Two great science books from 2007

November 30, 2007

Scott Erik Kauffman on Acephalous, Chad Orzel on Uncertain Principles, GrrlScientist on Living the Scientific Life all bemoan the fact that out of the NY Times’ list of the Notable 100 Books of 2007 there were no science books. Here are two books I think should have made the list:

The World Without Us is Alan Weisman’s book about what would become of the earth if suddenly all humans disappeared. How quickly would the earth revert to wild form? What effects of humans would disappear, and which would remain? The book reminds one that the detrimental effects that humans have had on the world extend well beyond the global warming currently in the news. Where the book is most effective is reminding us of the everyday things that we take for granted but that are in reality alien to our world; aluminum cookware and domesticated pets come to mind right away.

Stumbling On Happiness is Daniel Gilbert’s book about how little we know about what actually makes us happy. To quote from the forward:

What would you do right now if you learned that you were going to die in ten minutes? Would you race upstairs and light that Marlboro you’ve been hiding in your sock drawer since the Ford administration? Would you waltz into your boss’s office and present him with a detailed description of his personal defects? Would you drive out to that steakhouse near the new mall and order a T-bone, medium rare, with an extra side of the really bad cholesterol? Hard to say, of course, but of all the things you might do in your final ten minutes, it’s a pretty safe bet that few of them are things you actually did today.

Now, some people will bemoan this fact, wag their fingers in your direction, and tell you sternly that you should live every minute of your life as though it were your last, which only goes to show that some people would spend their final ten minutes giving other people dumb advice.

The quote shows that not only does Gilbert write about a topic that is central to everyone’s life, but he does so with great insight and humor. This is a delightful book, Freakonomics for Psychology, if you will.

To be honest, when science books have made the NY Times’ Notable 100 books in the past, they’ve been fairly dull, so maybe it isn’t a big deal that no science books made the list. Heck, my idea of a spectacular science book is Mattuck’s A Guide To Feynman Diagrams In The Many-Body Problem, which would never make a list like the Times’. But these two books were quite good, written for quite a general audience, and should have been on the list.

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One Response to “Two great science books from 2007”

  1. I’ve heard great things about Stumbling on Happiness; will get it for Christmas.

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