We’d like to thank Dr Christine Jasoni for this week’s entry into the 10 Great Books series.
Christine Jasoni was born and raised in coastal Northern California, which helps explain her deep-seated love of fog and redwoods. She has undergraduate degrees in Biology and Mathematics from the University of California, and a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Washington. Her PhD study was one of the first to discover the role of transcription factor cascades in the formation of neural cells in the retina. Christine is currently a senior lecturer in Anatomy at the University of Otago. She is the Director of the Otago Neuroscience degree programme, the president of the Otago Institute (a regional branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand), and a member of council for the Royal Society of New Zealand. Her research group investigates how a mother’s health during pregnancy affects the long-term mental health and behaviour of her offspring, with particular focus on eating disorders and schizophrenia. In addition to research and teaching, Christine has a passion for science communication that is borne out of her passion for doing science – the joy of discovery, the elegance of the scientific process, the thrill of innovation, the delight of igniting the passion in young people, and the gratification of ultimately improving peoples’ lives and making the world a better place.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville – A phenomenal novel rife with pure literary genius. Set in the backdrop of whaling adventure, it is a brilliant illustration of man’s struggle with confronting nature and himself. Much as a scientist must do both theoretically and practically.
Magister Ludi (The Glass Bead Game) by Hermann Hesse – I read this when I was quite young and could think of nothing more fantastic than being able to live in Castalia, to be recognized for power of mind and intellect and for an ability to merge art and science in unimaginable ways. Yeh, sure it’s a school for boys, but I like boy things even though I’m a girl. It seemed perfect. As an older person the book takes on entirely different meaning as the main character first enjoys, but later struggles with the limited impact of his world – a great metaphor for the current crisis in public engagement with science.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – This has to be the be-all end-all of schoolboy genetic engineering pranks gone horribly awry, with wonderful adventure, romance, and an interesting allusion to the perils of playing god, something that geneticists and neuroscientists are confronted with increasingly in modern science. Fun to read, fun to think about and the usual rockin’ Atwood prose.
Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstatder – For the same reason I loved Magister Ludi. And the joy of the brain too! Probably why I became a Neuroscientist.
Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke – Brilliant! Overlords – purely altruistic creatures (or are they?) who look after the hapless humans. I loved how they agglomerated the human children into a super being, and how their own body shape, resembling that of the western devil (although perhaps a bit biblical for me), brilliantly drove home the contrast between their seemingly benevolent actions and the underlying alien intent.
The Geek Manifesto by Mark Henderson – Parenthetic title ‘why science matters.’ Do I need to say any more. Great book. Great examples. Very motivating if you’re even remotely considering becoming a better science communicator, and perhaps even more important if you’re not.
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut – A lovely tale of a man and his dog, traveling the galaxy fitting together the truths of the universe. Human existence, purpose, place all challenged. Great metaphor. Great prose.
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins – Not sure what to say about this one. Magnificent. Affirming. Confirming. Motivating. Brilliant. And the first in a long line of exquisite works.
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life by Daniel Dennett – Delightfully clever and ruthlessly accurate! This is logical argument ad infinitum at its best. Need tuition in arguing the point? This one’s for you.
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury – OMG – What a collection! Tattoos come to life and tell gripping, fantastic stories. Fantasy science fiction galore. Format great for a busy researchers’ schedule.