Is there a science nerd or tree hugger on your Xmas list?
Whether they are a scientist, teacher, or just have a love of learning, here are 10 titles that are perfect for the science lover on your list.
Wildhood: The Astounding Connections Between Human and Animal Adolescents by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, MD, and Kathryn Bowers
It is easy to think of your teen as uniquely frustrating, but it turns out that all adolescents, both animals and humans, go through similar phases on their journey from childhood to adulthood. As a middle school teacher, and parent of two kids just out of their wildhood, I found this book intriguing. Behaviors that troubled me, like risk-taking and an over dependence on peer opinion, suddenly became a normal biological part of adolescence. Ecologists, teachers and parents alike will benefit from reading this engaging book filled with fascinating biological examples. I loved this book so much I wrote an entire blog about it.
This is the book that I’ve tried to get all my friends and family to read. It will change the way you view history and politics forever. One of my pet peeves is that geography is no longer taught in high school and, once you read this book, you will understand why location, location, location is everything. Suddenly, the actions taken by China, Pakistan and other nations will all make sense. To truly understand another nation you have to understand the advantages and disadvantages of its geography. This should be required reading for all political science majors. If you enjoyed Guns, Germs and Steel you will love this book. Luckily, this book is shorter, engaging and much more accessible for all readers.
Darwin’s Armada: Four Voyagers to the Southern Oceans and Their Battle for the Theory of Evolution by Iain McCalman
I love the study of evolution and natural selection. Out of the many books I’ve read about Darwin, this is my favorite. This book places Darwin within the context of his peers. It tells the story of Thomas Huxley, Joseph Hooker, Alfred Wallace, and Charles Darwin. As young men, these four naturalists took their own voyages to South America, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, South East Asia and Antarctica. The book details their exciting journeys and discoveries. It then explains how all of their ideas came together into the theory of evolution through natural selection. The writing is superb and you feel like you were at the table with those scientific giants.
The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America By Douglas Brinkley
Teddy Roosevelt is my favorite president, and I love reading about his passion, energy and antics. This book details how he started the National Parks. Roosevelt was such an engaging character. I think many science lovers will identify with his love of camping and hiking. He was an avid hunter, but this book shows that hunters can be environmentalists because they want to protect nature. He was one of the first to recognize that fashion, which encouraged the hunting of egrets for hat feathers, could drive animals to extinction. This book is long and detailed, but it let’s you see what a true progressive T. Roosevelt was and how farsighted he was with regard to the need to preserve wilderness.
The Naturalist Theodore Roosevelt: A Lifetime of Exploration, and the Triumph of American Natural History by Darrin Lunde
This book is shorter and more engaging than The Wilderness Warrior. It is filled with stories of Roosevelt as a boy and young man. It opens with 8 year old Roosevelt seeing a dead seal and racing home to get his notebook and ruler to measure it and take notes about it. It then goes on to describe the natural history museum he created in his bedroom and how he learned taxidermy to create it. This book shows the life of a true nature lover with insatiable curiosity. It discusses the many natural history books he wrote, his work on the National Parks, and the American Natural History Museum in New York. The writing is a perfect example of the power of narrative nonfiction.
Mr. Peales’s Museum: Charles Willson Peale and the First Popular Museum of Natural Science and Art by Charles Coleman Sellers
Every time I travel, I always visit natural history museums. For me, the old ones filled with taxidermy and beautiful painted backdrops are the best. I discovered this book while doing a research paper on museums and loved it. If you are old enough, you probably remember the classic painting of George Washington that used to hang in public school rooms. Charles Wilson Peale painted it, and many other famous portraits of the founding fathers and their families. Peale and his family created the first natural history museum and perfected the art of taxidermy. One of the most fascinating parts of the book was how P.T. Barnum would tear apart taxidermy animals and create “freaks” by combining them. Barnum’s Museums of Curiosity pulled clients away from true natural history museums. I also learned the “magic” that early photography and films held for the public. This is a terrific book for lovers of science history and museums.
Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to all Creation by Olivia Judson
Retelling these fascinating facts about animals’ sex lives will make you a hit at your next cocktail party. The book is written with a clever format. Each chapter begins with a Dear Tatiana letter from an insect, bird, squid or other animal. Tatiana, in Dr. Ruth fashion, explains what is “normal” behavior for that species and then compares it to others that are even more extreme. This is a book you can pick up, read a chapter, and set down–perfect for stashing in your purse for long waits. Here is one example:
I find that most science lovers are not prudes, and I’ll bet there is someone on your list that would get a kick out of this lighthearted book.
The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck
I’ve traveled extensively throughout Baja so I might be biased when it comes to this book. Steinbeck, the author of Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and other great novels, was great friends with a biologist Edward F. Ricketts. In 1940, the pair traveled on a sardine boat from Monterey, California, on a 4,000 mile voyage around the Baja peninsula into the Sea of Cortez. The men fished and collected samples the entire voyage. Reading their daily log brought home how much biodiversity has been lost in the Sea of Cortez. Steinbeck’s novella, The Pearl, took place in La Paz, and the love the author has for Baja shines through in his writing.
The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
Although he is probably better known for his books on healthy eating like The Omnivore’s Dilemma, this book is a natural history treat. Each chapter focuses on a different plant and goes into the history, folklore and science about it. My favorite chapter was on apples, where Johnny Appleseed is shown in a far different light then he is taught to school children. It turns out he was spreading apple seeds so pioneers could make alcoholic cider! Johnny also never wore shoes, and Pollan paints a wonderfully disgusting word picture of how hoary and gnarled they were. Another light-hearted read, this book is candy for science nerds and gardeners.
A Lab of One’s Own: One Woman’s Personal Journey Through Sexism in Science By Rita Colwell Ph.D. and Sharon Bertsch McGrayne
As a science teacher, I am constantly pushing my female students to select STEM careers. This book was an eye opener. The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough women majoring in science, the problem is that they are not given equal access to funding, lab space and selection committee positions. The author started science in the mid century and the beginning of her career is filled with female science heroes such as Rosalind Franklin, Eugene Clark and Barbara McClintock. It also has a recurring villain, James Watson. The author details the difficulties of women with science Ph.Ds from the 1950s through today. The chapters about her studies in cholera were fascinating. She also worked on the government bioterrorism task force when anthrax was sent through the mail in 2001. I love science history, microbiology and feminism so this book was a perfect fit for my interests. It might not be as interesting for a male reader or someone not interested in microbiology.