Thursday, January 22, 2009

Science Book Bliss

A break from uni and work has allowed me the delight of reading science just for fun. Two books (one I've finished, the other I've just started) are particularly recommended.

The first is "Microcosm: E. coli and the new science of life" by Carl Zimmer. Zimmer is a blogger (The Loom, associated with Discover Magazine) and science journalist, whose previous books include "Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea" and "Soul Made Flesh".

"Microcosm" gives a thorough overview of the evolution and functional diversity of E. coli, exploring its relation to humans and other species (as friend and foe) and the history of our understanding of the bacterium. But more significantly, Zimmer uses E. coli as a springboard to survey much beside, including cell biology, horizontal gene transfer, creationism (and its new disguise, "intelligent design"), astrobiology and the role of viruses in genetic diversity. It is written with passion and flair, and includes a comprehensive index, endnotes and bibliography, giving it great value for both biologists and general readers.

Recently, Zimmer gave a lecture on his book, podcast by Scientific American. Listen to Part 1 and Part 2.

The second book, of which I'm only just scratching the surface, I will write about in more detail when I've finished reading. It's "The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance and Strangeness of Insect Societies"by Bert Hölldobler and the wondrous E.O. Wilson.

One of Hölldobler and Wilson's previous books, a massive monograph titled "The Ants", won them a Pulitzer Prize. This book mainly focuses on ants in its exploration of eusocial species. The book throws the reader head-first into a reignited debate on group selection. The understated style belies what is really quite controversial material.

Anyway, more soon. Only a few hundred more pages to go...


Paul Steckler said...

The earth itself is a super-organism -- or so says The Gaia Hypothesis.

I think I may have a super-organism
growing betweeen my toes. Yuck.

Back in Sydney ...

Anonymous said...

As a mature student myself I'm interested in how you have gone from a degree in English, over to the Sciences... intriguing blog.

Margaret said...

Ever since I was a child I've felt pulled between literature and creative writing, and science, although when I was young, I had no idea one was supposed to make a choice. When I left school, the decision to study Arts and Law was almost the result of flipping a coin--I could very easily have gone into Biomedical Science. I suppose in recent years I've made the decision to fulfil the ancient passion I felt when I was a nerdy little kid peering down her microscope.

I see you are a writer. Are you studying that now? Have you also had a change in direction?

Anonymous said...

Sounds interesting Margaret, sadly I've too much science at work and tend to avoid it in my readings at home.

Margaret said...

David, what is this strange thing of which you speak? "Too... much... science..."??

No, sorry, makes no sense. ;)