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Stories of science

By in Opinions

The topic of science isn’t just for textbooks and dry academic papers. Popular science books are gracing reading lists from Goodreads to The New York Times. Here are a few books that you can crack open for a gander.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

Through a collection of stories about the microbes that are a critical part of our everyday life, this book follows research and investigations into the world of microbiology, from the coral reefs to our own gut microbiome. Yong — a science journalist who got his start as a humble science blogger back in 2006 — is a masterful narrator, using wit and curiosity to tell the tale of the microscopic organisms that exist on and around us. Saskatoon is even mentioned briefly!

Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts from the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History by Catharine Arnold

This past year marked the 100th anniversary of the “Spanish Flu” pandemic during which an estimated 50 to 100 million people died from influenza. Arnold’s book is a historical look at the human experience of the pandemic, filled with first- and second-hand accounts of the sickness that gripped the globe.

While it is not mentioned within this book, the University of Saskatchewan had its own brush with the pandemic. Emmanuel College served as a makeshift hospital at this time with tales of a student volunteer tending to the sick who then succumbed to the flu within days. The names of the volunteers who died during the pandemic can be found on a stairwell in the Peter MacKinnon Building.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean

This science book tells the story of chemistry using the periodic table of elements as a vehicle. Kean is a great science writer who is able to take complex and sometimes dry topics and turn them into an engaging and captivating story. Kean uses history to talk about science in nearly all of his books, and here, he is able to infuse warmth, humour and humanity into the stories of noble gases and heavy metals.

Sight by Jessie Greengrass

Sight is a poetic meditation on life and a perfect illustration of how science is integral to our human experience. The book follows an unnamed narrator during her second pregnancy as she thinks about her marriage, the death of her mother and her own childhood.

Fragments of medical and science history are tightly interwoven with the protagonist’s narrative, from Wilhelm Röntgen’s Nobel prize-winning discovery of X-rays to anatomist William Hunter and anatomical artist Jan van Rymsdyk. Sight perfectly illustrates how science is a part of our everyday experience of the world and instrumental in shaping our perspectives.

Erin Matthews / Opinions Editor

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