Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Notable Science Books of 2007?

I was browsing the NYTimes list of the 100 notable books of 2007 and was surprised to note that only one science book is included on that list! This is even more amazing when you realize that Natalie Angier, who wrote The Canon (a book that I reviewed but didn’t like), was not even included in the list and she is a science writer for the Times!

Of course, it is difficult to know what is truly “notable” but I will assume that it can be used interchangeably with “best”. That said, there are some other lists of the best 100 books of 2007, such as Amazon, and they include science books, so what is the NYTimes’ problem?

Okay, admitedly, there weren’t as many wonderful science books published in 2007 as there were in say, 2006, however, that said, that should not be interpreted to imply that there were NO notable science books published in 2007 — quite the opposite. For example, here is my suggested list of “notable” science books from those I’ve reviewed so far this year;

Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver by Arthur Allen (NYC: Norton; 2007) [a fabulously well-written, researched and balanced book — my review not yet finished, but it is coming!]

Peterson Reference Guides: Gulls of the Americas by Steve N. G. Howell and Jon Dunn (NYC: Houghton-Mifflin, 2007) [my review.]

The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian by Heather Ewing (NYC: Bloomsbury; 2007) [my review.]

Cloning: A Beginner’s Guide by Aaron Levine (Oxford, England: OneWorld Publications; 2007) [my review.]

Birder’s Conservation Handbook: 100 North American Birds At Risk, by Jeffrey Wells (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; 2007) [my review.]

And a few other books that I have not yet read, including;

The Snoring Bird: My Family’s Journey Through a Century of Biology by Bernd Heinrich (NYC: HarperCollins; 2007) [I was given a copy of this book by a reader of mine, but I have not yet finished reading it. Since I have loved all of Bernd’s books, I’ll bet I will love this one, too, and so it will probably get a good review from me in the next week or so.]

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster; 2007). [I do not yet own a copy of this book and was completely unaware of its existence until a friend (who is a published book author himself) checked it out from the library a week ago and has been raving to me about it ever since. I have added this book to my wishlist based on his assessment of it.]

And one more book, which is one of the best science books I’ve ever read;

The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong by Donald Kroodsma (NYC: Houghton-Mifflin; 2006, paperback; 2007) [I own two copies of this book, one in hardback and one in paperback. I have been so impressed and astonished with the overall quality of this book (with everything from the writing and the organization of the book, to the quality of the illustrations and the included CD, to even the quality of the paper it’s printed on, but hey, that’s Houghton-Mifflin for you: first class all the way!) that I’ve not been able to write a coherent review about it. I don’t want to drool with envy on my blog, but alas, the holidays are coming so I must finish this review for you because it is simply one of the best science books I’ve ever read and I think you all will agree with me.]

Books I am currently reading along with a one sentence impression (not all about science);

Speciation in Birds by Trevor Price (Greenwood Village, CO: Roberts and Company; 2007) [halfway finished — beautifully illustrated, wonderfully written, and interesting — first class all the way! — even though it is technical, it is just so excellent.]

Goodnight, Texas by William J Cobb (Denver, CO: Unbridled Books; 2006) [nearly finished — amusing story of an unlikely love triangle being played out in the face of an approaching hurricane, and I really like the author’s style and voice.]

The Snoring Bird: My Family’s Journey Through a Century of Biology by Bernd Heinrich (NYC: HarperCollins; 2007) [just started it.]

The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe by Chris Impey (NYC: Random House; 2007) [review due after its official publication date of 18 December 2007.]

Just arrived;

The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness by Jeff Warren (NYC: Random House; 2007) [not yet released, haven’t started reading it, either.]

So, since the holidays are coming, I am very interested to know which books you’d add to a “Notable science books in 2007” list? I am also interested in “notable science books from 2007 for children”. Please add them here in comments — so your fellow readers can benefit from your insights and, who knows? Maybe the NYTimes will read your comments and rethink their list?


  1. #1 Chris
    November 27, 2007

    When I read that list it says it was published in December 3 of 2000

    Published: December 3, 2000
    This list has been selected from books reviewed since the Holiday Books issue of December 1999. It is meant to suggest some of the high points in this year’s fiction and poetry, nonfiction, children’s books, mysteries and science fiction. The books are arranged alphabetically under genre headings. The complete reviews of these books may be found at The New York Times on the Web: ”

    Wrong link?

