I really like science in general, and I surprised myself by reading 3 nonfiction books about science last month. Although they weren’t YA, I really liked two of them, and I’m also trying to branch out my reading and the content on this blog. So here are some bite-sized mini reviews for you.
One thing you may not know about me is that I really like biology, and I’m going to study it in university. My animal loving, science self adored this book. It basically talked through the evolution of the octopus’ mind and extrapolated to draw conclusions about the evolution of humans and brains.
This book was really well structured, not dense even though it was sciency, easy to follow, engaging, and basically made me really really like octopi and cephalopods in general. I learned a lot about evolution and brains (although I did know some things mentioned already; high school psychology and biology ftw!) and really enjoyed it. 5 stars.
Astrophysics for people in a hurry
Neil Degrasse Tyson
I gather that this author is quite a famous scientist/TV personality? I don’t know anything much about him though. I picked this book because a) it had a pretty cover, and b) I know nothing about astrophysics and wanted to remedy this.
I did learn a lot, but I didn’t find the book that easy to read. It went through various aspects of astrophysics in each chapter, and assumed basic scientific knowledge in all the explanations. I didn’t always know what was going on, mainly because I haven’t done any physics since 9th grade. I could usually figure it out if I concentrated, but it was hard and I had to go back and reread a lot. This definitely affected my enjoyment.
I noticed that the chapters I understood the most, especially the one about the astrophysical origins of chemical elements, were easy and fun to read, and the more theoretical and physical stuff wasn’t.
Also, the writing style was a bit jarring. It was mostly dense language to a layperson at least, but lots of the paragraphs ended in (not very funny) jokes. This didn’t really work for me and felt really awkward. I guess it goes to show good scientists aren’t necessarily good writers?
I did like how the last chapter explored why astrophysics matters amid the turmoil and darkness or life on earth. Then Tyson started to be like ‘the cosmological perspective lifts us from the darkness of our mundanity’ which I felt was a bit much.
I rate this book 3 stars: I’m glad I read it, but didn’t exactly enjoy it.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
I’ve been meaning to read this ever since I discovered it was a book, or maybe before that, when I first heard about Henrietta and HeLa in biology class about 2 years ago. This book is about the cells of a black woman who had cervical cancer. In the 50s, a sample was taken, and they turned out to be essentially immortal—able to divide infinitely without dying like normal human cells. This made them ideal for experiments, and they were used to discover a polio vaccine, standardizing culture mediums, learning more about viruses, studying how cells become malignant/cancerous, finding out how to freeze cells effectively, how to clone cells, developing the basis of IVF fertility treatments, learning more about genetic diseases and chromosomes, used to learn about the effect of radiation on cells, used to screen chemotherapy drugs, and to test cosmetics (among other things). An enormous and lucrative industry was built around her cells, but Henrietta died a few months after the sample was taken (without her permission), and it was decades before her family found out about the cells.
This book was really well written, and struck a fine balance between exploring the personal aspect of Henrietta’s story, and her family’s, medical ethics from the 1950s to the present, and the science about how the cells were used. I found it easy to read and intensely interesting. I would say that the book isn’t for everyone; it’s quite dense and scientific in some places and then more like a non fiction novel in others, but it’s really well researched and thorough. It’s definitely worth reading if you like this kind of thing. Four stars.
Do you enjoy nonfiction? Do you have any recommendations for me? How do you feel about octopuses?