The best science/nature books by scientists

Who am I?

I’ve been exploring the natural world most of my life as a gardener, naturalist, student, and researcher. I’ve come to appreciate the essentiality of our dependence on plant and other animal life. But I always want to know more. So I try to read across diverse areas of science as well as history, anthropology, linguistics, and archaeology. I want to know the mind of the thinker, the discoverer of ideas, the developer of technology. I want to understand the process of creativity from the view of the artist or inventor. Thus, I seek first-person accounts of scientists, doctors, inventors, as they struggle to understand the world that fascinates them.


I wrote...

Lives of Weeds: Opportunism, Resistance, Folly

By John Cardina,

Book cover of Lives of Weeds: Opportunism, Resistance, Folly

What is my book about?

Take a new look at weeds, those pesky plants that frustrate our struggle to nourish body and soul. In Lives of Weeds: Opportunism, Resistance, Folly, I show how weedy plants have entangled humans from the Agricultural Revolution to the development of GMO crops, ensnaring us in social inequality, economic instability, and environmental quandaries. I weave history, biology, and ecology with personal experience and humor to show how the evolution and persistence of weeds arise from human efforts to shape the natural world. Portraits of eight plant species reveal how weeds became more serious and troublesome through well-intentioned attempts to eradicate them. They point to ethical questions about food, agriculture, and the environment in relation to people’s complicated attitudes and behaviors toward weedy plants.

The books I picked & why

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Double Helix

By Nancy Werlin,

Book cover of Double Helix

Why this book?

This is the classic personal account of the discovery of the structure of DNA. I read it as an early college assignment, but now find it rich in history, biology, and insight. Watson described himself as an ornithology undergraduate who avoided chemistry and physics courses in spite of a desire to do science—a common sentiment. He unfolds in frank detail how the world of science worked, and sometimes didn’t work, early post-WWII. We learn as much about bond angles and hydration as we do about laboratory politics and personality quirks beneath the effort to puzzle out the structure and function of DNA. The epilogue pays tribute to less well-known collaborators, especially Rosalind Franklin, sometimes dismissed as uncooperative, but recognized here for her essential contributions and competence as a scientist.

Double Helix

By Nancy Werlin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Double Helix as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eighteen year old Eli Samuels has just graduated from high school and lucked into a job at Wyatt Transgenics—offered to him by Dr. Quincy Wyatt, the legendary molecular biologist. The salary is substantial, the work is interesting, and Dr. Wyatt seems to be paying special attention to Eli.

Is it too good to be true? Eli's girlfriend doesn't think so, but his father is vehemently against his taking the job and won't explain why. Eli knows that there's some connection between Dr. Wyatt and his parents—something too painful for his father to discuss. Something to do with his mother, who…


A Crack In Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution

By Jennifer A. Doudna, Samuel H. Sternberg,

Book cover of A Crack In Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution

Why this book?

Two leading experts on protein-RNA chemistry explain the workings and alarming potential behind the gene-editing tool CRISPR. They describe in clear language how the CRISPR-Cas9 system was uncovered, how it can be used to manipulate DNA, and the incredible hope it offers to cure HIV, genetic diseases, and some cancers. At the same time, these inventors of the technology raise alarm and warn of the incredible danger and unforeseen consequences posed by rewriting the code of an organisma biological genie that once released can never be harnessed or controlled. I read this book on the plane after a scientific conference where NGO donors touted the benefits of gene manipulation, and landed with a new commitment to bioethics and questions about the need and motivation driving such endeavors.

A Crack In Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution

By Jennifer A. Doudna, Samuel H. Sternberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Crack In Creation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

BY THE WINNER OF THE 2020 NOBEL PRIZE IN CHEMISTRY  |  Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
  
“A powerful mix of science and ethics . . . This book is required reading for every concerned citizen—the material it covers should be discussed in schools, colleges, and universities throughout the country.”— New York Review of Books 
 
Not since the atomic bomb has a technology so alarmed its inventors that they warned the world about its use. That is, until 2015, when biologist Jennifer Doudna called for a worldwide moratorium on the use of the gene-editing tool CRISPR—a revolutionary new…


Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Why this book?

