Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Science Book Meme - let's start it! - UPDATED AGAIN!

After completing the "100 Books" meme recently, a number of folks (this blogger included) seemed to be annoyed at the dearth of science related books on the list. Well, rather than whining about it, let's start our own frickin meme. Take that you literary, fiction types!

Let's make a list of the "N* Science Books", populated with the most important/interesting/well known/seminal books in science, tag a bunch of people, and watch it spread through the blogosphere faster than an action potential travels down the squid giant axon.

Fire up some suggestions in the comments, discuss what belongs where, and let's see where this takes us. My thought was to leave off textbooks, and technical manuals, but if there's a consensus otherwise, then the mob rules!

Here's my initial list: (Updated to reflect additions by the excellent commenters - at least some people are reading!)

Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn
The Double Helix, James Watson
Rosalind Franklin and DNA - Anne Sayres
Nerve, Muscle and Synapse, Bernard Katz
Lives of a Cell, Lewis Thomas
Art of the Soluble, Peter Medawar (something else here perhaps?)
What is Life, Erwin Schrodinger
Random Walks in Biology, Howard Berg
Elbow Room - Dan Dennett
Godel, Escher, Bach - Douglas Hofstadter
Apprentice to Genius - Robert Kanigel
In search of memory - Eric Kandel
Neurobiology of Nociceptors - edited by Carlos Belmonte and Fernando Cervero
The Sexual Brain - Simon Levay
Advice for Young Investigators - Santiago Ramon y Cajal
King Solomon's Ring - Lorenz and Huxley
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat - Oliver Sacks
The Elegant Universe - Brian Greene
The Mismeasure of Man - Stephen Jay Gould
The Blind Watchmaker - Richard Dawkins
Genius - James Gleick
Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman! by Richard Feynman
Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
Woman - Natalie Angier
Karl Popper - The Logic of Scientific Discovery
T-rex and the Crater of Doom - Walter Alvarez
An essay on the principle of population - Thomas Malthus
Astonishing Hypothesis - F. Crick
Witchdoctors and Psychiatrists - E. Fuller Torrey
The Eighth Day of Creation -
Horace Freeland Judson
Intuition- Allegra Goodman
The Billion-Dollar Molecule - Barry Werth
The Discoverers -
Daniel J. Boorstin
Natural Obsessions-
Natalie Angier and Lewis Thomas
The Genome War - James Shreeve
General Chemistry - Linus Pauling

Ok, that's what comes out of my brain without much prodding. What do other people have? Hopefully we'll get some coverage from non-neuro geeks.

*- I figure this will run its natural course like any good brainstorming session. Whatever number we get to, we get it. (Currently it's at 26; NO, 36! NO, 37!), but this list isn't set in stone; more can likely be added, and with sufficient agreement, removed if need be).


PhysioProf said...

If you're gonna list "The Double Helix"--grossly biased account that it is--you gotta list "Rosalind Franklin and DNA", by Anne Sayres.

Nat Blair said...

Fair enough, sounds good. I put Sayres's book on my "to read" list.

Though just to be clear, I don't necessarily consider the proposed list of books affirmatively. In fact I think it's clear in Watson's book that he was a total creep. But it stands as a unique account of important work, which I would expect all scientists to have read.

juniorprof said...

I have a few for 'ya
1) Consciousness Explained: Dan Dennett, sure he's kinda full of crap, but it gets you thinking.
2) Elbow Room: Dan Dennett, he got it right the first time.
3) Godel, Escher, Bach: Douglas Hofstadter
4) Apprentice to Genius: Robert Kanigel, the wonderful story of Julius Axelrod and his progeny
5) In search of memory: Eric Kandel, I love his account of his scientific development.
6) Neurobiology of Nociceptors: Carlos Belmonte and Fernando Cervero, editors. Its a compilation of essays by all the major players, well done.
7) The Sexual Brain: Simon Levay, its short and a bit dated now but still excellent.
8) Advice for Young Investigators: Ramon y Cajal, enough said.
9) King Solomon's RIng: Lorenz and Huxley. Second best book I read in undergrad (behind Elbow Room).

That's all I got...

Arlenna said...

"The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" and "An Anthropologist on Mars," Oliver Sacks

I dunno what you neuro-ies think of him, but his books floored me and fundamentally changed the way I perceived my own perception.

Arlenna said...

Oh, and "The Elegant Universe" by Brian Greene. WHO KNEW that *I* could be made to understand string theory?? WTF!!

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Great list! Gives me some ideas for pre-semester reading.

Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde said...

And where, O Harvard man, is your list of Stephen Jay Gould? Of course any of his essay collections could be on there, but I'd plump for "The Mismeasure of Man" as a classic clear-eyed rebuttal of all that is IQ testing.

--The Blind Watchmaker by Dawkins. Love him or hate him, this is classic stuff.

--Genius by James Gleick. Just incredible scientific biography, with so much more.

--Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman! by Richard Feynman, natch. You could add "Six easy pieces" if you want science content, but the autobiography is awesome.

--Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking. Some of us finished it...

--Something by Carl Sagan? Broca's Brain? Haven't read that one though.

Would also add
--Woman by Natalie Angier. Probably not a "classic" yet but it ought to be, it's so great.

Love this new meme! Will help propagate....

Nat Blair said...

Excellent, there are definitely some great additions here. As I expected, the wisdom of the crowd is smarter than the wisdom of one.

@jp - ah, I read Apprentice to Genius, and I really enjoyed it, though it felt a bit more abbreviated than I would have liked. Still, it seems a good account of the Snyder/Peart story. Too bad I loaned this book to someone who never gave it back, else I would read it again. (Susanne Ahmari I'm looking at you. :P)

And Dennett looks to be another good choice. Somehow in trawling the internet I remember reading his Wikipedia entry, but I haven't actually read anything from him. Elbow Room is first on my shortlist, for when I wanna get my philoso-phreak on. And as a first pass, do we want to try and stick with one example from any given author?

@Arlenna - Another one I've read but forgot! Good choice on Sacks's book. And this neuro-ie is so far away from anything congitive as to have no opinion upon Sacks's scientific stances.

@DrJ+MrsH - I know, I know! My only excuse is that the med school is in Boston, and all that is Cambridge is in my mind tainted by the yearly excursions I was forced to undertake in order to register for classes. Most of which were classes with the title, "Transmitter modulation of ion channels", B. Bean. I think I took that class more than ten times and never got anything better than a Satisfactory.

You're picks are great. Gleick's bio of Feynman is a classic I think, and Surely You're Joking... is good too, though it smacks a little much of the created persona of Feynman, distinct from reality.

Shockingly though I haven't read Dawkins. Now I'd remedy that if I just had more time. *sigh*

Lemme update the post and definitely, if people want to start sending it off to people, why not? Have people add to it as well, and propagate from there.

River Tam said...

Some suggestions from the ecologist amongst us:

*T-rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez. A well-written book by one of the men that proposed the idea that an asteroid doomed those poor dinosaurs! If I'm the only one who has read this, then I strongly urge you to rectify that.

*An essay on the principle of population by Thomas Malthus. There's a reason he got Darwin thinking.

Drugmonkey said...

Crick's "Astonishing Hypothesis", always good to know what a fool one can be outside of one's area

E. Fuller Torrey's "Witchdoctors and Psychiatrists"

GirdleUsherBleeechh JP??? c'mon now, this isn't the dark paneled faculty room, yo, no need for pretension....

juniorprof said...

"Transmitter modulation of ion channels", B. Bean. I think I took that class more than ten times and never got anything better than a Satisfactory.

Dude, you never got better than Satisfactory from your PhD advisor. That's harsh!!

DM, I'm all about the pretense. I didn't name one of my cats Fyodor for nothing!!

Nat Blair said...

@river tam -

So great to have an ecologist around. I must admit that in my other life (which goes on only in my mind) I am studying the neurobiological basis of thermal preference in Drosophila or something like that. This would actually bring me full circle to my first ever scientific advisor, Martin Feder. Could variability in TRP channels within a population be part and parcel of the behavior that is part of their thermal ecology (am I mudering the usage of these terms or what)? I just can get this out of my mind, but....oh whatever.

Great suggestions though, and it also brings to mind the book "Nemesis Affair" by David Raup. Love the Malthus suggestion as well.

@DM - That's a great one, anything to help skewer self-important folks. Just because you might know something about one topic, doesn't imply you know jack about something else. One reason why crowds can be wiser than individuals.

@jp - Heh, well, it was just S or U. So I guess I did ok. Actually though, I consider myself really lucky to have worked with Bruce. He's a great guy on top of being a great scientist.

DSK Samways said...

"If you're gonna list "The Double Helix"--grossly biased account that it is--you gotta list "Rosalind Franklin and DNA", by Anne Sayres."

Not necessarily. The reason The Double Helix probably belongs on a "must read" list is that it serves as an illuminating window into the thoughts and attitudes prevailing in science at a time not that far removed from the present. Warts and all. And it does this from a far more compelling first-person perspective, rather than a bland, third person bio-style.

I haven't tried Sayre's book, but I did pick up Maddox's at one point and couldn't make it through the first few chapters. It read more like a long-winded obituary than an objective account of someone's life.

As it is, I thought Rosalind's character come across as more flattering in Watson's account than he probably intended: a no-nonsense, thorough and methodical scientist (in stark contrast to the glory-hunting cowboy heroes of the book) who refused to be intimidated by the thick atmosphere of male chauvinism she was forced to work in. She had a very low tolerance for fools (something her biographers are accused of downplaying), and Watson was honest enough to admit that she laid the smack down on the pair of them - justifiably - on more than one occasion. Lastly, Watson's charge that Rosalind was being too defensive about her data, and sitting on information that would be of benefit to the scientific community, was not completely off-base. His theft of that data on the other hand...

