Of late, in preparation for having to teach science like I actually know something about it, I’ve been reading popular science books. Probably I should just sit down with a fifth grade textbook or a GED prep book, but this is SO much more fun and interesting. I’m currently working my way through Timothy Ferris’s “Coming of Age in the Milky Way” which I’m loving–it’s just detailed enough to explain things that I’ve seen glossed over in other books, but superficial enough that I can understand it. (I’m going to have to look into this whole business of triangulation, though, b/c it keeps coming up as the method by which various scientists tried to figure out how far away various planets are from earth–and I absolutely cannot figure out what gets measured that that might give you that distance. I can see how it would work on a flat surface, but I can’t figure out how two people could stand anywhere on the (curved!) surface of the earth and somehow figure out the angle at which their two lines of sight meet a planet. Completely confounding.)
But my very favorit-est of science books written for (and in this case, by) the non-specialist is Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” Partly this is because I love Bill Bryson passionately (someday I’m totally going to hike the Appalachian Trail just because he wrote a book about doing so) and partly because it’s highly entertaining. One of the things I love about Bryson is his eye for absurd/amusing/fascinating facts, and “A Short History” is chock full of them. Plus, it’s really funny — science and humor, it can’t be beat.
I also just finished “Life in the Undergrowth” by David Attenborough which is basically about invertebrates of all kinds and has gorgeous close-up photos of all kinds of creepy crawlies. (I’m betting your average 10-year old boy would groove on these pictures.) Fair warning, though, after I finished the chapter on spiders I had a crazily vivid nightmare in which my mother brought me a giant spider, which escaped and scurried around my bedroom. I finally forced myself to pick it up and found a box to put it in–but the box had some dust and cat-hair in it (as do most things on the floor of my closet), and when I tried to put the spider in, it (the spider) screamed and leaped into the air and all the cat-hair in the box stood on end. (Creepy, right?) At first, I couldn’t find the spider, but then I glanced over my shoulder into a mirror and it was clinging to my back. And when I tried to get it off, it somehow scurried under my shirt (it just gets worse and worse, doesn’t it?) and clamped onto my lower back. And when I woke up, I could still feel it on my back. I had to lie perfectly still for about five minutes before I convinced myself that I could roll over without squishing anything. *shudder* So, on second thought, maybe I don’t recommend this book. Definitely read the Bryson, though. It’s never given me nightmares, and I’ve read it two or three times.