21W.777 | Spring 2017 | Undergraduate

Science Writing in Contemporary Society


Book Review Essay Book List

Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. 1st edition. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1962. ISBN: 9780395075067. [Preview with Google Books]
The book that is often credited with starting the modern ecological movement. Carson was a trained biologist and an eloquent writer.

Gawande, Atul. Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. 1st edition. Picador, 2003. ISBN: 9780312421700.

———. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance. 1st edition. Picador, 2008. ISBN: 9780312427658.
Some of these essays originally appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine or the New Yorker. Another best-seller from Gawande, “by turns inspiring and unsettling” according to one reviewer.

Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2002. ISBN: 9780375760396.
A delightful meditation in 4 parts—apple, potato, tulip and marijuana—on our role in the evolution of plants.

———. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Penguin Books, 2009. ISBN: 9780143114963.
A science-based argument that culture may be a better guide to eating healthily than science; explains how we are at the same time malnourished and overfed.

Keller, Evelyn Fox. The Century of the Gene. Harvard University Press, 2002. ISBN: 9780674008250. [Preview with Google Books]
An MIT professor argues that the concept of the gene has shaped research in recent decades and suggests limits of that concept. This book is already a classic—it has been translated into many languages, as Barton shows.

Wilson, Edward O. The Future of Life. Reprint edition. Vintage, 2003. ISBN: 9780679768111.
Author of Sociobiology and The Ants; honorary curator at Harvard Museum.

Galison, Peter. Einstein’s Clocks and Poincare’s Maps: Empires of Time. Reprint edition. W. W. Norton & Company, 2004. ISBN: 9780393326048.
“Brings the story of time to life as a story of wires and rails, precision maps, and imperial ambitions, as well as a story of physics and philosophy."—Science

Goldsmith, Barbara. Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie. Reprint edition. W. W. Norton, 2005. ISBN: 9780739453056.
“A poignant—and scientifically lucid—portrait” of the first woman to win the Nobel prize (NY Times review).

Maddox, Brenda. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA. Harper Perennial, 2003. ISBN: 9780060985080.
Franklin was a physical chemist and photographer whose work allowed Watson and Crick to grasp the double-helical structure of DNA. She was virtually unknown before this well-reviewed biography gave her her due.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. Revised edition. Bloomsbury USA, 2015. ISBN: 9781620409886.
An instant classic when it was originally published in 2006.

———. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Reprint edition. Picador, 2015. ISBN: 9781250062185.
Pulitzer Prize winner.

Sacks, Oliver. Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood. Reprint edition. Vintage, 2002. ISBN: 9780375704048.
Popular and highly readable memoir by one of our most distinctive and prolific researchers in the field of brain disorders.

———. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. Revised & enlarged edition. Vintage, 2008. ISBN: 9781400033539.
A popular account that combines the latest brain science with the important role music plays in our lives.

Johnson, Steven. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. Reprint edition. Riverhead Books, 2007. ISBN: 9781594482694.
An engaging narrative about one cholera epidemic in London in the 1850s, and how it led to the discovery of the way cholera is contracted. A meditation on the nature of the scientific method, modern cities, and public health works.

———. The Invention of Air: A Story Of Science, Faith, Revolution, And The Birth Of America. Reprint edition. Riverhead Books, 2009. ISBN: 9781594484018.
“A look at the classical age of science and the early history of the United States through the work of the remarkable Joseph Priestley.” (NY Times)

Coyne, Jerry A. Why Evolution Is True. Reprint edition. Penguin Books, 2010. ISBN: 9780143116646. [Preview with Google Books]
“‘Evolution is far more than a scientific theory,’ argues Coyne; it is a scientific fact.’”—well reviewed in the Boston Globe.

Zimmer, Carl. Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life. Reprint edition. Vintage, 2009. ISBN: 9780307276865. [Preview with Google Books]
“A powerful account of the dynamic, complicated and social world we share with this ordinary yet remarkable bug … Exciting, original, and wholly persuasive.” —New Scientist.

McKibben, Bill. The End of Nature. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006. ISBN: 9780812976083. [Preview with Google Books]
A classic, influential book by one of the godfathers of the contemporary environmental movement.

———. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Revised edition. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011. ISBN: 9780312541194. [Preview with Google Books]
The extra “a” is intentional—to McKibben it signifies that our planet is forever changed. A polemic against man-made climate change and environmental degradation.

Pepin, Jacques. The Origin of AIDS. 1st edition. Cambridge University Press, 2011. ISBN: 9780521186377. [Preview with Google Books]
“Scholarly and immensely readable” (Amazon).

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Basic Books, 2012. ISBN: 9780465031467. [Preview with Google Books]
MIT STS Prof. Turkle explores implications of robots and the internet.

Strogatz, Steven. The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity. Reprint edition. Mariner Books, 2013. ISBN: 9780544105850. [Preview with Google Books]

Lockhart, Paul. Measurement. Reprint edition. Belknap Press, 2014. ISBN: 9780674284388. [Preview with Google Books]

Stewart, Ian. Visions of Infinity: The Great Mathematical Problems. 1st edition. Basic Books, 2014. ISBN: 9780465064892. [Preview with Google Books]

Kenneally, Christine. The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures. Reprint edition. Penguin Books, 2015. ISBN: 9780143127925. [Preview with Google Books]

Billings, Lee. Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars. Reprint edition. Current, 2014. ISBN: 9781617230165. {Preview with Google Books]

Jayawardhana, Ray. Neutrino Hunters: The Thrilling Chase for a Ghostly Particle to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe. Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013. ISBN: 9780374220631. [Preview with Google Books]

Chamovitz, Daniel. What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses. Reprint edition. Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013. ISBN: 9780374533885. [Preview with Google Books]

Schwartz, Evan I. The Last Lone Inventor: A Tale of Genius, Deceit, and the Birth of Television. Reprint edition. Harper Perennial, 2003. ISBN: 9780060935597. [Preview with Google Books]

Moore, Peter. The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015. ISBN: 9780865478091. [Preview with Google Books]
Recounts the 19th-c. origins of the science of meteorology. Well reviewed.

Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Broadway Books, 2011. [Preview with Google Books]
Best-selling story of the first productive cell-line and the woman whose cells were used, unbeknownst to her and her family.

Jahren, Hope. Lab Girl. Reprint edition. Vintage, 2017. ISBN: 9781101873724. [Preview with Google Books]

Schwarz, Alan. ADHD Nation: Children, Doctors, Big Pharma, and the Making of an American Epidemic. Scribner, 2016. ISBN: 9781501105913. [Preview with Google Books]

McCullough, David. The Wright Brothers. Reprint edition. Simon & Schuster, 2016. ISBN: 9781476728759. [Preview with Google Books]

Shetterly, Margot Lee. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. Reprint edition. William Morrow Paperbacks, 2016. ISBN: 9780062363602. [Preview with Google Books]

Sobel, Dava. The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. Viking, 2016. ISBN: 9780670016952. [Preview with Google Books]

Biello, David. The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth’s Newest Age. Scribner, 2016. ISBN: 9781476743905. [Preview with Google Books]

Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. ISNB: 9780374227760. [Preview with Google Books]

Massimino, Mike. Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe. 1st edition. Crown Archetype, 2016. ISBN: 9781101903544.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2017
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments