The UBC Popular Science Book Club


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Below is information about the books we read before we moved our pages to the wiki:


Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking  by Malcolm Gladwell.  This is a short book about how strongly our first impressions and subconscious biases affect our judgments, and how we can make these more of an advantage and less of a hindrance.


Uncorked: the Science of Champagne, by Gerard Liger-Belair.  (For the end-of-summer meeting, the date hasnšt been set.)  This beautifully produced and written little book (only 133 small double-spaced pages) is a delight.  We drank some very expensive champagne when we discussed it, which we swear did not affect our judgement.


On Food and Cooking: the science and lore of the kitchen (2nd edition 2004), by Harold McGee.  We each read a chapter or two of this encyclopedic book.  Our enthusiastic reporting on the cool things wešd learned made our meeting quite a bit longer than usual.  This is a great book to have on hand whenever you wonder about the food youšre cooking or eating.


What Remains to be Discovered: Mapping the Secrets of the Universe, the Origins of Life, and the Future of the Human Race, by John Maddox.  Sir John Maddox was the editor of Nature, the 125-year-old journal that is among the most influential in science, for 22 years -- from 1966-73, and from 1980-95.  Not surprisingly he's an excellent writer, and his summaries of the various fields of science are perfect for those of us whose knowledge of fields other than our own has faded with time.  Although this is probably a bit over the heads of most of the general public, it would be a good gift for a student beginning university-level science.  Selected chapters would also be good as assigned readings in some courses.


Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century, by Howard Bloom. Kevin Kelly of WIRED magazine describes this book as "a soaring song of songs about the amorous origins of the world, and its almost medieval urge to copulate. "  After reading it wešre divided; some agree and some think it more akin to scientific pornography.  Not because the book is actually mainly about sex, but rather because of its breathlessly superficial tone and the liberties it takes with scientific phenomena and explanations.  On the other hand, it's captivating and thought-provoking, and will help readers get excited about science.


The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas S. Kuhn.

This book, first published in 1962, is where the phrase "paradigm shift" originated.  It's a little book (167 pages) that's had a big influence on how we think about doing science.  Amazon says 1-2 months for delivery (try their used book dealers), but the various UBC libraries have many copies, and VPL has three.  Greg Bole will host.


How Brains Think: evolving intelligence, then and now, by William H. Calvin

(Discussed Dec. 13)  (Sadly, Rosie delayed updating this page for so long that she canšt remember what we thought of this book.)


The Log from the Sea of Cortez, by John Steinbeck (and Ed Ricketts)

This is the journal of a 1940 collecting trip to Baja California that John Steinbeck took with the marine biologist Ed Ricketts (Rickets was the model for "Doc" in Steinbeck's Cannery Row, and a biography of him has just been published).  Steinbeck clearly did the writing, but Rickets did much of the thinking.  Here's a link to an article about retracing this trip, from The Los Angeles Times.


The Big Splat, or How our Moon Came to Be, by Dana Mackenzie

Discussed Sept. 27.  We agreed with the reviewers - not only did we enjoy learning much more about the history of our planet and its moon, but we felt that the book does a great job of introducing many of the big issues about how science is done.


Guns, Germs and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond, Discussed August 30.  This big book is very well written; he makes his points very clearly with an abundance of interesting evidence.  However in some cases the evidence is more anecdotal than we were comfortable with.


Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine.

This is a very enjoyable read about a BBC-sponsored project to film endangered species; great for the beach or the sundeck.  It also provides a painless introduction to all the big ideas and issues of ecology, so it would make a great gift for fans of Douglas Adams' science fiction.


Mapping the Deep: the extraordinary story of ocean science, by Robert Kunzig. We hadn't realized how ignorant we were about most of the earth's surface.  This is a delight to read.


Trilobite!, by Richard Fortey.  Discussed April 26 2004

Who would have suspected that trilobites were so wonderful (except Lynn)?  We especially liked the section about their vision.  And the book is very well-written.


The Universe on a T-shirt, by Dan Falk.  Discussed March 1 2004

We liked this book.  It gives a simple easy-to-understand overview of the progress physics has made towards finding a 'theory of everything'.  Rosie was left with the pleasant misconception that she understands string theory.


How the Mind Works, by Steven Pinker.   Discussed Jan. 19, 2004

Most of us didn't get through this big book, but we enjoyed what we read, and Greg led a stimulating discussion of the parts the rest of us hadn't gotten to yet.


The skeptical environmentalist : measuring the real state of the world by Bjorn Lomborg.  Dec. 8, 2003.

This book got us nicely stirred up.  We disagreed about how much confidence we should place in his information, but agreed that seeing two extremes of an issue was much better than seeing one.  Our discussion of where we should put our efforts to improve the environment kept returning to the need for everyone to reduce their consumption, and then foundering on the conspicuous display of consumables on the table in front of us (not to mention the SUVs in our garages).  Here's the text of a speech by Michael Crichton discussing the extent to which our environmentalism arises from a religion-like belief system rather than from real science.


Unweaving the Rainbow  by Richard Dawkins.

Oct. 27, 2003.  Suggested and presented by Ellen Rosenberg.  We liked it a lot, with the exception of his extended diatribe against Steven J. Gould.


            Linked:  The new science of networks by Albert- Laszlo Barabasi.

            September 2003.  Suggested and presented by Joann Nakonechny. 


Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny Le Couteur.

Suggested and presented by Carol Pollock.  We enjoyed the content and the very clear easy-to-follow writing.  Much of the material will be very useful for teaching.


Jacobson's Organ by Lyall Watson

July 21, 2003.  Suggested and presented by Jolie Mayer-Smith.  We enjoyed this book; it gives a whole new meaning to 'first impressions'.


A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons by Robert Sapolsky

June 16, 2003. Suggested and presented by Rosie Redfield

We loved this book.  It has become required reading for all incoming Science One students, and will probably inspire all of them to become field biologists.


Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

Presented by Kathy Nomme

April 28, 2003.  This isn't a very 'scientific' book, but as scientists we enjoyed it very much.


The Secret Life of Dust: From the Cosmos to the Kitchen Counter, the Big Consequences of Little Things by Hannah Holmes

March 10 2003, presented by Lynn (sorry I forget your last name).

This is a wonderful book.


The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

Feb. 10 2003, presented by Ellen Rosenberg.

This is wonderful too.


The Map that Changed the World by Simon Winchester

Jan. 12 2003, presented by Rosie Redfield

Our opinions:  Not very much science at all.  Mostly history.


Books that sound interesting (we might decide to read them soon):


Why So Slow: the Advancement of Women, by Virginia Valian.


Deep Simplicity: Chaos, Complexity and the Emergence of Life, by John Gribbin


A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson


Uncle Tungsten, by Oliver Sacks


Y, the Descent of Men, by Steve Jones


The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: the New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, by R. Wright


The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule, by Michael Schermer and Dennis McFarland


The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, by Brian Greene


The New Humanists: Science at the Edge, by John Brockman


Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love, by Dava Sobel


Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell



Links to lists of popular science books (from Ellen Rosenberg):


Danny Yee's Book Reviews


From Laurence A. Marschall's Writing about Science course


Powells' Books' Top Ten



Prize lists for Popular Science books:


The Aventis Prize (formerly the Rhone-Poulenc Prize)



Rosie Redfield maintains this web page; email her (redfield at with any comments or suggestions.