I love a book that strikes a perfect balance between respect for the tools of modern science, botany, and ecology, together with the understanding that arises from indigenous knowledge and ancient ways of understanding the world. I came away with a sense that modern learning is impoverished unless it is somehow connected with ancient approaches to knowledge. Professor Kimmerer clearly loves language, and her rich and lyrical narrative makes this book a pleasurable journey through fields and laboratories and ancient rituals. For a crusty plant scientist like me, this book reawakened an ecological consciousness where people, plants, and animals live in remarkable interdependence on a remarkably generous planet earth.  

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Why should I read it?

23 authors picked Braiding Sweetgrass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Called the work of "a mesmerizing storyteller with deep compassion and memorable prose" (Publishers Weekly) and the book that, "anyone interested in natural history, botany, protecting nature, or Native American culture will love," by Library Journal, Braiding Sweetgrass is poised to be a classic of nature writing. As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take "us on a journey that is…


The River of Consciousness

By Oliver Sacks,

Book cover of The River of Consciousness

Why this book?

The meaning of evolution, the foundation of creativity, the nature of consciousnessnobody can write so clearly and evocatively about these things as Oliver Sacks did over his long and productive career. This book offers a fresh look into the mind of a big thinker. Sacks explores issues and ideas across a remarkable breadth of disciplines. Here, he delved into questions most people probably have never thought to ask about evolution, botany, medicine, as well as the arts. He explores the science and humanity in everything, including his own growing awareness of memory loss. Having read most of his other books, I found this one as new and novel and enlightening as the first I came across decades ago.  

The River of Consciousness

By Oliver Sacks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The River of Consciousness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the best-selling author of Gratitude, On the Move, and Musicophilia, a collection of essays that displays Oliver Sacks's passionate engagement with the most compelling and seminal ideas of human endeavor: evolution, creativity, memory, time, consciousness, and experience.

Oliver Sacks, a scientist and a storyteller, is beloved by readers for the extraordinary neurological case histories (Awakenings, An Anthropologist on Mars) in which he introduced and explored many now familiar disorders--autism, Tourette's syndrome, face blindness, savant syndrome. He was also a memoirist who wrote with honesty and humor about the remarkable and strange encounters and experiences that shaped him (Uncle Tungsten,…


The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees

By Douglas W. Tallamy,

Book cover of The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees

Why this book?

There is so much well-intentioned but misinformed writing about ecology and the environment, it was a pleasure to read a solidly written book by an expert entomologist who speaks with authority and personal experience about native trees. This book follows oaks through the year, describing their remarkable biology and many interacting organisms. We get clear illustrations of changing seasons, environments, and stresses, along with co-evolutionary partners that form the web of life around this remarkable tree. It covers many foundational concepts in ecology—mutualism, keystone plants, mimicry, predation, competition, and more. I never before appreciated the essentiality of oaks, a tree that is a habitat for more insects (over 500) than any other, and thus supports a whole panoply of birds and other creatures. Like me, readers will keep an eye out for oaks in a new way.

The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees

By Douglas W. Tallamy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Nature of Oaks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With Bringing Nature Home, Doug Tallamy changed the conversation about gardening in America. His second book, the New York Times bestseller Nature's Best Hope, urged homeowners to take conservation into their own hands. Now, he is turning his advocacy to one of the most important species of the plant kingdom - the mighty oak tree.

Oaks sustain a complex and fascinating web of wildlife. The Nature of Oaks reveals what is going on in oak trees month by month, highlighting the seasonal cycles of life, death, and renewal. From woodpeckers who collect and store hundreds of acorns for sustenance to…


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