Hard lessons from hard science

It was my second term in Conceptual Physics when I learned that I was not cut out for the career in science I had dreamed about while watching Star Wars over and over again. Subsequently, supportive friends and teachers taught me this “it’s not the end of the world” mantra: “D is for diploma.”

Things turned out fine. I remained a decent student and survived my remaining science courses. I focused on other subjects that I still excelled in and ended up with a great job that I love after plenty of other failures and just enough success; however, there are still times I dream of discovering the secrets of black holes or the ocean floor.

The Panda's Thumb book jacketArcheological digs and guest spots on NOVA sometimes enter my rich imagination and, just as I used to live out my fantasies of rock superstardom through air guitar in middle school, I find an outlet for scientific delusions of grandeur on the library shelves with those amazing scientists that can speak my language and hold my hand through the equations and lab lingo. One of the best-selling and most entertaining science writers was the late Stephen Jay Gould, and his award-winning series of essays entitled The Panda’s Thumb taught me everything I actually understand about the theory of evolution (well not everything, as you’ll see below). Gould’s short entries make it easier for us in the scientific laity to fight the urge to nap in the middle of a chapter.

For those of you with a longer attention span who are interested in evolution, I recommend David Quammen’s beautiful verbosity. His writings on The Black Hole War book jacketDarwin and Wallace more or less equal the remainder of my evolutionary knowledge. Even though it was physics that destroyed my chances of being an award-winning scientist, it is still one of my favorite subjects. The Black Hole War (eBook ) by Leonard Susskind is my favorite narrative on the subject. It combines great diagrams for all the mathy (all right, this isn’t a real word) points, fun anecdotes about some of the world’s foremost scientists, and a long arduous battle between Susskind (with a couple colleagues) and Stephen Hawking and the entire scientific world concerning what happens when information passes through the horizon of a black hole. Spoiler Alert: Susskind won and opened new avenues for String Theory, Holograms, and oh so many fun physics wormholes.

Cataclysms on the Columbia book jacketCataclysms on the Columbia brings us back home to the ancient history of Cascadia, as well as to the recent past. Bretz, an intrepid geologist, also fought with the scientific community over his discovery. He realized that it must have taken one or many (upwards of 90) cataclysmic floods to form the geological markers from Western Montana through Eastern Washington, down through the Columbia River Gorge, all the way into the Willamette Valley. Of course, everyone at the time accused him of Catastrophism, which was viewed by many as a religious perspective, not legitimate science. Bretz’s strength of character and the vivid descriptions of what the floods must have been like are respectively inspirational and terrifying.

This is only a small sample of the highly readable Science-Fact available at MCL. So if you too are a member of the numerically-challenged laity, please respond below with your favorite science book and I will add it to the Page-turning Science reading list being created as we speak!


Cosmos... Comet... Pale Blue Dot, you cannot have Science-Fact without Sagan.
A recent book I enjoyed was A Farther Shore, a biography of Rachel Carson.

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