Book reviews

I like to spend time on trains/Sunday afternoons reading popular science books and thought doing a mini review of each would be fun.

Book suggestions are always welcome, you can never have too many!

For now, here are a few of my most recent reads. 

Rebecca | An Anxious Scientist

The Vital Question: Why is life the way it is? – Nick Lane

IMG_5673I am unashamedly a huge Nick Lane fan so getting a new installment from him was always going to be a treat. Fortunately, it didn’t let me down. The Vital Question is a pacey, thorough tour of the origins of life that leaves no stone or primitive cell unturned. Not a sentence is wasted or without meaning and information. Lane guides you through a series of hypotheses as to how life could have arisen, providing arguments for and against each, before helping you arrive to the conclusion that it simply must have occurred just as he suspects. If you are interested there is also an extensive appendix containing a large amount of extra reading. An absolute must for any science enthusiast. *****

The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks

The late Oliver Sacks was a professor of neurology and a remarkable writer. He has written a collection of books based on the huge variety of patients he has treated for a wide range of brain-related conditions. In The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Sacks brings together a collection of extraordinary real life stories of bizarre and captivating quality. He explores the function of different areas of the brain by describing what happens to the person on the outside when something goes wrong within. A brilliant walk through neuroscience with the tone of a story, so much so that it is easy to forget that it is all true.  *****

A is for Arsenic: The poisons of Agatha Christie – Kathryn Harkup

a_is_for_arsenicAgatha Christie’s extensive knowledge of chemistry and, specifically, poisons runs clearly throughout many of her bestsellers. Here, Kathryn Harkup leads you through a selection of the most interesting cases. Certain poisons are obviously included, like the ever popular arsenic and cyanide, but there is also room for nicotine and other more unusual choices. Harkup describes in details the mechanism of action, details how they have been used in real-life crimes and links continually to the Christie stories (crucially, without any sudden plot reveals). The strict structure of each chapter was effective, albeit a little repetitive by the end. ****

The Greatest Show on Earth: The evidence for evolution – Richard Dawkins

greatest_show_on_earthRichard Dawkins is outspoken and controversial but his writing is second to none. In The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins sets out step by step, logically and methodically, the irrefutable evidence for evolution. Interspersed with beautiful images, this book is long and a little daunting but so smoothly penned that it reads a lot more effortlessly than you would imagine. The extraordinary number of different examples from biology ensures that the reader is kept interested in what could otherwise have become tedious.  *****

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi


This is a book that will rewrite the way you view life and death. Diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 36, neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi walks the reader through his final months with beautiful language and clarity of thought. The surgery anecdotes peppered throughout are interesting but the real attraction is the fluid writing style and bravery he shows to lead you to his end. *****


I Contain Multitudes: The microbes within us and a grander view of life – Ed Yong


This book is an absolute must-read for anyone who has an interest in microbiology. Ed Yong skilfully guides the reader through a huge selection of different microbiomes with wonderful illustrations of how they affect their hosts. Its mentions of tsetse biology appeal to me with my current research interests but it really does have something for everyone. It is very clearly written and easy to follow so really only a small understanding of science is enough to appreciate it. *****

The Mice Who Sing For Sex: And other weird tales from the world of science – Jack Lewis and Lliana Bird 


The Mice Who Sing For Sex has the potential to be a great book but, to me, falls a little short. It is packed full of a huge number of quirky science-related facts but seems lost as to who it is aimed at. Some topics discussed are definitely for the older reader but the tone is often over-enthusiatic and reminiscent of children’s television hosts. The science discussed is super cool and doesn’t need such a hard sell. ***


Here’s a sneak peek at couple from my favourite bookcase. Some old favourites and some new ones that I can’t wait to get stuck in to! Now I just need to decide which ones to take away on holiday with me…