The best books about curious people on the hunt for new knowledge

Edith Forbes Author Of Tracking a Shadow: My Lived Experiment with MS
By Edith Forbes

Who am I?

As a novelist, I am endlessly curious about people and like hearing their stories. As an erstwhile computer programmer and farmer, I also have a lifelong interest in science and natural history. When I find those two divergent interests have cross-pollinated in a single gracefully-written book, I am a very happy reader. I love books that weave together an intriguing scientific question with the human story of the scientists pursuing an answer to that question.

I wrote...

Tracking a Shadow: My Lived Experiment with MS

By Edith Forbes,

Book cover of Tracking a Shadow: My Lived Experiment with MS

What is my book about?

When I experienced my first episode of multiple sclerosis in 1993, no treatments existed. The doctors said there was nothing to be done. I was raised by a mother whose early widowhood had left her with seven young children, a ranch in Wyoming, and an ambition to change the world.  She did not like the phrase “nothing to be done” and neither did I.

I immersed myself in the medical literature, and thanks to my background in agriculture, I noticed a possible dietary factor in MS that was not being talked about. That observation launched me on a self-designed experiment that continues to this day. Tracking a Shadow tells the story of that experiment and the mother who taught me to ask questions.  

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Medical Detectives: The Classic Collection of Award-Winning Medical Investigative Reporting

Why did I love this book?

Ever since my seventh-grade science teacher used my flyaway hair to demonstrate static electricity, I have loved science, and I also like mystery stories. This classic collection of short pieces is a favorite in both arenas. It is like a true crime series in which the villains are microorganisms and molecules. Unraveling puzzles involving all manner of medical issues, from rabies to toxic chemicals, these case-study stories kept me riveted from beginning to end. Mostly written from the 1940s to the 1960s, they also touch on some shocking medical practices that one hopes are now outdated.

By Berton Roueché,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Medical Detectives as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic collection of award-winning medical investigative reporting.

What do Lyme's disease in Long Island, a pig from New Jersey, and am amateur pianist have in common? All are subjects in three of 24 utterly fascinating tales of strange illnesses, rare diseases, poisons, and parasites-each tale a thriller of medical suspense by the incomparable Berton Roueche. The best of his New Yorker articles are collected here to astound readers with intriguing tales of epidemics in America's small towns, threats of contagion in our biggest cities, even bubonic plague in a peaceful urban park.

In each true story, local health authorities…

Book cover of Darwin's Armada: Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution

Why did I love this book?

Almost everyone knows the name of Charles Darwin, but how many of us know about Thomas Huxley? The reality is that Darwin’s brilliant leap of insight was only one step in bringing the theory of evolution into common knowledge. People don’t readily embrace a new idea that turns their entire worldview on its head, and Darwin alone could not have overcome the inertia and outright hostility that greeted his new theory. Darwin’s Armada is a delightful account of a larger cast of characters whose scientific efforts, exploratory voyages, and intriguing personalities were part of the story of this revolution in human thought.

By Iain McCalman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Darwin's Armada as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning cultural historian Iain McCalman tells the stories of Charles Darwin and his staunchest supporters: Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley, and Alfred Wallace. Beginning with the somber morning of April 26, 1882-the day of Darwin's funeral-Darwin's Armada steps back and recounts the lives and scientific discoveries of each of these explorers, who campaigned passionately in the war of ideas over evolution and advanced the scope of Darwin's work.

Book cover of Of Sound Mind: How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World

Why did I love this book?

I am a recreational clarinetist and a friend gave me this book, thinking I would like to know how music is rewiring my brain and possibly helping stave off senility. Nina Kraus has pursued a career in the study of hearing, and her passion for her subject infuses the book. She is entranced by the two-way feedback connection between the brain and the ear, and how the sounds we have already heard and processed shape our interpretation of the next sound waves to reach our ears, sometimes in surprising ways. Her description of the miraculously intricate mechanisms inside the ear makes me grateful for every time I wore ear protection when I was using a power tool or driving a tractor.

By Nina Kraus,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Of Sound Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How sound leaves a fundamental imprint on who we are.

Making sense of sound is one of the hardest jobs we ask our brains to do. In Of Sound Mind, Nina Kraus examines the partnership of sound and brain, showing for the first time that the processing of sound drives many of the brain's core functions. Our hearing is always on--we can't close our ears the way we close our eyes--and yet we can ignore sounds that are unimportant. We don't just hear; we engage with sounds. Kraus explores what goes on in our brains when we hear a word--or…

Book cover of The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds

Why did I love this book?

If I ever assumed my decisions were the result of a carefully reasoned analysis of factual information, The Undoing Project would derail that comfortable belief. It is the story of the creative collaboration of two remarkable thinkers, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, whose work would overturn an idea at the center of most prior economic theory, the idea that people’s economic decisions are based on rational self-interest. The intense working friendship of these two men is a gripping story, and Michael Lewis brings the personal side to vivid life while also conveying the essence of their revolutionary thinking in lucid and approachable prose.

By Michael Lewis,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Undoing Project as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Michael Lewis could spin gold out of any topic he chose ... his best work ... vivid, original and hard to forget' Tim Harford, Financial Times

'Gripping ... There is war, heroism, genius, love, loss, discovery, enduring loyalty and friendship. It is epic stuff ... Michael Lewis is one of the best non-fiction writers of our time' Irish Times

From Michael Lewis, No.1 bestselling author of The Big Short and Flash Boys, this is the extraordinary story of the two men whose ideas changed the world.

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky met in war-torn 1960s Israel. Both were gifted young…

Rising from the Plains

By John McPhee,

Book cover of Rising from the Plains

Why did I love this book?

Growing up, I had an inkling that Wyoming was a magnet for geologists because every summer a van full of geology students from halfway across the country would arrive at our ranch to study the rocks. After reading Rising from the Plains, I understood why. The book is the story of a scientist, David Love, who spent his entire career studying the geology of Wyoming. With his usual elegant style, McPhee weaves together an account of the complex geological history of the state with the personal history of David Love’s family, who had been ranching in Wyoming since the 1890s. McPhee’s writing always delights me, as in his description of several new mountain ranges mysteriously appearing “like a family of hogs waking up beneath a large blanket.” 

By John McPhee,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Rising from the Plains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pulitzer Prize-winning author John McPhee continues his Annals of the Former World series about the geology of North America along the fortieth parallel with Rising from the Plains.

This third volume presents another exciting geological excursion with an engaging account of life—past and present—in the high plains of Wyoming.

Sometimes it is said of geologists that they reflect in their professional styles the sort of country in which they grew up. Nowhere could that be more true than in the life of a geologist born in the center of Wyoming and raised on an isolated ranch. This is the story…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Charles Darwin, geology, and the brain?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Charles Darwin, geology, and the brain.

Charles Darwin Explore 44 books about Charles Darwin
Geology Explore 45 books about geology
The Brain Explore 138 books about the brain