The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing

Richard Dawkins, 2008

This book is a compilation of the best examples of science writing – excerpts from works by renowned scientists about their own discoveries and those of other scientists.

Right now I am nearly 100 pages into the thick, blue volume, and even though I still have 300 pages to go, I can tell it will be one of my favorites. Here’s why:

It covers so many fascinating aspects of science! Genetics and evolution. Biological physics. Fossils. Math and patterns in nature. The human brain. The universe. I could go on . . . but I won’t. Read it for yourself, and you will learn a lot about different types of science and how they are all interconnected.

I have also been enjoying Dawkins’ anecdotes – the liberties one can take as editor-in-chief! – which chronicle his thought process as he selected the excerpts, with a few mini biographies about famous scientists he had the pleasure of meeting.

My favorite excerpt, so far, is ‘Theoretical Biology in the Third Millennium’ by Sydney Brenner.

Brenner begins by narrating the biochemical and genetic advances of his time – DNA, proteins, x-ray crystallography. He goes further to illustrate how these things have changed the way we look at life. Life is “the flow of information,” says Brenner, and genes are the basis for all the information in our bodies.

The next step, he describes, is to “compute organisms from their DNA sequences.” This means, using the information stored in DNA to make theoretical models of proteins, cells, entire organisms.

Brenner’s final point is, this is a way of discovering exactly what mutations have made us human in the first place.

You can see my excitement. The possibilities for modeling living things is endless and a whole new type of biology. Instead of studying creatures in a laboratory, a computer model could change the way we think of life and what it means to be human. I would love to take a class in computational biology and learn more about this growing field.