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December 12, 2004
Stocking Stuffers, of a Sort
It seems to be the season for book recommendations in the blog world. If anyone's wondering what the favorites here are, let me recommend some classics of the scientist's trade:
First, Primo Levi's The Periodic Table. Levi was (famously) a survivor of Auschwitz, and wrote extraordinarily about that experience. But he was also a professional chemist, and in this unique memoir he lets various elements bring back incidents in his past. I'm not aware of another book like it.
Next, Oliver Sacks's memoir Uncle Tungsten. Sacks is famous, of course, as a neurologist and author, but he had an intense boyhood love affair with the field of chemistry. Anything by Sacks is worth reading if you're not familiar with him, though.
I can also recommend just about anything by Peter Medawar. The Nobel-winning immunologist was a graceful writer about science and other subjects - look for one of the essay collections. His takedown of Teilhard de Chardin is not to be missed, if you're into that sort of thing.
And on the subject of scientific essays, let me also recommend Freeman Dyson. He's getting up in years, but still very much with us, and I consider him to be my definition of scientific royalty.
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