SUMMER READING THAT INSPIRES: Recharge Your Motivational Batteries with Books Suggested by NSTA Recommends Reviewers

By Texley, Juliana | The Science Teacher, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

SUMMER READING THAT INSPIRES: Recharge Your Motivational Batteries with Books Suggested by NSTA Recommends Reviewers


Texley, Juliana, The Science Teacher


Why did you decide on science as a career? For many, it was the inspiration of a mentor or model--an explorer who could communicate excitement and a sense of adventure to others. During the school year, teachers take on that role of motivator for students. But as we recharge over summer break, it's great to treat ourselves again to the stories and examples of others that inspire us.

Good science reading comes in many forms--clear expository content, science fiction, thoughtful essays. When we asked the reviewers of NSTA Recommends to make summer reading suggestions this year, many selected biographies and other titles that highlight the accomplishments of great science role models past and present.

So grab a recliner and a cool drink and take a virtual exploration with a great mentor. You'll enjoy the company--and the inspiration.

Science past and present

It's been 50 years since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) was first published, inspiring a nascent environmental movement and marking a sea change in how we perceive nature. Carson, a marine biologist, told the story of "what happens when nature is not allowed to happen," as the effects of overusing pesticides became apparent all over the country. We still have bald eagles and whooping cranes today in part because of her book, a classic well worth rereading as health experts debate the wisdom of reintroducing DDT to fight new insect infestations.

That same year, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth as humans began to see their planet from the perspective of space. Glenn has lent his name and wisdom to NSTA's Professional Development Center. He's part of the story of space exploration recounted in Mission Control: This Is Apollo by Andrew Chalkin (2009). This middle-level book, described as breezy and ideal for summer reading, is illustrated with striking paintings by former Apollo astronaut Alan Bean.

One of the 20th century's greatest biologists, the late Stephen Jay Gould was known not only for his research but also for his eloquent explanations of evolution in books and columns in Nature. Richard York and Brett Clark have written a light and readable biography, The Science and Humanism of Stephen Jay Gould (2011). Reviewer Rita Hoots writes: "Gould embraces the creativity that is inherent in both cultures and finds that the two cultures complement each other. This is an enriching text, analyzing the thoughts of a great thinker and explaining how Gould's unique evolutionary thoughts, regard for Darwin, and social conscience directed his research and writings. "

Last year marked the passing of biologist Lynn Margulis, perhaps best remembered for her groundbreaking and now commonly accepted symbiont theory explaining the origin of organelles in eukaryotes. Dazzle Gradually: Reflections on the Nature of Nature (2007) is a collection of essays she wrote with son Dorion Sagan (son of astronomer Carl Sagan). Some are personal, describing the challenges of her many roles, and others biological. Margulis's theories were not all universally accepted. Her insistence that HIV was not an infectious virus caused considerable controversy. But her writing illustrates the importance of creative and divergent thinking in science.

For something truly different, try Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick (2011). This graphic novel creatively depicts physicist Richard Feynman, arguably the last century's most creative scientist. For those who regard the graphic novel format as "comics," the book might represent a conceptual challenge. But despite its light approach, the pages reveal important aspects of Feynman's life--his eclectic talent and humor, battles with illness, and discomfort with the Manhattan Project.

Travel afar without leaving your patio

James Cook traveled halfway around the world to see Venus transit the sun in 1769. (This year another rare transit of Venus occurs June 5.

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