best science book EV-ER
I'm showing something quite personal here, the science section of my bookcase. Non fiction above, fiction below (children's books have thier own set of shelves). It's small - I try to keep the number of books I actually own down, I move too often. Every now and again I look through the books and ask myself "do i want to keep this?".
Reasons for owning a book are often practical and/ or personal (they were gifts, I've annotated a copy for study, I think it'll be useful in future...) but in some ways it is also indicative of my personal taste, of what I think makes a good science book.
The question of what makes a "good" science book was addressed at an RI/ Imperial college event last night. And the winner is *drum roll* Primo Levi's The Periodic Table.
Three speakers (Tim Radford, Armand Leroi, Sara Abdulla) discussed their criteria for what makes a "good" science book and suggested a few of their favourites. Then the audience (mainly from Imperial, I think) put forward a few of their own, and discussed the issue further before voting.
But the REALLY interesting bits were all the references to children...
None of the three speakers mentioned children's books. But Armand, although mentioning books for an adult aduience, talked about them ias ones he enjoyed as a child, and finished by saying that his favourite book (King Solomon's Ring, by Konrad Lorenz) "has a childlike wonder that is the essense of science... which a scientist should keep throughout his life". He later argued that books which are for adults but with the "simplicity" that makes them available to young people were some of the best. When it came to Sara's selection, she chose two plays with key children characters - Brecht's Life of Galileo and Stoppard's Arcadia. In fact she read quotes from the 9 year old girl in Arcadia throughout her presentation. Other's also mentioned books they liked as a "teenager".
So a good science book must be for grownups, but have a childlike quality? There is something in this, I'm sure. In fact I know, because I'm planning on doing a whole chapter on my thesis about the use of the child in images of scientists... But it was nice to see this idea at play someplace other than my own notes.
I couldn't think of a "best science book" for kids to suggest. But then I'm rubbish at saying I like anything "best". An audience member mentioned Flatland though, which is an interesting one.