Thursday, June 28, 2007

Summer Reading Suggestions from Science

Science asked contributors and scientists for their summer reading suggestions (subscription required). There were several about fictional - and non-fictional - women scientists. Descriptions are from

Science editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy recommends Allegra Goodman's Intuition, noting that several characters "are modeled closely enough on players in widely known cases to encourage identification."

[. . .] a struggling cancer lab at Boston's Philpott Institute becomes the stage for its researchers' personalities and passions, and for the slippery definitions of freedom and responsibility in grant-driven American science. When the once-discredited R-7 virus, the project of playboy postdoc Cliff, seems to reduce cancerous tumors in mice, lab director Sandy Glass insists on publishing the preliminary results immediately, against the advice of his more cautious codirector, Marion Mendelssohn. The research team sees a glorious future ahead, but Robin, Cliff's resentful ex-girlfriend and co-researcher, suspects that the findings are too good to be true and attempts to prove Cliff's results are in error. The resulting inquiry spins out of control. With subtle but uncanny effectiveness, Goodman illuminates the inner lives of each character, depicting events from one point of view until another section suddenly throws that perspective into doubt.
Science news editor Colin Norman recommends William Boyd's Brazzaville Beach.
Hope Clearwater lives alone in a beach house in an unnamed African country, trying to patch together her shattered life. An ecologist, she had come to Africa to participate in primate research and to heal the deep wounds of her marriage to a brilliant English mathematician; but she soon found herself plunged into another crisis, one that threatened not only her career but also her life. In a book packed with scientific and mathematical metaphors, Boyd explores how people create, defend, ignore, or subvert the belief systems that govern their lives. If on one level this is an intellectual thriller, on another it is very much an exciting and riveting adventure story, and on yet another a subtle examination of the power grid of personal relationships.
Vera Rubin, Senior Fellow in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, D.C., recommends Kim Todd's Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis.
Metamorphosis has long fascinated humankind, but few people more than Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717), who spent her life illustrating this mysterious process in insects. Merian grew up in Germany, married, had two daughters, left her husband to join a Labadist (pietist) community in West Friesland, moved to Amsterdam and, at age 52, traveled to Surinam to search for insects. Beyond that, little is known about this remarkable woman except for a few letters and her beautiful engravings and watercolors, most of them published in her books on insect metamorphosis. Todd (Tinkering with Eden) fleshes out her biography with colorful descriptions of Merian's world and the people she knew, emphasizing that she was as exceptional in her art as in her life. Unlike other naturalists at the time, she depicted insects together with their host plants, an innovation that influenced many later 18th-century students of insect life. Merian fell out of favor in the 19th century, but today, when scientists have come to appreciate the importance of environment to insect development, her star is rising again. Todd's vivid account should do much to further the renewed interest in this unusual woman and her pioneering approach to insect illustration.
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Anonymous said...

Some interesting selections - it's interesting to see the growth of so-called "lab lit."