I never considered myself a science person. Growing up, I always focused on languages, writing, and other literary stuff. I studied French for 13 years and Italian for four. I even majored in “comparative literature” at college. Sure, I was perfectly acceptable in math and science, but never really considered myself a “science person.”
However, looking at my choices of pleasure reading and other free-time pursuits, I’ve realized that in fact, I am somewhat of a science geek! (I mean that in the best possible way, of course.)
By that I mean: I love medical articles, memoirs by or about doctors, science radio shows/podcasts, or any and all non-fiction books about science, medicine, the history of medicine, and forensics. As a long-time health writer and editor, I regularly have to dissect medical studies of all types.
What’s great is that there’s been a steady flow of really great, accessible stuff in the past few years making science stuff as fascinating as any sci-fi or straight up fiction—stuff that the layperson can dig into without fear of encountering periodic tables or too many chemistry lessons.
So here are some of my recent favorites. Like me, you just may find yourself suddenly exploring (and enjoying) the science-y side of things!
Radio Lab: Much as the beloved This American Life radio program does, this NPR program takes the most ordinary and extraordinary subjects and teases out fascinating stories. It’s almost hard to describe a typical show—full of innovative sound effects, philosophical wonderings, delicate storytelling, and a wide variety of incredibly bizarre and mundane topics. Just give it a listen—you won’t be sorry. Some of my favorite episodes: Sleepless in South Sudan, Damn It, Basal Ganglia, and Talking to Machines. (Subscribe to the podcast for free at iTunes.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: This 2010 bestseller, by Rebecca Skloot traces the history of a poor black woman named Henrietta Lacks, who died of cervical cancer in 1951. Pieces of the tumor that killed her were taken without her knowledge or consent and lived on. They began in one lab, then moved to hundreds, then thousands, then in giant factories churning out polio vaccines, and even launched into outer space. Simply put: Lacks’ cells became a foundation for modern science. Skloot weaves a tale of the past as well as the present, becoming intricately tied with the Lacks family as she investigates the story.
Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer: Siddartha Mukherjee’s sprawling and comprehensive “biography” of cancer may sound daunting but as he recounts the discoveries, setbacks, milestones and human tales of suffering and survival, you’ll be riveted and amazed at the long and tangled history of cancer. It’s a long read, but even if you got through half of it you’ll see the world of disease differently.