Anyway, maybe I'm just defensive about the book because it was the BBC's TV version, starring Jeff Goldblum of all people, that pushed me into taking A-level biology in the first place.

River Tam said...

Could variability in TRP channels within a population be part and parcel of the behavior that is part of their thermal ecology (am I mudering the usage of these terms or what)?

Didn't follow the TRP channel part, but I follow the gist. No, you're not murdering anything. I really thing there is a lot of cool stuff to be done trying to link whole organism traits/behaviors with cellular/molecular/neurological processes. What you're talking of - bridging ecology neurophysiology - reminds me of with a paper I saw a while back on the cellular basis of tetrodotoxin resistance in snakes. Has nothing to do with thermal preferences, but I think it is a great example of crossing the great divide of "skin in vs. skin out". Here's the ref in case you're interested: Geffeney et al (2005) Nature 434:759-763

Sorry everyone for the sidetrack! I just can't stop myself from talking science!

CC said...

I posted a list of seven books at Dr. Jekyll's before realizing that the discussion was here. And I see six of them haven't been mentioned here yet:

The Eighth Day of Creation
The Billion-Dollar Molecule
The Discoverers
Natural Obsessions
The Genome War

As I'd mentioned there, no one ever actually reads Darwin, Popper, Kuhn, etc., so I left them off the list regardless of how "classic" they are. But as long as you're not reading The Origin of Species, you might as well not read the longer but less dull The Malay Archipelago.

Advice for Young Investigators might be complemented with Peter Medawar's Advice to the Young Scientist. I found neither especially helpful, especially compared to the less pompous, more practical book from CSHL that tells you to suck up to the techs and admins and to not blow up the autoclave.

Nat Blair said...

@rt - I totally remember that paper. I worked on TTX resistant sodium channels during my thesis, and was very intrigued when that paper came out. There was an earlier one in Science as well, wasn't there?

I mention TRP channels only as they might be an important part of the temperature sensor in Drosophila. So if there's a polymorphism in the population that alters the range where temp activation occurs, it might be a way that different temperature preferences are created. But there aren't any known polymorphisms that lead to different activation thresholds that I know of. I thought about comparing different Drosophila species with distinct ranges, or sometimes daydream about Evolution Canyon in Israel with respect to this.

@cc - I like your additions, some I've heard of, some I haven't. As for the classics that no one ever reads, well, I would argue that those are especially appropriate for a list like this. Let's see how many people have actually read these.

And personally, I have read Kuhn multiple times, and would rate it as one of my top 5 books ever. Many of his insights were right on the money in my mind, and his articulation of them continually informs my own understanding of science. I also read his earlier book on the Copernican revolution, and some other stuff.

I'll update the list again tomorrow!

Nat Blair said...

@DSKS - Well, I wouldn't say that including another take on the Franklin/Watson/Crick DNA story really takes anything away from the importance of The Double Helix. Rather, it would stand together with it, to reinforce the fact that Watson's account is exactly that, and can't be assumed to reflect reality.

A TV version of The Double Helix? I gotta see that. But why is it that Jeff Goldbloom is the go-to guy for scientists in movies?

DSK Samways said...

A TV version of The Double Helix? I gotta see that."

Good luck, it's pretty hard to find these days. I don't think it's even available from the Beeb directly. A shame really, because the casting was spot on: Tim Pigott-Smith as Crick and Juliet Stephenson as Rosalind.

"But why is it that Jeff Goldbloom is the go-to guy for scientists in movies?"

Good question. I've never met anybody like him in the profession.

btw On a vaguely related matter, one or both of Linus Pauling's books, "The Nature of the Chemical Bond" and "General Chemistry", probably belong on the list. Especially "General Chemistry", which is still one of the best basic chemistry textbooks, imho.

River Tam said...


Yeah, there was an earlier Science paper a later PLoS Biology paper from that group that focused more on the co-evolutionary dynamics. I honestly think that that type of research (linking the cellular physiology with whole-organism ecology) is a wide open field right now. Good luck with those Drosophila. Another potential system is in Hawaii where there was a huge radiation in Drosophila, but there seems to be an elevational component to their evolution/ecology (which probably means temperature, but could be oxygen-related).

Sorry for the confusion, but I literally did not understand what TRP means or what TRP channels actually are!

Loved the link for Malthus!

Nat Blair said...

@DSKS: Oh, I like the Chemistry books addition. I'll stick General Chemistry on there.

I can only think that Jeff Goldbloom is what most people think scientists look and act like. Wonderful. Now, not only do they think we're boring and logical and stuff, but we look like a wannabe euro-dude with bizarre speech mannerisms.

Good luck with those Drosophila. See, the thing about experiments in your head, is that there are no technical problems at all. Instead they stop just short of actually giving you an answer. I'm troubleshooting that glitch, but haven't made much headway.

Sorry for the confusion, but I literally did not understand what TRP means or what TRP channels actually are

Many a time I think TRP channels are just a construct of the devil meant to test the faithful.