Monday, October 20, 2008

scientists' lives

In an essay accompanying Nature's autumn books section, science writer and biographer Georgina Ferry deplores the lack of interest in biographies of scientists:

A scientist's life for me
Georgina Ferry
Forty years after the publication of James Watson's The Double Helix, Georgina Ferry asks why the life stories of so few scientists make it into the bookshops.
Nature 455, 871-872 (16 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/455871a; Published online 15 October 2008

which is probably true. I've been pondering related questions, as I've written 24 short biographies of scientists in the last three weeks (only two bios still to do!). There are many deserving subjects out there who don't have a printed biography, and some don't even have a decent wikipedia entry.

But hey, it's the same as with other popular science books -- we scientists feel that people should read them, but most people just choose not to. Not much we can do about it (short of radical dumbing down, which in my opinion doesn't help, as it throws exactly those things over board that you want people to know about!)

Exciting new angles at scientists' lives may be a way out, as may be shorter formats. Or more eccentric scientists -- there's never a shortage of books about Einstein or Feynman.


Some of the full length scientists lives I found inspiring are those of:

Niko Tinbergen (Hans Kruuk)
Marie Curie (Eve Curie)
JD Bernal (Andrew Brown)
Darwin (Desmond/Moore)
Erdos (Hoffman)
Dorothy Hodgkin (Ferry)

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