Inspiring science books
There is no such thing as a typical Imperial student. But they do all have one thing in common – they love science.
Giskin Day, Principal Teaching Fellow at Imperial, suggests the best books to inspire and entertain science lovers.
- Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver
This novel is inspired by one of nature’s greatest but most vulnerable spectacles: The Monarch butterfly migration.
The main character becomes an unexpected scientist as she joins efforts to understand why the butterflies are overwintering in Appalachia rather than Mexico.
The story shows the connectedness of things: of organisms to climate, of science to communities, of people to places.
If this book inspires you to learn more about nature conservation, OPAL – the Open Air Laboratories network led by Imperial College London – offers opportunities to get involved.
- Artemis by Andy Weir
This is the new novel by the author of wildly successful The Martian.
The protagonist, Jazz Bashara, is a porter working in the first permanent settlement on the moon. She has a lucrative but dangerous side-line in smuggling contraband.
When a mission goes wrong, Jazz must get seriously sciencey to save the city.
If you enjoy Weir’s books and reckon your decision-making skills could help save someone stranded on the moon, you might also like to try the series of interactive text games, Lifeline (iOS and Android).
- The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
If you are interested in the way culture underlies our ways of knowing the world, this true story is a must-read.
Anne Fadiman explores what happens when a Hmong child with epilepsy is treated by well-meaning doctors, who have little insight into the cultural practices that shape Hmong understandings of illness.
Whilst traditional medicine has its dangers, the book also shows that orthodox medical science is underpinned by its own biases and assumptions.
To see one of the world’s best collections of cultural artefacts associated with medicine, visit the Wellcome Collection in London.
- The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
What role does intuition play in deciding whether structures and mechanisms are safe?
This novel features Lila Mae, New York’s first black female elevator inspector.
She is an intuitionist rather than an empiricist: she uses her senses to mentally visualise the workings of elevators (or lifts) to intuit problems.
This novel combines a thrilling adventure with a philosophy of humanity and the metropolis.
If you enjoy thinking about the way buildings structure our life stories, you might enjoy an innovative graphic novel, Building Stories by Chris Ware. It comes in a box of 14 different elements, which can be assembled and assimilated in any order.
- The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
Cinchona bark is the source of the quinine used to treat malaria, making it an astonishingly valuable commodity in the 19th century.
This fantastical botanical novel sets its protagonist off on a quest to steal cinchona cuttings from the secretive cartels that fiercely guard the forests in South America.
Reminiscent of the magic realism of Philip Pullman, Pulley’s engaging novel asks questions about ethnobotany and use of natural resources for the greater good.
There are also exploding trees, geological curiosities, and mysterious automata. What’s not to love?
To see a real cinchona tree and to explore the living legacy of plants from around the world that have transformed drug development, visit the Chelsea Physic Garden in London.