  2. #3 "GrrlScientist"
    November 27, 2007

    yikes! you’re right! however, they STILL don’t include any science books (or bird books for that matter) in the nonfiction section. it’s discouraging how little the NYTimes has changed in seven years!

  3. #4 Albatrossity
    November 27, 2007

    I am a reviewer for Choice, the journal of the American Library Association that is devoted to book reviews (to allow librarians to make semi-rational choices for collection development or expansion). One of the areas that I review for them is the creation/evolution controversy. I got several of those to review this year, but the winner, by a large margin, was Sahotra Sarkar’s Doubting Darwin. It is a very readable integration of history, philosophy, biology, mathematics, and insight into the creationist and born-again creationist (IDist) movements. Highly recommended!

  4. #5 "GrrlScientist"
    November 27, 2007

    oh cool! thanks for the recommendation! i haven’t even heard about that book, but i added it to my wishlist and am eagerly anticipating reading (and reviewing) it.

  5. #6 Kurt
    November 27, 2007

    Along those same lines, there were several books about the Dover ID trial that were published in 2007, including Monkey Girl by Edward Humes. I think PZ posted a review of that one earlier this year.

  6. #7 Brenda Best
    November 28, 2007

    Silence of the Songbirds by Bridget Stutchbury. Just finished reading it and was amazed and depressed. It’s Silent Spring all over again. Or, I should say “still.” Did we not learn anything from Rachel Carson? This book explains in plain English why our birds are declining and exactly what we can do personally to help. The depressing part – if windows, towers, cats, and pesticides are causing the deaths of millions of birds EACH, it’s a wonder we still have ANY birds left.

  7. #8 "GrrlScientist"
    November 28, 2007

    kurt; i have read a book about the Dover ID trial but now that i look for the book on my shelves so i can tell you about it, i cannot find it! however, it was well-written and well-researched, as the author was both an observer at the trial and also used court transcripts to write it.

    thanks for the book recommendation, brenda. i added it to my wishlist.

  8. #9 woodsygal
    November 28, 2007

    I just started THE WILD TREES by Richard Preston – can’t put it down. Published in April 2007. Richard Preston’s website says it “unfolds the spellbinding story of Steve Sillett and Marie Antoine, who found a lost world above California, dangerous, hauntingly beautiful, and unexplored.

    The deep redwood canopy is a vertical Eden filled hanging gardens of ferns, reefs of lichens, small animals, and all sorts of plants, including thickets of huckleberry bushes and small trees actually growing on the branches of giant redwoods. There are massive redwood limb systems fused into flying buttresses and carved into “fire caves.” Thick layers of soil sitting on limbs harbor animal and plant life unknown to science. Humans move through the deep canopy suspended on ropes, far out of sight of the ground, knowing that the price of a small mistake may be a plunge to one’s death.”

  9. #10 Mark Egger
    November 28, 2007

    Two excellent books I’d add to the list:

    1. The new “Birds of Peru” (the one published by Princeton Univ. Press) by Schulenberg et al. is one of the top 5 best avian field guides ever published, in my opinion. In the works for several decades, this book is the product of some of the top bird artists and neotropical ornithologists in the world, and their expertise AND their loving devotion to the subject matter are evident on every page. The carefully rendered and beautifully printed plates are nothing short of amazing and set a new standard for bird illustration. The book finally provides us with a Grade A field guide to this relatively small country possessing perhaps the richest and most diverse avifauna in the world.

    2. My other favorite science book of the year is “The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution” by Sean B. Carroll. This book, as the name implies, clearly and powerfully presents the proof of the theory of evolution as documented in the development of organismal genomes and their expression through embryological development. It is very well written and presents complex ideas clearly without “dumbing” them down. The book also shreds “intelligent design” arguments to more devastating effect than any other books I’ve read with the possible exception of those of the great Richard Dawkins. It’s a stimulation read!

  10. #11 M. D. Vaden of Oregon
    November 11, 2008

    Post #9 listed The Wild Trees.

    It has no photographs, but is a good read. There is now a webpage that readers of The Wild Trees can use to see some of the trees and what they look like:

    Same ones named in the book like Screaming Titans, Adventure Tree, Atlas Tree and Illuvatar.

    Van Pelt has a book called Forest Giants of the Pacific Northwest, but it lacks the story element that The Wild Trees has.

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