What are you reading this summer?

So, what books are you reading this summer, or planning to read? Scientific books? Fiction with scientific themes? Something else?

I just started An Instance of the Fingerpost, a 17th century murder mystery by Iain Pears from back in 1997. It has scientific themes–it’s set at the dawn of the scientific method in chemistry and physics, and the characters include real scientists like Robert Boyle. And it also has multiple unreliable narrators who relate the same events from their own, contradictory points of view, a device I always enjoy.

26 thoughts on “What are you reading this summer?

  1. For the scientific part: The Wisdom of Birds by Tim Birkhead (I’ve just started it and, even though I’m not an ornithologist, I’m really enjoying it).
    For the non-scientific part: a Lonely Planet (I don’t know yet which country).
    The next one will be Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (I think that it was as praised as it was criticised, so I’ll have to make my own opinion about it).

    Will I dare to say on this blog that the next book on my reading list is On the Origin of Species? No, I’ll keep that for me, otherwise I may wind up being banned πŸ˜‰

  2. Science – Mutualistic Networks by Jordi Bascompte & Pedro Jordano:


    In fact I’ve only got a couple of chapters to go, was given it as a birthday present in February. It’s a great, up to date over view of the topic, capturing the current debates and recent advances, and I even forgive them mis-citing one of my papers πŸ™‚

    Non-science – The Ark Before Noah by Irviing Finkel – a linguistic romp through cuneiform texts that influenced the Old Testament:


    Fiction – catching up on Stephen King. I read him quite a lot as a teenager and have just rediscovered what a great story teller he is.

  3. I always like hearing about what others are reading, sort of motivates me.

    Currently: Einstein, by Walter Isaacson (outstanding) and also poking around in a science-oriented biography of Ernst Mayr by Jurgen Haffer.

    Long list of historical stuff I’d like to read, such as The Story of Inyo, by Willie Chalfant (1922)–about the pre-history and early settlement of Inyo Co. California (Mojave desert area, Death Valley, etc.; fascinating area), and an MA thesis on the exact route of the Gunnison/Beckwith pacific railroad survey, in which Gunnison and several others were massacred by Paiutes in Utah.

  4. Great idea. One aspect of having lived a little in the wilds for many years is that I am always eager to find/borrow books that come recommended (thanks!). I am not necessarily very up to date.

    What I have been reading:

    Factual, just read
    Ernst & Singh’s 2008. Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial.
    Sandel’s 2012. What Money Can’t buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.
    Stewart’s 2013. Seventeen Equations that Changed the World.

    Factual, about to start
    Kurlansky’s 1998. Cod: A Biography Of The Fish That Changed The World

    Fiction, just read
    Jonasson’s 2009. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.

    Fiction, about to start … not sure, looking for suggestions.

    Interested to see if you enjoy “An Instance of the Fingerpost” I read it over ten years ago (in Borneo by torch light), and still refer to it as one of the smartest novels I have ever read (I found the follow up novel “The Dream of Scipio” less engaging).

    • Well, if you want recommendations and don’t care if they’re up to date, I’m your man! Even my book reviews aren’t up to date. πŸ™‚

      The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman. Biography of famously eccentric and prolific mathematician Paul Erdos. Best scientific biography I’ve ever read, and one of the best books I’ve ever read.

      A Reason for Everything: Natural Selection and the English Imagination by Marek Kohn

      Darwin Deleted by Peter Bowler, which I’ve reviewed: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/book-review-darwin-deleted-by-peter-j-bowler/

      The Pseudoscience Wars by Michael Gordin, which I’ve reviewed: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/book-review-the-pseudoscience-wars-by-michael-gordin/

      The Silwood Circle, which I’ve reviewed, but unless you have a personal connection to Silwood you might not find it as interesting as I did: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/book-review-the-silwood-circle/

      The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner, but everybody’s already read that. πŸ™‚

      The Green Flag by Robert Kee. A history of Irish nationalism.

      A History of Britain by Simon Schama. Books to accompany the BBC documentary series. Popular, easy reads.

      Janet Browne’s two-volume Charles Darwin biography.

      The London Compendium by Ed Glinert is totally unique. It’s basically a massive compilation of interesting/amusing anecdotes about the city’s history, arranged by street. Covers everything from events in Roman times to events in 2000. The ultimate just-open-it-at-random book. I love it because I’m attached to London, having lived there for four years–long enough to be more than a tourist, but not so long as to have it become over-familiar or boring.

      David Lodge is a favorite of mine. He writes comic novels. Earlier ones are mostly about growing up Catholic in Britain in the ’60s, many later ones are about the foibles of academia (especially the humanities). My favorites of his are Thinks…, and his “campus trilogy” (Changing Places, Small World, and Nice Work).

      Replay by Ken Grimwood is fabulous.

      I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett, but silly fantasy novels aren’t to everyone’s taste. Then again, since you’ve read some Ian Stewart, you might want to have a look at The Science of Discworld books, a collaboration between Pratchett, Stewart, and Cohen. They’re popular science books that intersperse nonfiction chapters by Stewart and Cohen with fiction chapters from Pratchett. The fictional chapters work on their own as silly fantasy, but also function to raise scientific issues that Stewart and Cohen discuss.

