The good news is that somebody’s put together a list of “The greatest science books of 2016.” The bad news is that it’s Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. Don’t get me wrong: her suggestions seem pretty good, comporting with what I’ve heard about the books—or, in the case of Sean Carroll’s book, with what I’ve read in the book—and Popova works hard to put together her site. I’m just not a fan—and I may be being a curmudgeon—because Popova seems like Krista Tippett for Intellectuals: all too often she puts out feel-good, self-helpy stuff with words of philosophy to console you. And I really dislike Popova’s pretense that she doesn’t take money for advertising. She used to trumpet that long and loud, proclaiming that she was supported solely by donations from readers, and then was called out because it was discovered that, without telling anyone, she got tons of dosh from sites like Amazon as kickbacks for linking her site to theirs.
That story is on Gigaom; I won’t repeat it except to show one of the tw**ts from Mathew Ingram, a writer at Fortune, calling Popova out—and her lame response.
@mathewi Thanks for the piece, Matt. It didn't even occur to me until now that people cared. I've just added a note on the donation page.
— Maria Popova (@brainpicker) February 14, 2013
Well, go over to the donation page and see if you can find the “note” about commissions. Here’s what you see at the top, where Popova asks readers for money and saying the blog is “ad free”.
Do you see any note about commissions? Well,
scroll. . .
Enlarged: Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps support Brain Pickings by offsetting a fraction of what it takes to maintain the site, and is very much appreciated.
I wonder what that fraction is? It could be 3/1, which is, after all, a fraction, and Popova ain’t telling. I call the hiding of that announcement blatantly dishonest.
But that aside, here’s Popova’s list (she also has summaries and excerpts) of the best science books, and excuse my digression (I’m not including Popova’s links):
- Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin
- Time Travel: A History by James Gleick
- Felt Time: The Psychology of How We Perceive Time by Marc Wittmann
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi
- The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time by Maria Konnikova
- The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
- The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond
- The Big Picture:On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself by Sean Carroll (Official Website Physicist™)
- The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben
- Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell by Alexandra Horowitz (seriously???)
- I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong
- Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
- The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel
- For younger readers: Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignatofsky
I’ve read only one of these: Sean Carroll’s book, which I liked, but I also intend to read Kalinithi’s book, the autobiography of a surgeon who got terminal cancer (he’s now dead). It’s supposed to be excellent.