Our next ’10 Great Books’ list has been generously provided by Renée Webster. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Hons.) in Chemistry from the University of Western Australia in 2005. Since then she has applied her chemical skills and knowledge to a variety of fields including environmental science, food chemistry, air quality and forensics. Renée specialises in analytical chemistry and instrumental analysis, with particular emphasis on gas chromatography and advanced molecular separation techniques. Renée currently works for the Australian government researchingthe chemistry of transportation fuels and is also completing her PhD at Monash University. @reneewebs
1. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
A fascinating read by possibly the greatest science communicator of our time. The list of logical fallacies (aka ‘Baloney Detection Kit’) is an excellent introduction to critical thinking and recognising poorly made arguments.
2. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence for Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design – Richard Dawkins
The first ‘proper’ science book I ever read, when I was about 15. I found the book so fascinating that I remember trying to get my Biology teacher to talk about it at school, but she wouldn’t because we had an evangelical Christian in the class who had previously caused a kerfuffle when we were trying to learn about evolution.
3. Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation – Lynne Truss
Basic writing skills are critical for clear and concise communication. Scientific and technical writing too often suffers from ambiguity and lack of clarity due to poor English skills. This book is a funny and informative guide to the correct use of punctuation.
An excellent, hugely entertaining and easy to read account of the history of the chemical elements. A line from the book sums it up perfectly “the periodic table is filled with rich, unpredictable stories if you know where to look”
Similar in style to The Disappearing Spoon, the best parts of this book are the author’s accounts of trying to recreate some of the historical experiments which led to the discovery of new elements.
6. Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History – Penny Le Coulter & Jay Burreson
This is the next book I will be reading for the online science book club #scibook (background here). From the blurb “the fascinating account of seventeen groups of molecules that have greatly influenced the course of history”
7. Fantastic Voyage – Isaac Asimov
Although I don’t read a lot of fiction, I could’ve included in this list almost everything written by Asimov, Verne and Wells. This one is special as the first ‘classic science fiction’ I ever read. The scientific considerations in this book of how to shrink a human being is my idea of what proper science fiction should be.
8. Nature of the Chemical Bond and the Structure of Molecules and Crystals – Linus Pauling
A book I have been meaning to read ever since I was an undergraduate, but still have not gotten around to it. Possibly the most important and well-regarded book ever written in the field of Chemistry. While writing this, I searched the library catalogue and found there is a copy sitting in the shelves <100m from where I am. Here’s hoping I’ll have it on loan by the time you read this!
9. The Periodic Table – Primo Levi
In this emotional book, the author recounts his experiences as a Jewish chemist under the Fascist regime of Italy. Each chapter is named after an element which is weaved into the story.
10. Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed by Carl Zimmer and Wonderful Life with the Elements – Bunpei Yorifuji
I’m squishing these two books into one entry because they are both primarily picture books. The first is a collection of science-themed tattoos, many with accompanying stories. The second is a quirky and whimsical rendering of the elements as people, with their physical characteristics corresponding to an aspect of their chemistry.