in my sidebar. Cheers.

4 comments:

Ron Schott said...

I offer my Intro Geology students an extra credit opportunity based on reading and discussing popular culture books that cover geologic topics. There's already some overlap with your list, but I think you'll find a few more to add to you list.

clay said...

I used to read the intro of Walter Alvarez's "T Rex and the Crater of Doom" to peeps on river trips. It's a vivid description of what would happen if a comet hit the earth - I mean physically, millisecond by millisecond. People loved it. The rest of the book describes Alvarez's search for the Chicxulub crater. Interesting, whether you agree the impact killed the dinos or not. You can see the intro online at NY Times if you google for it and go to the cached version.

Thermochronic said...

Excellent! My list is growing, I think the tough part now might be figuring out which ones to read. I am curious Ron how much your students get out of these books? I know I will be reading and judging them all from the perspective of a "professional" scientist, but the perspective of a first or second year undergraduate would be interesting, and probably more in line with the average citizen.

Ron Schott said...

Sadly, very few of my students take advantage of this opportunity for extra credit, so I can't really tell you how much they would get out of them. (I think its the length of the books and the writeup/discussion requirement that deters them rather than the content.) I've read most of the books on my list myself and I only put them on this list if I think they'd be accessible to an audience with minimal geologic background.

Of course, I'd highly recommend everything by John McPhee. Put them at the top of your list if you haven't already read them (including his non-geology books). He's the gold standard for both literature and geology. We are not worthy!

"T. Rex and the Crater of Doom" has a very accessible, page turning story, but it also offers an insightful look into the way science is practiced - a very interesting take on the uniformitarian/catastrophist views and how they've shaped thinking in geology even up to the present day.

Naomi Oreskes "The Rejection of Continental Drift" is similarly insightful about how science is practiced. It's completely changed how I cover Alfred Wegener in Intro Geology. Highly recommended.

"The Prize" is just a spectacularly fascinating take on the history of the 20th century through the perspective of oil. Not so much geology/science directly discussed, but a must read, nonetheless - plus, it won a Pulitzer Prize (as did McPhee).

"Volcano Cowboys" is another page turner. I was very familiar with much of the story of the revolution in volcano forecasting via NOVA episodes from Mount St. Helens to Pinatubo, but I still learned a lot of new details from this book. Very enjoyable, indeed.

Finally, "The Creationists" by Ronald L. Numbers is a really valuable resource for a geochronologist (I've dated rocks too) especially if you teach or have a position in public outreach where you might deal with the views of young earth creationists - it's a very well researched history of the evolution of the scientific creationist movement that receives praise from both mainstream scientists and young earth creationists. I read it to better understand the "adversary", but found the history enthralling in its own right.