Texts on the beach: What scientists recommend for summer reading

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Once they've plowed through their monthly stack of technical journals, which books do science and engineering professionals read for fun? And which books did they love as youngsters? We asked several of them to name their favorite beach reads over the years, both novels and nonfiction with scientific themes.

Former astronaut Mae C. Jemison says she always has a book on hand. When crafting her list for Post readers, she selected books that aren't super famous but ones that she feels should be bestsellers. They all provoked her to think more broadly, she says, and are written by authors who are generalists, not scientists, offering perhaps a more accessible style for nonspecialists. "Above all, I wish I could read them again for the first time," she says of her choices.

If you're expecting a lot of titles by Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov, you may be surprised. Many of our scientists didn't put even one sci-fi pick on their list. (Primatologist Jane Goodall mentions J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" as her favorite read.) As volcano expert Chris Waythomas explains it, "Real science has enough twists and turns for me."

Send the name of your favorite science read -- fiction or nonfiction -- to health-science@washpost.comand we'll run a list of the most popular ones in time for the last weekend of summer.

-- Rachel Saslow

Ken Denmead, a civil engineer and editor of Wired magazine's GeekDad blog, is the author of "Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share," which was published in May.


-- "The City and the Stars" by Arthur C. Clarke (1999). "This novella by one of the greats of science fiction catches me with its wistful but optimistic tone about a future where humans have programmed themselves to fear the unknown, but also to create the agent of their liberation."

-- "Red Mars," by Kim Stanley Robinson (1993). "This is the powerful start to a series of novels exploring the politics, emotions and science behind dealing with a quickly collapsing environment on Earth, while trying to start over on a new world with secrets of its own."


-- "The Cartoon Guide to Physics" by Larry Gonick (1991). "Gonick's take on teaching chemistry through humor is a great way to get kids actually interested in science."

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