Best of the Science Survey, 2017 – 2022

I recently realized that I’m in my sixth year of doing the Science Survey, and am marking the ocassion by thinking about the ten best reads of that period. For the uninitiated, the Science Survey is an attempt to structure my science reading so that I don’t binge on a few particular topics and lose my tenuous-at-best grasp on things like cosmology. As you can tell by the list below, left to my own devices anthropology, biology, and psychology would dominate.


I Contain Multitudes, Ed Yong. On the complex relationship between humans and the bacteria. Survey 2017.

The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben. Far and away one of the most eye-opening science & nature books I’ve ever read. Survey 2019.

The Ice at the End of the World,
Jon Gertner. On the physical and scientific exploration of Greenland.

The Goodness Paradox, Richard Wrangham, on virtue and violence. Survey 2020.

Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, Rob Brotherton. Survey 2020.

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make us Human, Jonathan Gottschall. Survey 2021.

How Emotions are Made, Lisa Feltman Barrett. This deserves a re-read and proper review, because it was good. Survey 2021.

Good Reasons for Bad Feelings, Randolph Nesse. On how evolutionary psychology can help us make sense of our emotions, and (to a smaller degree) how our brains are modernity are often at cross purposes. Survey 2021.

The Last Stargazers, Emily Levesque. On how modern astronomy is done — and the adventures therin! Survey 2021.

An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the World Around Us, Ed Yong. Survey 2022.

I’m hoping to complete this year’s survey in June, and know the titles I’ll be using to fulfill my remaining few categories — mostly. Thinking Scientifically is between Steven Pinker’s Rationality or Neil deGrasse Ttyson’s Starry Messenger.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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3 Responses to Best of the Science Survey, 2017 – 2022

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    Much like you I have a ‘go-to’ area of Science – essentially anything Biological or Evolutionary. I do need to spend at least a *little* more time in the ‘hard’ sciences!

    • Part of the problem for me lies in their abstractness. Quarks and branes are a rarefied part of reality that (unless we’re particle physicists ourselves) we only engage with at the mental level — whereas we can relate to chimpanzee behavior or feelings with complete readiness. Our thoughts about these things are 1:1 with our physical experiences, whereas branes are entirely conceptual.

      • Cyberkitten says:

        Good points – although I do like a bit of abstraction from time to time. Getting (or trying to get) QM into my brain is taxing but fun. In fact the clear absurdity of the whole Quantum world makes me laugh out loud. I have been trying to get more into the mathematical side of things. I used to love it up to around age 14-16 when I made the mistake of going for the Advanced programme. That broke me. I went from loving it and doing quadratic equations in my head for fun to going ‘word blind’ at the sight of an equation.

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