Written by Jonathan Flynn
Science communication as a career and hobby as we see it today would be nothing were it not for the journalists, scientists and researchers who took it upon themselves to bring the news and happenings of the scientific community, often seen as technical and inaccessible to outsiders, to the world at large. For many of us here at Spark Science, the works of these authors are what inspired us to go into science in the first place. That is why I have decided to deviate from the usual opinion piece you read every week and pay a small tribute to these writers by sharing with you the top science fiction and nonfiction books as chosen by the Spark Science audio and writing team!
- The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood by Dr. David Montgomery. “I love this book because it applies geology to lore and mythology. It is astounding how many natural phenomena are not only intertwined in religion and mythology, but are explained by modern geologic events or processes we witness today.” -Andra Nordin, Audio Engineer.
- Cosmos by Carl Sagan. “Beautifully written and poetic approach to the wonders of the universe. Scientifically accurate and hopeful about the future, for once.” – Natalie Moore, Chief Audio Engineer and Assistant Producer.
- Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. “Carson basically began science communication with her writing. This book is so compelling and accessible, and it really allows the everyday reader to understand the consequences of our impact on the environment.” -Tori Highley, Scheduling and Production Assistant
- Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. “It’s a historical account of Mary Anning, who discovered some amazing fossils in the UK in the early 1800s.” -Sarah Francis, Graduate Student Blogger. She also says that anything by Jane Goodall is a must!
- Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. I can’t recommend this story enough, and the movie is just as good. It tells the story of three “human computers” named Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson who, amidst many other incredible feats of mathematics, worked on calculating John Glenn’s flight path by hand. Recommended by our host Dr. Regina Barber DeGraaff!
- For our last nonfiction book, I’d have to say that Carl Sagan’s Billions and Billions is my personal favorite. It helped me come to terms with my departure from Catholicism when I was in high school, and Carl Sagan’s elegance, passion and optimism for the universe ultimately pushed me to become a student of science. It is my go-to recommendation for anyone looking to have their worldview challenged while learning a lot about the philosophy of science.
Honorable mentions from the author: Failure Is Not An Option by Gene Kranz (the flight director of Apollo 13); A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson; On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It’s probable that most of you have read it already, but nonetheless, it deserves a mention here. It tells the story of a young genius named Ender who is sent to a zero-G battle school to help defend Earth against the next attack from “the buggers”, a mysterious insectoid species from beyond the solar system. “Page-turning, quick read, and interesting character study in an alien warfare setting.” -Natalie
- The Last Question, a short story by Isaac Asimov. “This short story presents basically the coolest science fiction explanation for the birth of the universe. It throws a lot of wrenches at you and then quickly starts to tie together. You just have to read it to find out.” -Andra
- A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony. “This book starts a fantastic sci-fi/fantasy series. It puts a scientist in a fantasy world and shows what this looks like to the fantasy creatures. It’s also full of puns and great observations about the world, and later books in the series are just as great.” – Tori
- Tori also recommends A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle. “This book opened my eyes to physics and the wonders of the universe. It brings fascinating ideas to life, and it shows how including different kinds of people can really be important in doing great and vitally important things. The entire series is a great read.”
- Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Robot series. These were recommended by Dr. Regina Barber DeGraaff, and I have to say, these are two of the best out there. If you are just beginning your foray into science fiction and space operas, Asimov is the perfect place to start.
- Last but certainly not least, my pick is The Martian by Andy Weir. It is an incredible story of isolation, problem solving and survival that changed the way I approach challenges in science and beyond. The audiobook is great for long car rides, and the movie is just as good!
Special mention: the Dune series by Frank Herbert. I’m also going to plug his son’s work, which has filled the gaps that his father left after his death. Like Foundation, it is a galaxy-wide story filled with political intrigue, backroom assassinations and planetary domination. I’m currently working my way through the entire series, which constitutes 23(!) books intertwined with short stories that give even more depth to an incredible universe.