Science books that excite


NEVER IN my wildest imagination did I think I would read so many science books. Chalk that up to becoming a librarian ten years ago. When I first became a school librarian, I realised my weakest area fell in the sciences. I probably could have hidden this, had I not been working with our Advanced Placement (AP) biology teacher, Maeve O’Donovan, who is the best science teacher I have ever known.

Maeve decided that she would require her AP biology students to read one book a year. (APs are the US equivalent to CAPE). She wanted books with solid biology; I wanted that plus an enjoyable read. And so the search began.

Together, we have devised a stellar AP biology list of 143 books for biology students to choose from so that they can complete Maeve’s assignment of analysing a biology book. Many of Maeve’s students – even the self-confessed non-readers – now read two or three books in the school year because the books on this list are a riveting read for everyone – not just biology students. I am most proud of how this list reflects collaboration between a teacher and a librarian.

Today, I narrow that AP biology list down to my five favourite books. If you want exciting holiday reading, choose one of these books. They’re the next best thing to visiting Jurassic Park.

1. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World by Steve Brusatte – Brusatte, an English paleontologist, manages to create an exciting read that focuses on envisioning dinosaurs and the world they inhabited. The author creates interest by presenting his adventures as a paleontologist, making this somewhat of a dinosaur detective book.

There is so much new information emerging about dinosaurs, and readers can see the layers of development in this extraordinary fun-filled book described as “Captivating … First rate science writing … Superb,” by Publisher’s Weekly.

2. Wooly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creature by Ben Mezrich – Jurassic Park is just around the corner as Mezrich shows in this exciting book about the race to bring back the wooly mammoth. Could an elephant give birth to a wooly mammoth? Yes, it could, and you’ll see how if you read Wooly.

The genetic science is interesting, but what makes this book a winner is how it deals with the ethical issues of bringing back extinct species. In the case of the wooly mammoth, we know that repopulating the tundra areas would help to curb global warming, but what are the ethical implications of recreating extinct species?

This was my best discovery for a science book – or just about any genre of literature last year. Maeve took it home to read over the holiday and messaged me she couldn’t put it down. She says it has everything she teaches in biology.

3. Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of Two Sexes by Gerald N Callahan – The most popular book on Maeve’s AP biology list shows how complicated sexuality is, biologically speaking. Teens are fascinated with this book.

4. The Chimp and the River: How AIDS Emerged from an African Forest by David Quammen – Call Quammen, a journalist, the John Grisham of science writing because his work reads like an exciting, science detective novel. Here, Quammen shows how scientists solved the mystery of where AIDS came from and traced the first case back to a single chimpanzee in an African forest.

This slim book, which was once a chapter in Quammen’s book Spillover, intrigues even the most reluctant reader.

5. The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery – This is one of my personal favourites on the list because it shows both the fascinating life of a sea creature that we once considered to be “low life.” Montgomery’s book is mainly based on an octopus in the Seattle aquarium, but she ventures out of that confining environment to show the life of an octopus in the ocean as well. Most importantly, she deals with the ethical issues of confining a creature such as an octopus, which is the Houdini of the aquatic world.

These are my top five books, but surely you aren’t going to confine me to only five books on a list of 143. Next week, I return with books six through ten on my all-time list of science books designed to entertain and hone those analytical skills in the vacation period.


"Science books that excite"

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