I used to think I didn’t have time to read. No one has time to read, but I think we HAVE to read* to stay sane, and to understand ourselves and our disciplines better.
Some excellent books I recommend:
(1) Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Hilarious, wonderful, sad, encouraging. I read this during my comprehensive exams to keep some balance and sanity in my life. And by read, I mean listened to on audible. Dr. Jahren narrates it, and her voice is soothing. I cannot imagine anyone not identifying with either Jahren or Bill (if both, you are a unicorn). She is vulnerable, tough, funny, raw, and overall everything a young scientist needs to see. When I finished the book, I immediately relistened to it, and then read every one of her blog posts. She is the hero science needs, but doesn’t necessarily deserve. I am so thankful for Hope Jahren.
(2) Writing Science by Joshua Schimel
My awesome committee member, Sara Baer, sent this to me. This is a straightforward and friendly guide for people at all levels who want to improve their science writing and thinking.
(3) The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wolf
I hesitated to read this, even though it was personally recommended by our school director, John Carroll. White European man “discovers the world” and collects “exotic biological specimens”, is a tired old trope. But that is NOT what this book is. The Invention of Nature is a readable discussion of the historical roots of naturalism, ecology, and philosophy. Before studying philosophy of science last spring in preparation for my comprehensive exams, I didn’t grasp that our research questions aren’t wholly our own, but are inextricably products of the past -I am not a post modernists in the strict sense, but we are humans, and the creation/emergence of knowledge is a complex endeavor. Invention shows readers where a lot of their implicit ideas about nature may have originated.
Beyond its impact as a text on philosophy and history, this is a story about a remarkable human. Humboldt made some astonishing insights about the world around him: linking anthropogenic local climate change with by deforestation, that volcanoes share a common source of magma, climatic vegetation zones, etc. etc. -but also had some misses (spoiler alert: he was really into the idea of animal electricity and repeatedly shocked himself with electric eels in Venezuela…FOR SCIENCE!). He also had profound and far reaching influence on global politics, interacting with the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, and Simon Bolivar (to name a few –seriously). Personally, he was an extraordinary man. He had deep convictions about the evils of slavery and inequality that emerged from somewhere deep within him and created tension in relations with his politician friends. Yet he occasionally displayed a startling lack of empathy for those around him: when his sister in-law lost her second child in two years, he barely remembered to offers condolences, and when a British friend died he wrote the grieving widow a condolence letter -in French, knowing she did not speak the language. Humboldt also did little to hide that he was queer, and his numerous affairs with various men (and a few women, perhaps) caused his brother much chagrin (Humboldt was orphaned by his late teens).
I highly recommend this to anyone curious about nature, philosophy, politics, and science. A well paced and superbly written book. I can’t imagine anyone doesn’t identify with some aspect of this incredible man who changed the course of modern history (truly).
4. The Iliad and The Odyssey By Homer
The Iliad and The Odyssey are excellent audiobooks for fieldwork. Sometimes at the end of the day when I need a little push to power through the last few hours in the sun, I’ll turn on one of these books. They’re engaging enough to entertain and familiar enough so as not to distract. Disclaimer: I’m pretty squeamish, so I have to fast forward through a lot of the scenes. And some of the in-depth family lineages got old. I guess that’s about 50% of the book. But they are still great, especially the Odyssey (less gore+lineage). So if you’re going to listen to only one, I’d recommend the Odyssey.
The silliest part of these books is that you hear so many predictable and think “how cliche”, until you realize that this was the original story, and everyone else copied Homer. So: entertaining, and easy listening, and you’ll feel much smarter for having read them. One thing: never do data collection or anything important while audiobooking. Save it for the monotonous/long walking type tasks.