Books I ♥

Favorite titles by outstanding authors. Many are composed by science writers, but others may be included because they inspired me, made me laugh, or even changed my perspective a bit. This list continues to grow as I review new books and add old titles dear to my heart. So check back frequently. Readers are encouraged to add your own detailed recommendations in comments.

Contact by Carl Sagan (1985)
Carl Sagan’s public exploration of the cosmos captivated the world. Lucky for us, he was also a master storyteller and “Contact” is the perfect blend of science and fiction. Scientist Eleanor Arroway listens to radio telescopes as part of the Search of Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Weaving together themes of science and faith, readers will be left wondering, “Are we alone?”

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1969)
Every time I reread one of Vonnegut’s works, I find new insights hidden between the covers. Through a simple narrative and memorable characters, he’s able to convey deep truths about humanity. Vonnegut speaks to me like no other author and in “Slaughterhouse-Five” he’s at his best: time travel, aliens, war, peace, and of course, Kilgore Trout.

Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo by Vanessa Woods (2010)
Primate scientist Woods shares her experiences working to save great apes in Congo. Just as Jane Goodall documented the lives of chimpanzees, Woods brings readers into the world of bonobos, recounting the unusual, often humorous challenges that arise while working with a species that famously approaches sex as easily as humans do a handshake. She also exposes an unsettling, and at times, devastating side of Congo in a memorable story of perseverance, love and hope.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder (2003)
Dr. Paul Farmer is a specialist in infectious diseases, working tirelessly to cure the poorest patients of tuberculosis across the globe. In this gripping personal narrative, Tracy Kidder provides a thought-provoking account of traveling alongside the good doctor. This is the rare book that will inspire readers by demonstrating how one individual can make a tremendous difference in the lives of people all around the world.

Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011)
Everyone needs a light, funny read and Fey’s new book fits the bill. This SNL alum is at her best sharing thoughtful and funny anecdotes from her childhood through “30 Rock.” It’s a quick, breezy read that might just make you laugh out loud.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
Already an immortal bestseller, this book tells the true story of how cells unknowingly taken from a poor African American woman became one of the most important medical tools in history. This touching account converges ethics, race and science in a beautifully crafted, impossible to put down, first-person narrative.

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by Charles J. Shields (2011)
Shields masterfully brings the author to life in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. Rather than just read this biography as a series of events that happened, he builds one part of his history on top of another, enveloping readers into the world of a brilliant, frustrated, fascinating, and long-suffering individual who’s words continue to have tremendous influence.

6 Responses to “Books I ♥”

  1. Sean Ryder November 28, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    I’m always looking for new things to read, so I think this is a great idea.

    Steel Beach, by John Varley, is quite possibly the best science fiction novel I’ve ever read. I can’t even begin to explain the plot. But under the surface (mostly) the novel also speculates on the psychological effects of an advanced technological society. It gets bonus points for the best opening line of any novel I’ve ever read.

    Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell – Vowell travels the U.S. while researching the assassinations of three U.S. Presidents. Her writing is hilarious and interesting. Her other books are good as well.

  2. Paul Wieland November 28, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

    One of my favorite books is The Courage to Create by Rollo May. He defines creativity as the act of “enlarging human consciousness” and says it “is the most basic manifestation of a man or woman fulfilling his or her own being in the world.” He defines the creative process as “the struggle to bring into existence new kinds of being that give harmony and integration.” It gave me a whole new, and much broader, perspective on creativity. And creativity is essential to address the challenges we face as a civilization and species.

    I mention May’s book in my own book, so, in the interest of self-promotion, have you read my book: Crossing the Threshold: Advancing into Space to Benefit the Earth? It is about utilizing space to more directly address major issues of the 21st century, and in May 2011 it was awarded a gold medal for science by the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Norm Augustine (author of Augustine’s Laws and long-time space professional) said it presents “a fresh and valuable perspective”. Henry Petroski (author of To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design and The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems) said that it “prepar[es] and position[s] us technically to begin to solve some of the greatest problems facing us on Earth.” Jeff Foust (of the said it is “not so much crossing a threshold [as] vaulting a discontinuity in space utilization.”

  3. Jared Decker November 29, 2011 at 1:10 am #

    I really enjoyed The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA because it taught me the process of scientific discovery and to question the existing paradigm. Plus, the scientists in the book are quite entertaining characters!
    I also really enjoyed Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom. I learned a lot of about Evo Devo, but in an accessible and interesting way.
    My favorite science-fiction book is Jurassic Park as it highlights the need for ethics and foresight in scientific research. Just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done.

  4. Greg Laden November 29, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    ’tis that time of year. My science book retrospective will be posted on Friday.

    My first non kid book was by Vonnegut.

  5. Claire January 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

    Have been wanting to read ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ and intrigued to try the Vonnegut book. I just finished Abraham Verghese’s ‘Cutting for Stone’ today, an outstanding book you may also enjoy.

  6. Tom Ruginis August 14, 2012 at 11:48 pm #

    Mountains Beyond Mountains should be required reading for anyone who wants to change the world.

    Check out Age of Empathy:
    It should convince you that humans are designed to take care of each other, not make each other’s lives more difficult.

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