The best books about trees and stars, and the scientists who love them

Joan Slonczewski Author Of The Highest Frontier
By Joan Slonczewski

Who am I?

As a child in New England, I used to look up to the trees around my home and the stars beyond. The trees caught my gaze by day, their branches twisting into the blue sky. I imagined myself turning upside-down, so the branches actually plunged into blue water, like the tree-islands of my novel A Door into Ocean. By night I imagined falling off the Earth into the dark well of stars. My vision of stars ultimately morphed into the multicolored microbes of Brain Plague. The books on my list expanded my view of trees and stars into many dimensions. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.


I wrote...

The Highest Frontier

By Joan Slonczewski,

Book cover of The Highest Frontier

What is my book about?

A Cuban-American president’s granddaughter finds an alien ultraphyte crawling up a tree. The ultraphytes are blamed for Earth’s floods and fires. Jenny Kennedy escapes it all and takes the anthrax-powered space elevator up to Frontera College, a satellite amidst the high frontier of stars. Virtual worlds teach biology and colonial history, financed by a Native American casino. Jenny meets her neurodivergent roommate and starts research on intelligent plants. Yet even out in space, students cannot escape Earth’s disasters and invaders. Only Jenny and her roommate’s research might save Earth from itself.

The books I picked & why

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Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

By Suzanne Simard,

Book cover of Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

Why this book?

Growing up as a Canadian logger, Suzanne Simard faced formidable challenges to figure out how trees communicate. Ingenious experiments showed how mother trees pass on food to younger seedlings, and how trees of all kinds share a “World Wood Web” of fungi. This fungal internet of trees, called “mycorrhizae,” has fundamentally reshaped forest ecology—and led us to recalculate contributions to the global carbon budget. As a microbiologist, it staggers my mind to realize how the tiniest of fungal threads interconnect the great giants of the forest. Loggers fought the knowledge, but Simard never backed down. The fungal internet she discovered carries hope for our planet, like Eywa from the film Avatar


Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

By Margot Lee Shetterly,

Book cover of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

Why this book?

One of my earliest memories was hearing of John Glenn’s orbit in space. My father developed physics for future computers that would guide the rockets. Later I was amazed to read Margot Shetterly’s true story of Katherine Johnson and other Black women “computers” of the early space race. In a segregated workplace, these stellar professionals computed our first steps toward the stars. They did the math for space flight before any computers. Their astounding performance used entirely pencil and paper, and chalk on the board. Even when the first electronic computers came in, John Glenn asked Katherine Johnson to recheck the math before he would go up.


Lab Girl

By Hope Jahren,

Book cover of Lab Girl

Why this book?

From the remote wilderness to the research lab, this book comes alive with the passion of discovering trees from a million years ago. For Hope Jahren and her fellow workers, the lab is a window into past millennia of climate change—and sheds light on the future. A leaf, a speck of soil, a shower of amber on your head; and then, the fascination of watching numbers on your instruments reveal secrets that you’re the first in the world to know. The joys of sampling soil, and of coaxing recalcitrant machines to work, come alive. And I love how Jahren manages to shape an opera-worthy epic out of the struggle for laboratory funding—the unsung challenge of all scientists.


The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey Into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred

By Chanda Prescod-Weinstein,

Book cover of The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey Into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred

Why this book?

This Harvard-trained cosmologist takes us on a journey into the universe, from colliding black holes to neutrons and protons “faking it” as elementary particles. If you ever wondered why the universe has more matter than antimatter, and what is dark matter made of, this book is for you. And physics is about more than theories; it’s about people doing physics. Black lives matter, and Black lives are the stuff of stars. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein shares her exploration of a universe that is “bigger than the bad things that are happening to us.” Along the way, we gain new clues to the fate of our galaxies full of stars.


The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate –Discoveries from a Secret World

By Peter Wohlleben, Jane Billinghurst,

Book cover of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate –Discoveries from a Secret World

Why this book?

Peter Wohlleben is a forester who shares his remarkable observations of trees. Trees have a language—they communicate by chemicals from root to branch, and send scent warnings to other trees. For humans, the forest is more than beautiful; forest air is actually cleaner because the trees filter it. Wohlleben acknowledges the under-appreciated role of the soil microbial communities that keep forests alive, their heat production warming the roots in winter. Amazingly, trees even need “sleep” at night as we do. Producing light at night, as in cities, is not good for trees. As a scientist, I might question Wohlleben’s points here and there, but always enjoy his provocative ideas to explore further.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in trees, women in mathematics, and women in the sciences?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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