Day 1: 5 Popular Science Books

I finished my exams last week (woooo!). I wanted to do something before the next semester of lectures start because when I get back into it I don’t do as many fun things –  like this! So I decided to do a “5 days of blogging” kind of thing. For the first day, I thought it might be fun to talk about some popular science books I like.

Mathematics of Life by Ian Stewart


To kick things off, this is the first popular science book I read. I just finished Year 11 at the time (I was 16). It was a really accessible text and I really enjoyed it. It takes you from topics such as the mathematics of DNA and the genetic code to viruses to taxonomy. My favourite chapter is “Florally finding Fibonacci” (obviously – it’s plants). Along with attending a talk on “The Language of Plants” at the Cheltenham Science Festival the same year, this is one of the main reasons I became interesting in plants. This chapter inspired my Extended Project Qualification (it’s an A level equivalent qualification where you pick a topic, research it, write 5,000 words on it, then do a presentation) during A levels. Flicking through this book, I really want to read it again!

Good for: people who don’t know that much about biology because the author explains things simply. However, for people who know quite a lot about biology, it really makes you look at some fundamental concepts in a different way. I really recommend it.

The Private Life of Plants by David Attenborough

Ok – so I have yet to read all of this book. But it has some beautiful photo’s of plants. I really love David’s writing style, it has a similar style to his documentaries. This book looks at interesting things about lots of different plant species, at uni we only really look at a handful of species (Arabidopsis, I’m looking at you).

Good for: everyone who loves plants, and maybe it would convert the plant haters?

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins


I read this during my A levels and it is great, it makes you think in a totally different way.  The title can be a bit misleading and might make you think that its about a specific gene that makes you selfish. It’s not, I see it more about how organisms have been programmed by their genes to act as sort of machines that act in the way which is best for the survival of our genes as opposed to acting for the survival of the individual or the species which is an idea which is often suggested.

I know sometimes people don’t really like Richard Dawkins because of the anti-religion books he has published. I think this has overshadowed some of the great science books he has written, which is a shame, because as I said, this book is great.

Good for: everyone.

The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey


I read half of this book in the few days before uni started again in September, then lectures started and unfortunately it remains half un-read. I initially read the book because I was interested in genetics and molecular biology and heard of epigenetics but didn’t really know much about it.I wasn’t sure whether I’d like this book or not, its largely focused around animals and humans as well as their diseases. I really loved it. The author has a really good style, it’s an enjoyable read. I think this is a bit harder to read than some of the others I’ve suggested but maybe because of the concept of epigenetics as opposed to the writing of the book. My favourite chapter so far is “Generation X”, it’s all about X chromosome inactivation and X imprinting, I found it really fascinating. Another bonus of reading this book was that I found it really helped with understanding some concepts in my module “Molecular Biology and the Dynamic Cell”.

Good for: people with at least a basic understanding of DNA and genetics.

Green Universe: A Microscopic Voyage into the Plant Cell by Stephen Blackmore


I got this book as a Christmas present this year. I remember being in Waterstones, looking at a book which is much like this book but a human cell equivalent. I said “this book is beautiful, I wish there was one like this but for plant cells”, at which point my boyfriend remembered this and got me a plant cell equivalent for Christmas.

This book has a small amount of writing, which I find easy and enjoyable to read. However, for me, this book is all about the images. It is full of stunning colour microscope images. There are some scanning electron micrograph images, but it is mostly full of light microscope images. All the images are really interesting, the only way to improve this would be to have more scanning electron micrograph images, and some images produced from a confocal microscope too. The book is organised in chapters which take you roughly through the evolution of the plant cell, it also has a chapter on the history of microscopy. A really interesting chapter is “Plants and people – interconnected fortunes. My favourite line is in the foreword:

This wonderful book is not just a pleasure to look at – it also helps explain why the relationship between people and plants is so important, and is one that we neglect at our peril.

Professor Sir Peter Crane FRS

Great for: people that love plants and plant cells.

Did I miss your favourite popular science book? Comment below or tweet me @alicefoxall


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