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.