The best books for seeing science differently

Mark S. Blumberg Author Of Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us about Development and Evolution
By Mark S. Blumberg

The Books I Picked & Why

The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to Be as They Are.

By Henry Petroski

The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to Be as They Are.

Why this book?

If you are interested in understanding the roots of human invention, this is your book. Too often we attribute inventions—and the creative spark underlying them — to a mysterious force or a special gift. In this book, Henry Petroski, an engineer, shows us the process by which inventions come about. That process is an evolutionary one that often relies on trial and error. Petroski illustrates his ideas and develops his themes using the most mundane of objects, such forks, paper clips, and zippers. If even such seemingly simple objects evolved, what must that say about computers, rockets, and even humans?


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Scaling: Why Is Animal Size So Important?

By Knut Schmidt-Nielsen

Scaling: Why Is Animal Size So Important?

Why this book?

The diverse, complex world of animals can seem chaotic. But we can bring order to this chaos by looking for grand principles that simplify and explain. One such grand principle concerns the foundational role of body size in shaping animal biology: From our skeletons to our use of energy to our longevity, size matters! And no one was better able to explain the importance of size in simple, straightforward terms than the inimitable physiologist, Knut Schmidt-Nielsen. This is a must-have book for anyone with even a passing interest in the diversity of life on our planet.  


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The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte

By Edward R. Tufte

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte

Why this book?

It’s one thing to do science. It’s another thing entirely to communicate science. But scientific communication is much more than just about words. Science is also a visual pursuit, and this indispensable and elegantly constructed book tells you how to be an effective visual communicator of information. But also, the principles that Tufte explains and explores are valuable to anyone who must present information in visual form to others. This is a classic book that you will take down from your shelf and read—and admire—over and over again.


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The Century of the Gene

By Evelyn Fox Keller

The Century of the Gene

Why this book?

Genes have variously been described as selfish and controlling—as providing a blueprint or a program for development—as even “the cell’s brain”. These descriptions of genes get in the way of our understanding of what genes actually do—and what they don’t (and cannot) do. Evelyn Fox Keller provides an antidote to the simplistic notions of genes that permeate our society and infect our scientific discourse. She carefully walks us through the history of the field and provides us with a much more realistic view of the intricacies of DNA. By the end of this marvelous book, you may not even think that genes are a thing at all.


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Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution

By Susan Oyama, Paul E. Griffiths, Russell D. Gray

Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution

Why this book?

If you are interested in the interplay of development and evolution, this collection of essays will introduce you to all the key concepts by many of the key thinkers. This is a collection for serious readers who want to appreciate the complexity underlying such concepts as instinct and heredity. Many of these essays are the classics in the field. My favorite? Daniel Lehrman’s takedown of Konrad Lorenz from 1953. That one essay alone, brimming with the passion of a young iconoclast, is worth the price of admission.


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