Best Books, With Bonus Irony

Like every other media outlet, Slate has a Best Books of 2009 list, in this case featuring one book chosen by each of their 22 editors. Editor in chief Jacob Weisberg chose Richard Holmes’s The Age of Wonder, and writes:

If, like me, you didn’t study much science after high school, this absorbing narrative will make you appreciate the gravity of your mistake. At one level, it is simply an enchanting group biography of the great British discoverers Joseph Banks, Humphrey Davy, and William Herschel, and their relationships with the likes of Keats, Coleridge, Byron and the Shelleys. At another, Holmes’s book is a persuasive plea to heal the pointless breach between the “two cultures” of science and the humanities.

Weisberg’s choice is the only book on the list about science.

Comments

  1. #1 Michael Nielsen
    December 14, 2009

    Even if every one of these publications started putting books about science on their lists, for the most part I’m guessing that the books wouldn’t be all that significant. The problem isn’t the lack of books, it’s that many of the people who do the picking just don’t seem very interested in science. When they do pick a book it’s likely to be something like Holmes’ book. I’m sure “The Age of Wonder” is good book, but I doubt it’s as good as (to pick an example that’s sitting a few inches away from me) Stewart Brand’s book “Whole Earth Discpline”, or any one of dozens of other books that were published this year. But those books are of interest mainly to people who believe that science is important.

  2. #2 Chad Orzel
    December 14, 2009

    Even if every one of these publications started putting books about science on their lists, for the most part I’m guessing that the books wouldn’t be all that significant. The problem isn’t the lack of books, it’s that many of the people who do the picking just don’t seem very interested in science.

    In the specific case of the Slate list, there’s also the fact that they don’t have anyone who covers science per se. Which is a widespread problem in the media– for book-publicity reasons, I was recently trying to come up with a list of people who write about physics at major media outlets, and it gets really difficult after Dennis Overbye at the Times.

  3. #3 brc
    December 14, 2009

    Holmes’s book is better than Brand’s. And there’s the tricky part: is a book about science judged by its literary and research merit or by its appeal to scientists? That is, do we judge books about science based on the criteria set by scientists or by book writers? Those aren’t the same.

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