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Science Summer Reading

Some science-themed books for your summer reading lists.

June 3, 2018
 
 

Ingrid J. Paredes is a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering at New York University. You can find her on Twitter @ingridjoylyn.

Grades are in, and the sun is out! Summer is a great time to recharge and reflect on the academic year. For me, nothing is more relaxing and motivating than reading a good book. While there are plenty of great reads for graduate students, here is a summer reading list about science and from some of the best science writers.

For entertainment: Bonk by Mary Roach. I am a huge fan of Mary Roach’s work. In each of her books, she takes readers with her as she explores the science of a topic, from war to the alimentary canal. In Bonk, she studies sex, and through her endeavor learns about the day-to-day work of sex researchers. Her curiosity is endless, and Roach takes readers along with her as she delves through dense literature and interviews scientists studying everything—neuroscience of sex, genital transplants, and so on. It’s entertaining to see how science can be applied even to questions we don’t normally find ourselves asking, even about activities people participate in regularly. Sometimes Roach’s journey is laugh-out-loud funny and shocking—for one of her interviews Roach uses herself and husband, becoming the first volunteers in one of the studies she reviews!!

For a new perspective: How to Bake Pi by Eugenia Cheng. In this book, Cheng introduces logic and mathematics with in the context of cooking. Each chapter begins with an easy-to-follow recipe—a few of which I’ve tried myself in an effort to learn how to cook (the chocolate brownies are my favorite!). Following each recipe, Cheng goes into a deep, yet accessible explanation of different mathematical principles. Her enthusiasm encourages readers to think about mathematics in a greater context than solving equations, and her writing has informed the way I approach my own academic writing—I now try to make it as easily understandable as possible.

For inspiration: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. I read Lab Girl at the end of 2017 and have returned to it many times since then. In this scientific memoir, Jahren documents her life, from childhood to her beginnings as a professor, building her lab from scratch. Often when it comes to science writing, the focus is on the scientists’ findings rather than on the humanity that motivated those findings. Lab Girl is just the opposite: writing past the “eureka” moments in the laboratory and instead detailing the mundane day-to-day routine of lab work and relationships with her labmates. Her story is engrossing, and her writing is beautiful. I devoured this book in two sittings separated only by sleep.

For reflection: Gratitude by Oliver Sacks. This short collection of essays offer Sacks’ profound reflections on life. While each of these essays were published individually in The New York Times, packaged together Gratitude makes for a great, though short, read that has helped me put my day-to-day life in perspective. Published after he revealed he was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, Gratitude focuses on the meaning Sacks has found during his life. As the last book he published before his death, Gratitude provided me with a sense of closure, which was satisfying and succinct. Sacks’ true happiness with his life shines through, and the essays give his life’s work a greater context—a great read for an afternoon dedicated to introspection.

What are on your summer reading lists?

[Image by Flickr user André Lopes and used under a Creative Commons license.]

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