It’s looking very much like an awful lot of us are destined to have lot of time on our hands. So I thought it might be helpful if I were to heartily recommend a number of books that you could buy to wile away the time (assuming Amazon stays up, of course). If you have recommendations for any other books to keep one’s mind off killer viruses, then please feel free to share in the comments section below.
The Cure for Catastrophe – How we can stop manufacturing natural disasters, Robert Muir-Wood, ISBN 978-1-78607-005-0
A fascinating and well-informed historical account of man’s response to disasters and how, in many respects, we have proven to be our own worst enemy. Lots of stuff on earthquakes, storms, tsunamis, etc. And yes, there is a chapter on global warming, which, I have to say, wasn’t written with the succour of CliScep readers in mind. Michael Mann says he liked it but I suspect he can’t have actually read it – it isn’t what he claimed it to be in his review.
The Hockey Stick Illusion, A.W. Montford, ISBN 978-0-95731-352-1
The climate sceptic’s bible. You’re supposed to read this and be taken in by its catalogue of lies, half-truths and garbled logic. I prefer Mat Ridley’s review: ‘…one of the best science books in years…’
Command and Control, Eric Schlosser, ISBN 978-0-141-03791-2
A chilling account of the 1980 Titan ICBM disaster in Damascus, Arkansas, interleaved with a general history of Cold War nuclear incidents that makes you realise that we are all actually quite lucky to be still alive. Reads like a thriller, and puts climate change alarmism in perspective since it illustrates where the existential threat truly lies (coronavirus exempted, of course).
Atomic Accidents – A history of nuclear meltdowns and disasters from the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima, James Mahaffey, ISBN 978-1-60598-680-7
Okay, so I admit it, I have morbid tastes. Even so, this is fascinating stuff written by a nuclear engineer who clearly knows his business. He also writes with a wicked, dry gallows humour that I found most beguiling.
Behave – The biology of humans at our best and worst, Robert Sapolsky, ISBN 978-0-09957-506-1
A tour de force account of the factors that determine our behaviour, including the neurological, hormonal, genetic, cultural and evolutionary. Hugely illuminating and thought-provoking. After I read it I was still a twat, but at least I now know why.
The Origins of Virtue, Matt Ridley, ISBN 0-14-024404-2
A bit long in the tooth now, but this book would still serve as a good appetiser to reading ‘Behave’. I include this book in my list, not so much because it has something vitally import to say, but because it says it in a way that serves as an exemplar to all wannabe science writers.
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea – Evolution and the meanings of life, Daniel C. Dennett, ISBN 0-14-016734-X
I include this book in my list, not so much because it serves as an exemplar to all wannabe science writers but because it has something vitally import to say. The latest Dennett that I am reading is ‘From Bacteria to Bach and Back Again’, but the jury is still out on that one.
The Black Hole War, Leonard Susskind, ISBN 978-0-316-01641-4
A first-hand account of the long-running scientific debate between the author and Stephen Hawking regarding black holes and their implications for entropy and information. Also provides the best account I have read so far regarding the holographic principle in cosmology (and sad to admit, I’ve read quite a few). Oh, and did I say it is all written in a very accessible style?
The Book of Why – The New Science of Cause and Effect, Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie, ISBN 978-0-141-98241-0
This book inspired the writing of my most recent posting: A Brief Primer on Causality. There are very few books that I would class as life-changing. This is one of them. Read it and then wow them all at your next bring-your-own-causation party.
How Not to be Wrong – The hidden maths of everyday life, Jordon Ellenberg, ISBN 978-0—19604-2
The best book I have read on statistics and how they can mislead. Works very well as a companion to ‘The Book of Why’.
The Music of the Primes – Why an unsolved problem in mathematics matters, Marcus de Sautoy, ISBN 1-84115-579-9
Who knew prime numbers could be so intriguing? When one reads something like this one can’t help but feel that maths is far cleverer than any of us.
The Hidden Reality – Parallel Universes and the deep laws of the cosmos, Brian Greene, ISBN 978-0-141-02981-8
Brian Greene is one of my favourite science writers and this is probably his best one yet. If you truly are in need of a mind-fuck, then look no further. This stuff brings it home to you that science provides far more scope for wonderment and bafflement, and raises far more deep questions, than any religion.
Not Exactly – In praise of vagueness, Kees Van Deemter, ISBN 978-019-964573-2
Vagueness is an often overlooked aspect of uncertainty. This thoughtful book provides a well-written background to the philosophy of vagueness, its paradoxes and the efforts that have been made to solve them. Perhaps a bit niche for some, but I liked it.
The Strangest Man – The hidden life of Paul Dirac quantum genius, Graham Farmello, ISBN 978-0-571-22286-5
Paul Dirac is my hero.
To the above list I should add a number of books that are considered classics in their genre. If you haven’t already read them, then now is the perfect opportunity to do so:
- The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins
- The Character of Physical Law, Richard Feynman
- The Stuff of thought, Steven Pinker
- In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat, John Gribbin
- The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb
- Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
That’s probably enough to be going on with now. As I say, you might want to join in and add a few of your own recommendations.