Comprehensible scientists

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Comprehensible scientists

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des. 11, 2015, 9:38am

I'm currently reading Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle, and I've given to understand On the Origin of Species is easier to read than I had supposed. It seems he was very successful at putting an advanced concept based on enormous research into an easy-to-understand format.

I've previously read Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time and didn't come away with the same conclusion. I've been tempted to sample Einstein's work, but I think I'd have similar trouble with him.

Are there other scientific minds you've encountered who were able to present tough concepts in simple ways that anybody can understand?

des. 11, 2015, 9:52am

Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene is pretty easy to read. Feyman's The Character of Physical Law, Paul Davies The Ghost in the Atom and Watson's classic The Double Helix were all fairly easy going.

But on the whole, when it comes to distilling the complex concepts into something understandable by lay people, I rely on scientific journalism -- of which there are many great ones: David Quamman (biology & genetics), Stephen J. Gould (evolution), Richard Fortey (geology), Jonathan Weiner (evolution). I recently read Brian Greene's Elegant Universe and it took me a couple tries, but I was eventually able to follow along his explanation of string theory.

Amir Aczel just passed away -- he's written on math and physics.

Editat: des. 11, 2015, 11:19am

>2 southernbooklady: I agree with you about scientific journalism. To your list I would add The New Yorker magazine's writer on the environment, Elizabeth Kolbert (The Sixth Extinction).

Oh, and Feynman's Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher

des. 11, 2015, 11:06am

I'll add a favourite author of mine, scientific or otherwise: Gregory Bateson. His writing is not simple but it's eminently readable, and ranges over biology & evolution, anthropology, logic, psychology & psychiatry, and neurology. But that sounds so flat: his work celebrates life and consciousness, I adore almost everything I've read of his.

des. 11, 2015, 11:34am

Four scientists and one scientific journalist along with the Bible and a ton of fiction have served to inform my worldview. They are:

Fritjof Capra -- physicist -- The Tao of Physics
Julian Jaynes -- psychiatrist -- The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bi-Cameral Mind
Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers -- Chemists -- Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue with Nature
Peter Gleick -- Science Journalist -- Chaos: The Making of a New Science

All of these are easy to read and taken together with history and much literary fiction are quite enlightening with regard to the nature of the space in which we live and have our being.

des. 11, 2015, 11:51am

John Gribbin writes books on various science topics for most "average folk" to understand pretty well. I read his Deep Simplicity: Chaos, Complexity and the Emergence of Life a couple years ago and really enjoyed it.

des. 11, 2015, 12:19pm

>5 geneg:

I've read 3 of your 4 listed suggestions, sounds like I should get to the Prigogine-Stengers book eventually, so I'm adding to my recon list.

des. 11, 2015, 1:13pm

>4 elenchus: I love Bateson, but didn't list him for the same reason I didn't list Oliver Sacks or Edward O. Wilson -- each is a bonafide scientist but their writing tends to be wide-ranging and diffuse, rather than centered on a specific theory or concept. Wilson might count, though, for his Sociobiology. Lynn Margulis for Microcosmos. I think she might be a little dated though. I actually got into my first real science fight with my grandfather over her ideas of endosymbiosis. He rejected the whole concept out of hand as ridiculous.

des. 11, 2015, 1:17pm

Comprehensibility can hide some pitfalls...

des. 11, 2015, 1:25pm

>8 southernbooklady:

Good point about Bateson, Wilson, and Sacks being diffuse. The counter to that, I think, is it can avoid the silo effect that so much (over)specialisation tends to have in academia, certainly, and also scientific inquiry. But it is a different species of writing.

I've added he Margulis to my recon list, too!

des. 11, 2015, 7:21pm

In no particular order accessible authors and their important books:
Lisa Randall Warped Passages, one of the most influential books in my library;
William H Calvin The River That Flows Uphill, another;
Murray Gell-Mann The Quark and the Jaguar, yet another;
Alan Guth The Inflationary Universe (it was his idea), yep, another

Easy reader pop-science writers:
Michio Kaku
Carl Sagan
Neil deGrasse Tyson
V.S. Ramachandran
Dava Sobel
Richard E Leakey

With a little more confidence, new sciences of Complexity, Conscilience, and Quantum Biology:
Stuart A Kauffman try At Home in the Universe; not for the fainthearted, Scaling and Phase Transitions in Complex Systems
E O Wilson try Conscilience
Lisa Randall (again!) Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe
McFadden, Johnjoe Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology

You've probably figured out my secret reading vice by now.

des. 11, 2015, 11:58pm

Too many, too many! I'll have to add to my list slowly, after scrolling through some reviews & descriptions of each.

Editat: abr. 23, 2016, 3:13am

I am currently re-reading maybe the best book I've ever read, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann. He says that the reason he wrote it (a comprehensive view beyond his normal specialties) was because no one else was doing so.

Written for the general public on geography, demography, agriculture, language, and other topics, this book more or less shows how recent studies disprove everything we ever learned about pre-Colombian America and its inhabitants.
Among other things, my favorite poem from junior high school--as it was called back then(!)--was Longfellow's 'Evangeline', which started by setting the scene in North America:

"This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss...stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic..."

is not at ALL true. The Americas had been filled with civilizations as, or more, advanced than Western European, mostly for centuries. Among the most unexpected things is that Native Americans modified the land they lived on in every case to make it more livable and productive. Another most remarkable thing is that the Inka civilization, as advanced as it was, had been believed to have no writing system, but recent research now is studying its bunches of knotted strings that are in museums around the world as a writing system based upon how the strings have been organized and tied!

I imagine that it is more widely known that most of the Native American population had died or did die at the time of the settlers from European diseases for which that population had developed at least some immunity.

Mann writes quite clearly on all of these findings. I can't recommend his book more.

abr. 24, 2016, 2:17pm

>13 Diane-bpcb:

I'm intrigued and am adding that one to my recon list, too!

abr. 25, 2016, 7:26am

>13 Diane-bpcb:, I'm currently reading Millenium: A History of the Last Thousand Years which includes a similar thesis. Its author argues that NA and SA civilizations (as well as some in mid and southern Africa) didn't fail from being less advanced so much as due to their isolation, lacking the benefits of interaction with other civilizations around them. He also wrote a book called 1492: The Year the World Began which I think might dovetail nicely with Mann's book.

abr. 25, 2016, 9:00am

Jim Bell's Interstellar Age is a good, (and glowing) account of the entire Voyager mission, which has been going on pretty much as long as I have been alive. It is not a scientific theory book, but it does give a good account of the kinds of problems faced by the mission and the creative way they were solved or work-arounds developed. And it does look at the entire mission, the people involved, the technology developed and discarded, as a kind of grand answer to the question "why explore space?" In that sense it is a compelling, enticing book about an achievement we may take too much for granted.

abr. 25, 2016, 10:06am

>16 southernbooklady:, those missions have long fascinated me ever since I was a kid, and this looks like a really good title; I've made note of it, thanks!

ag. 8, 2016, 9:20pm

Interesting. Might pick that up, but I'm actually in the middle of rereading 1491, I love it so much. But hopefully soon.

ag. 31, 2016, 10:57pm

I don't know why I didn't mention James Gleick. I've read a couple of his "about" science books. He's extremely readable and picks interesting topics that deserve and need attention and writing about in a way the lay public will understand and enjoy.

Two of his that I've read are Chaos: Making a New Science -- I cut my teeth on this one. The other is The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood.

I haven't read, but want to, his two bios of Feynman and Newton.