It’s About Science

Science is my nemesis.  I never got it.  I didn’t get the sparks, the aha! moments, the passion. 

My dear friend, however, almost chirps – she waves her hands and rocks up on her toes – she’s that excited about science! When her kids were young they would pulse with recognition: “Look, Mommy!  It’s a dicot!” 

As a young homeschool mom, I overbought science enrichment materials in an attempt to compensate for my deficiencies.  They mostly stayed on the shelf. Fortunately, we had co-op teachers who lived and breathed science, whose heart beat faster when they contemplated quarks.   

I wasn’t happy about my Science Idiot status. But it paled in the light of feeding four males, keeping them shod and clothed and breaking three of them of saying, “Me and Josh are going to the park.”  

Then I had an epiphany. 

I read Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel.  It was an incredible story, well-written, absorbing page-turner.  Not until I was finished did it occur to me that I had just immersed myself in…! 

And that, my friend, was an AHA! moment.  My path to scientific knowledge (a redundancy since science means knowlege, learning) was through literature.  What rebounded off my brain in a textbook, had a chance of sticking if it was couched in a story.  All-righty, then.

I followed Longitude with another Dava Sobel, Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love, which was wonderful and textured and satisfying and fabulous.  (It begins with one of my favorite letters of condolence ever.) 

I thought, perhaps, that I was on to something.  Paul de Kruig’s Microbe Hunters was an excellent read aloud bit of science history that took us from Antony Leeuwenhoek’s first microscope, Spallanzani and Louis Pasteur (who wanted to learn how to make good beer) to Walter Reed.  I also enjoyed The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA

I tried Kepler’s Witch: An Astronomer’s Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother; I actually raved about the first third of the book.  Then I lost interest.  There are other books and authors – John Muir for instance – whom I read with such enjoyment that I don’t think about the stuff I am learning along the way.  I’ve read several adolescent biographies of scientists like Ernest Rutherford.

My dogpile of books to read includes Lewis Thomas’ Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher and Philip Yancey’s Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

And that’s the extent of my remedial-science journey.  As my responsibilities of teaching my sons are coming to a close and my learning and reading is not curriculum-driven, I want to begin “filling in the potholes” of my learning. I’m making a list of stuff I want to learn and a plan on going about it.  

Can you recommend any books along this line? 

I would be very grateful. No textbooks. Biographies, narratives, non-fiction.  Books that make your eyes light up; books that make you suck in the air and hold it without knowing you are doing it.

Bonus:   If you have a title that makes physics even remotely accessible, I would write a post with your name in it forty-five times.    


9 thoughts on “It’s About Science

  1. Have you missed to include Richard Feynman (your physics guy)? Six Easy Pieces to start with, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, and Six Not So Easy Pieces (if you feel very brave)… are three of his books I have on the shelf. A great writer. Another book (out of print) I enjoyed was The Boy Scientist by John Llewellyn – maybe not for final highschool years but nevertheless worthwhile to own (and read).  Enjoy!

  2. I really enjoyed Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science. It’s not about a specific science, but in explains how the scientific method works in a very accessible and detailed way.

  3. I loved this post!!  I’m so with you on reading for science!First, I can vouch for the books by Thomas and Yancey.  They’re good enough to read more than once, and I have.   Years ago when I was in college (as an English major) I went to hear Lewis Thomas speak.  It was a small gathering – mostly faculty and staff – that came to hear him, but it was a fascinating talk he gave.Oliver Sacks’s book, Uncle Tungsten, is a great chemistry book.  Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, is excellent.  The Genesis Flood by John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris is good for geology and hydrology.  The Fat of the Land by Michael Fumento is a terrific book about nutrition, obesity, and eating habits.I have Robert Boyle’s book, The Sceptical Chymist, but only my oldest son has read it.  He DID like it!  Asimov on Chemistry and Asimov on Physics are supposed to be excellent books – sort of a pre-cursor to today’s “____ for Dummies” guides.  My uncle recommended them to me and I have them and plan to read them, but haven’t yet.For fun, Camille Minichino’s “Periodic table” series of mysteries are good, and actually have chemistry and physics in them.The Northern Lights by Lucy Jago was just as good as Dava Sobel’s books.  (I liked those, too!)I have quite a few children’s books on chemistry and physics that we’ve enjoyed, and you’re welcome to look through them at LibraryThing. (I’m LauraLLD)  Search the tags – science for anything relating to science, then they’re also tagged with biology, chemistry, etc.I hope you get more recommendations, because I’m with you on learning science through literature!

  4. I loved  A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (really anything of his is great, but this is one of the best) and The Language of God by Francis Collins.  Bryson tackles science from the Big Bang to modern physics in a well thought out book full of interesting characters.   Collins takes on his combination of faith and the search for the human-genome.  If you are looking for a biography, I reviewed Einstein: His LIfe and Universe this week.

  5. How about checking out the Creation Institute and see if they have anything of interest? I”m with you on science, and you’ve definitely read a lot more than I have. I took Geology 2 quarters ago and barely passed–yawn! And I should be interested, seeing as how we’re in earthquake country….oh, well, I’m not perfect 

  6. i’m afraid i have no suggestions since i’m one of those who hears any science words and begins to hear “whah WHAH whah WHah” like in Charlie Brown…But i love Bill Bryson’s writing style! Maybe i’ll even try reading that one.

  7. Carol, this really has nothing to do with reading science, but JK this Sunday informed us he believed in the “Big Boom”.  After we picked ourselves up off the floor laughing, he started over with, “OK, I believe in the Big BANG-  God said let there be light, and BANG! there was light!”

  8. You people are amazing!  Thank you all for the great suggestions, and Carol, for starting me off with some wonderful additions to my Amazon wish list!  I’m exactly the same – I LOVE reading about science and scientists and the process of discovery.

  9. Have you considered The Birth of a New Physics by Cohen?  I like your new profile pic.  You’re very beautiful.  I first typed “pretty” but it goes beyond that.  I always get a lot of great book recommendations, quotes, and interesting perspectives from you.  And your daily life posts are always so interesting.  Was wondering how close you’d come to the piano piece you were listening to on the airplane for the family wedding. 

Comments are cinnamon on my oatmeal!

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