Now that our summer season of sharks, fieldwork, and exploration is beginning to wind down, many of the ASLC researchers are retreating to their offices like bears to their dens. There, we find a never-ending conveyor belt of new papers and information that has piled up over the summer, waiting to be read.
While reading scientific papers does sometimes feel like a full-time job, I try to enjoy reading for fun as well. Often that’s fiction (which has its own frustrations–like waiting for the third book in the Kingkiller Chronicles!!) but often I’m captivated by non-fiction. Stories of real people, their adventures and explorations. So today I thought I’d share some of my favorite science/marine related non-fiction books with you! Feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments!
Moby Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and Of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them
by Donovan Hohn
I recommend this book to everyone. The subtitle for this book just about sums up the funny, insightful and fascinating ride that is reading Moby Duck. It is a great read in light of our current efforts to reduce single-use plastics. The narrator/author has a uniquely grounded, skeptical and curious perspective that comes from being a high school English teacher turned journalist/father/explorer. Each chapter, or “Chase” as he calls them, can be read on its own, making this a great book to pick up and read at your leisure; though if you’re like me it is hard to put down!
My copy now has dog-ears and passages underlined throughout. My favorite of which is smartly on page 2: “But questions, I’ve learned since, can be like ocean currents….Spot a yellow duck dropped atop the seaweed at the tide line, ask yourself where it came from, and the next thing you know you’re way out to sea, no land in sight, dog-paddling around in mysteries four miles deep.”
Reading this book will hopefully take you out to sea.
Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story about Looking at People Looking at Animals in America
by Jon Mooallem
Okay clearly I have a thing for books with quirky subtitles. However, whereas Moby Duck was a rollicking adventure, Wild Ones uses examples of Polar Bears, Butterflies and Whooping Cranes to explore the complex relationship we (humans) have with animals. If you’re looking for a book to stimulate some deep conversations, check this one out!
Braiding Sweet Grass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Full disclosure—I haven’t finished this book. While I was postdocing at University of Alaska Anchorage, our small group of early career researchers decided to start a book club and to focus on books written by a diverse group of authors. We picked Braiding Sweetgrass during a particularly stressful time in my program, so I didn’t prioritize reading it back then. I still have this book on my shelf, waiting patiently to be read. Maybe I can take this recommendation myself and make some time to listen to her story.
I included it on this list because the rest of the group had only glowing reviews, and in particular, highlighted the power of Kimmerer’s voice and the diverse perspectives she shares as a woman, a botanist, and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
So, since I can’t give a review, you’ll just have to settle for a review from the great Jane Goodall: “Robin Wall Kimmerer has written an extraordinary book, showing how the factual, objective approach of science can be enriched by the ancient knowledge of the indigenous people. It is the way she captures beauty that I love the most—the images of giant cedars and wild strawberries, a forest in the rain and a meadow of fragrant sweetgrass will stay with you long after you read the last page.”
by Sean Carroll
I first read this book 12 years ago. I was studying zoology at the University of Northern Michigan and struggling to memorize all mammalian orders from the Aardvark (Tubulidentata) to the Zebra (Perissodactyla). This was NOT the science I’d signed up for—pouring over flashcards and books, spending long hours prepping to regurgitate on a test. Snore.
The book Remarkable Creatures was recommended to me by my faculty mentor, and at first I didn’t want yet another reading assignment. However I quickly found this wasn’t a dry text book—it was an adventure book. Though the overarching theme is about evolution, the stories chronicle the amazing people who have led the history of our understanding of evolution and their quests, discoveries, and explorations. Darwin isn’t the old, scholarly academic but a young man setting off into the unknown, and we are along for the ride.
If you’re interested is history, exploration, or adventure (with a science spin) check out this book!
Written by: Dr. Amy Bishop