Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My favourite science writer

My favourite science writer was the late Stephen Jay Gould. I discovered him many years ago when I picked a double book set as an introductory gift for joining the Paperback Book Club. It was an introduction to a gifted writer.

The twinned books were The Flamingo's Smile and The Panda's Thumbboth named after essays contained within the covers. I didn't mention: many of Gould's books are collections of his essays. You can read these books in short, but fulfilling, bursts.

Gould died in 2002 and since then I've been without a fave in the science field but the position is no longer open. Olivia Judson has stepped up to the plate and this lady can hit. And like Gould, she likes to write essays and short newspaper pieces. She a quick but rich read.

Judson rose to public prominence with “Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex.” The book was written in the style of a sex-advice column to animals while detailing the variety of sexual practices in the natural world. It provides the reader with an overview of the evolutionary biology of sex.

Judson has been published in The Economist, Nature, The Financial Times, The Atlantic and Natural History. And today she writes a science and biology column for The New York Times. If you haven't read Judson, check her out.

Gould's essays are getting a little old, some haven't aged well, but good writing, thoughtful writing, writing that makes science and, by extension, our world more accessible never ceases to bring joy. Both Flamingo and Panda are good introductions to Gould's writing, but I also rate Wonderful Life highly. It is centred around the Burgess Shale found in the Canadian Rockies and so carries a Canadian tint.


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