The Canon

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science (4/5) — Why are people so scared of science? Why is most of the public so illiterate about science even though they use it every second of their life?

It is these problems that NYTimes science journalist Natalie Angier attempts to solve in this book by taking the reader on a fun filled, informational ride through the entire spectrum of science. The chapters of the book deal with scientific thinking, probabilities, scales, physics, chemistry, evolution, molecular biology, geology and ends in a bang with astronomy. This is not a dull science book with figures, facts and formulas. There is none of that. Instead, Natalie attempts to do storytelling in each chapter and explains everything using fun analogies and prose.

So how is the book? I felt it was great. Everyone, no matter how science literate or illiterate he is, will gain something from this book. Natalie’s prose is superlative and her analogies are really fun. Distilling the vast cloud of science into a few hundred readable pages is no easy task. I have to say that I haven’t come across any work before that has achieved it like this book. Since each chapter deals with distinctly different areas of science, the book can be split over many days without any feeling of book amnesia. The only chapter where stuff went over my head was that on molecular biology, all that protein synthesis and folding was too much for me. Other than that, the book was a complete win-win. Basic science has progressed much beyond the textbooks of my school days. This book gave me a chance to catch up to some of it. I came out of this experience with a better understanding and awe for every single thing around me — from the air I breathe to the sky I see every morning.

* Book excerpt — For a taste of the book.
* NYTimes review

Reading Tips

Here are some reading tips that work for me. I had jotted these down a long time ago and came across the document today. Do comment or share on what works for you.

Disclaimer: Reading doesn’t have to be your hobby. There is no need to force it down your throat even when you know you don’t like it. But, if you like reading, but for some reason feel you are not doing enough, then read on.

* The hardest part is starting. Just like getting into cold water, this is something that might not be pleasant, but has to be done. The only way to do it is to dig in and stay committed for atleast a few pages. If it still doesn’t interest you, keep it aside and try again sometime later. If you still can’t do it after a few times, the book isn’t for you. Pick up something else. On an average I abandon half the books which I start on.

* Maintain a list of books you wish to read. Update it regularly with new books that interest you from your friends’ blogs and reviews. Even more important is to weed out books which you think you’ve lost interest in. The Amazon wish-list or dedicated sites like LibraryThing or Anobii are great for keeping lists like this.

* Borrow the book from a library or a friend rather than buy it. (This definitely works for me!) While the few books I own still lie unread, the weak force of a return due date or impending fine is enough push for me to complete/abandon my library book.

* Read your friends’ book reviews. Write your own when you finish a book. Active participation and getting comments from others stokes your interest and keeps it going all year.

* Make some time in your daily or weekly schedule for reading. If you can read in increments every day/night, do that. (This doesn’t work for me.) Or keep aside some time during your weekend. (This is how I read.)

* Read 1 book at a time. If you really want to read more, not more than 3. This forces you to either complete or abandon a book instead of clinging onto it and several more for eternity.

* When picking the next book try choosing something different than last time. (This is where your list comes in handy.) This removes the boredom of reading the same genre every time.

* Carry the book(s) you’re reading wherever you go. You never know when you will get a few minutes to whip it out. You can gets loads of regular reading done if you commute to work.

* If you can’t find a book in the library, order it. You’ll be surprised how happy library folks are to have members who actually want them to get some books. IMO this is also a great (and free) way of helping everyone else.

* And most importantly, enjoy reading. It’s not a chore, but it’s not something that you can do in a few minutes too. No matter what your taste (fiction/non-fiction/drama/romance/comics) there’s something out there for you. Hop in and start reading. If you find that books are crap, then maybe writing is your calling 😉

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