Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, To Kill a Mockingbird…
I could probably make a list of the books that I’ve loved and asked my friends and family if they’ve read them too. Not only that, I could make a list of books that people have asked me about, those that hit the bestseller lists and become all the rage. You probably have your own mental lists ready at this stage too!
To me a good book pulls me into its universe, making me feel what its characters experience, think like them and about them. It makes me care about the outcomes and the implications of the story. It’s magic of a sort.
So what really intrigues me are the books on science written for the average reader by the technical expert! Think ‘The Selfish Gene’ by Dawkins or ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Hawking (and many others..).
We’re used to thinking of “A Song of Ice and Fire” and “Harry Potter” as magical universes. But the best non-fiction books can show you the magic world of real Science as well.
These fantastic books present to us some incredibly complex and challenging scientific concepts/arguments in a way that we can understand and appreciate. They make us think and question, they rouse a sense of wonder and curiosity about Science. They can inspire.
The book I enormously enjoyed recently was Philip Ball’s ‘Nature’s Patterns‘ in three parts which discussed patterns we see in nature and how they form. It’s brilliant!
A typical scientific career (an academic one, at any rate) primarily involves writing for technical audiences within the discipline through journals and text/research books. The rewards in this profession too are mostly connected to citations of journal articles by other scientists, impact factors and so on. So what drives people to write pop Science books?
I am speculating, and think it could be a combination of few things:
– fame (if you can write something hugely successful)
– success that may come in part because of that fame
– money (again if the book is sufficiently successful)
– love of writing
– desire to share with other people the science you find so captivating
– influence people, policy
– to win awards (such as Royal Society Winton Prize for books, Wellcome Trust Book Prize, AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books among others )
Yet writing about Science for a lay audience is a daunting task and even for those who do undertake it, success is hardly guaranteed. On the Guardian site 5 very famous writers (James Gleick, Lone Frank, Steven Pinker, Joshua Foer and Brian Greene) talk about writing successful Science books (Science writing: how do you make complex issues accessible and readable?)
So do you think you’ll have a go at your own book?
I hope you will and that I will get to read it!
Meanwhile I will work on a follow up blogpost on general Science communication – keep a look out and happy writing!