November 25, 2006

Stop me before I post on science books again!

There seems to be something in the water as lists are everywhere these days. It must be the holiday shopping season. Well, the Globe and Mail has joined the fun with their annual Globe 100 list of the most notable books they've reviewed in the last year. There's Science & Nature section as well as relevant selections in the Biography and History sections. The list seems pretty good, if a more than a little heavy on the environmental and cognitive science books this year, but I guess that's just the way it is with book reviewing practices in newspapers. Hot topics rule the day rather than any kind of balanced coverage that would indicate real editorial direction.

In any case, if you're buying a present for a science-y person this year, you probably can't go wrong with one of these but I'm sure there are other lists with a bit more variety:

  • Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell by Charlotte Gray
  • The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen
  • Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning by George Monbiot
  • The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back -- and How We Can Still Save Humanity by James Lovelock
  • The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth by E. O. Wilson
  • Darwinism and Its Discontents by Michael Ruse
  • Pandemonium: Bird Flu, Mad Cow Disease, and Other Biological Plagues of the 21st Century by Andrew Nikiforuk
  • Theatre of the Mind: Raising the Curtain on Consciousness by Jay Ingram
  • This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin
  • The Weather Makers: How We are Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth by Tim Flannery
  • Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd by Karsten Heuer
  • Bringing Back the Dodo: Lessons in Natural and Unnatural History by Wayne Grady
  • Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
  • Thunderstruck by Eric Larson
A few other non-science books caught my eye as well such as The Immortal Game: A History of Chess or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Art, Science, and the Human Brain by David Shenk, A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945, edited and translated by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova and The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel.

These types of list always beg the question of what's missing. As far as I can tell, the most glaring omission this year are the David Suzuki memoir and the Donald Coxeter biography, both of which should have made the cut at very least based on an important Canadian connection. Of course, the lack of any science fiction or fantasy books in the list was particularly galling for me -- the Globe's reviewing decisions are generally quite shameful in their ignorance of fantastic fiction.

In the comments, Richard Akerman points to the running science books list for the CBC Radio show Quirks & Quarks. There's about a dozen books recommended based on 2006 shows (and many more from older shows), inlcuding another strong book with a Canadian connection that probably should have made the Globe list: Lee Smolen's The Trouble With Physics. Most of the books (and all the recent ones) have links to the audio of the show where they were discussed. Podcasts of Quirks & Quarks are also available.