      The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! by Gideon Defoe is silly too, but perhaps in a way that more people might enjoy. Became an animated movie.

      Angels and Insects by A. S. Byatt (a novella published as part of Morpho Eugenia)

      • Wow – great. Most of those are new to me! I’m looking forward to the next rainy day on a camping holiday more already.

  5. Currently reading fiction: Archangel by Andrea Barrett – a moving selection of interwoven short stories, most with a scientific component. An unnamed Agassiz appears, among other historical scientific personages. Barrett weaves together scientific wonder and the human longing for personal connection like nobody else.

  6. One more: The Philosophical Breakfast Club by Laura Snyder. A history of the generation of British scientists prior to Darwin, with a focus on the figures who played a key role in more or less defining “scientist” as a profession.

  7. I’m one of those biologists that prefers to read about things completely unrelated to my field when I’m not working since I have such limited time for reading. Right now I’m working on “A Dance with Dragons” (Book 5 in George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series on which “A Game of Thrones” is based), and it’s easily the most addictive series I’ve read in a long time. That being said, I’ve been reading these books straight for the last few years it seems so I’m looking forward to returning to non-fiction soon. Nate Silver’s book that Jeremy reviewed a few months ago is near the top of my “to read” list.

  8. Science-related nonfiction, but not EEB-specific:
    Paying for the Party: How college maintains inequality:

    Panic Virus: The true story behind the vaccine-autism controversy:

    Non-science nonfiction:
    Travels with Alice by Calvin Trillin:

    It appears that I’m lacking fiction. Hmmm.

    • I vaguely recall plugging Paying for the Party in an old linkfest on the strength of someone else’s review, not having read it myself. Let me know how it is, I’m still thinking of reading it.

      • I’m really slow at getting through my reading lists, so expect an update in about a year. πŸ˜‰

  9. Popular science-wise, I’m looking forward (if that’s possible) to The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. Her Field Notes from the Catastrophe was spectacular, so I have high expectations.

    In the next week or two, I should be done done with the most recent of the Song of Ice and Fire, too. If I find more time, I hope to get read the last few books of the Aubrey/Maturin series (which has lots of great Victorian-era natural history, by the way).

  10. Good book Jeremy – read it some years ago – have just finished re-reading Lord of the Rings – read it first in 1969 and re-read it about every eight years or so – next on my list is a Trudi Canavan – The Rogue and then it will be Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior – a novel with climate change and Monarchs in it – what more could an entomologist want πŸ˜‰

    • “have just finished re-reading Lord of the Rings”

      I loved it when I was 12 or 13 but have never gone back to it. I think out of fear that I won’t like it as well as an adult. I’m also daunted by the length. Am thinking of rereading The Hobbit, though.

      • I think you will find Hobbit disappointing as an adult – Lord of the Rings gets better with every read – see something new every time, although the poetry bits, in the main, do not improve, except for a notable few such as
        The Road goes ever on and on
        Down from the door where it began.
        Now far ahead the Road has gone,
        And I must follow, if I can,
        Pursuing it with eager feet,
        Until it joins some larger way
        Where many paths and errands meet.
        And whither then? I cannot say.

        which to me sums up a research career!

        and why they missed the final chapter out of the film I will never know

      • “I think you will find Hobbit disappointing as an adult”

        I hope not, though I should be able to tell soon enough once I start. I count some other (quite different) “children’s” or “young adult” books among my all-time favorites as an adult: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, and Terry Pratchett’s first three Tiffany Aching novels (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky (maybe the best thing Pratchett’s ever done), Wintersmith).

        “and why they missed the final chapter out of the film I will never know”

        Because the film was already close to 4 hours long? πŸ™‚

  11. I’ve been listeing to audiobooks on long drives for almost a year now. My favorites so far:

    The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson. FIctional thriller set in North Korea. Plot is fun and far-fetched, but the details of life in North Korea are riveting and apparently accurate, as I learned when I listened to a non-fiction book based on interviews with defectors, Nothing to Envy.

    The Black Cloud, Sir Fred Doyle. Classic science fiction from the 1960’s with a heavy emphasis on how science (and scientists) work.

      • I started off assuming that thrillers would work best. I almost never read science fiction, and have listened to a bunch. But I’ve recently tried more literary stuff (The Great Gatsby, now on to a Peter Heller book) and liked it too. What really matters is how well it is read. The reviews on Audible include a separate category for “Performance” and I pay attention to it.

  12. For academic reasons:
    – Relentless Evolution by John Thompson
    – Biosecurity: The Socio-Politics of Invasive Species and Infectious Diseases, Edited by Andrew Dobson, Kezia Barker, and Sarah Taylor
    – Water Security: Principles, Perspectives, and Practices, Edited by Bruce Lankford, Karen Bakker, Mark Zeitoun, and Declan Conway
    – The Colorado River: Flowing through Conflict by Peter McBride and Jonathan Waterman

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