From Dinosaurs to Human Ancestors to Climate Change; 5 Science Books to Read Right Now

img_1743The last week has been challenging. Fossil History is not intended to be a political blog, but I am a U.S. citizen (and a human) and have therefore been affected by recent events, along with many others. There are many problems at present, but the fact that I’m a science communicator makes me inclined to address issues of science right now.

The recent events have caused me to turn inward and ask, what is it that I value about science? I’ve found myself returning to my favorite books, which help remind me of the beauty of nature and the power of knowledge. So, in the face of this madness, might I make some reading suggestions of books that seem to me to be increasingly relevant? These books inspire me, reminding me why science is worth pursuing.

My list of 5 books that matter now, more than ever:

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural Historyby Elizabeth Kolbert. I had to start with an extinction book. There is no question that our climate is changing dramatically, change that has dramatic implications for other living creatures. Kolbert takes a closer look at some of the species that have already been extinguished, like the American mastodon, as well as other species who are currently battling climate change, from frogs in Panama to bats in Vermont. Kolbert wants to show not only the horror of extinction but also the possibilities contained in our present moment, as scientists learn more about climate change and animals’ response. Get this Pulitzer prize winning book here.

My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs, by Brian Switek. What can a bunch of old bones from the past teach us about the future? In the awe and celebration of dinosaur fossils, it is sometimes easy to forget that studying the past actually has implications for the future. In an engaging book that tells a story of shifting scientific understandings of our favorite dinosaur (the Brontosaurus), Switek reminds us that the bones can also teach us lessons about how creatures have responded (or not) to changes in the climate of the past. The lessons these old bones can teach us matter now more than ever, so check out Switek’s book.


Wall of human evolution, NHM London, author’s photo

Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth, by Chris Stringer. I will always champion the idea that knowing where we came from (primates) and how we came to be here (natural selection and a little luck) informs who we are and can give us guidance towards where we might be going. Stringer’s text is a great example of learning from our past to better understand our present and our potential future. Pulling from knowledge gleaned from fossils, genetics, and archaeology, Stringer answers difficult questions about who we are and how we came to be here. He shows how the course that human evolution took was only one of many possible paths, reminding us that “sometimes the difference between failure and success in evolution is a narrow one.” This is especially important as we balance precariously on the narrow knife of overpopulation planet and climate change. Get it here.

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, by Daniel Lieberman . While dinosaurs bones and hominin fossils are cool, many people want to know how can science actually matters in our everyday life. In addition to those lessons mentioned above, a tangible example of how science can shape our lives for the better is to apply knowledge of our past to our own health. Lieberman is part of a growing movement that recognizes the implications our evolutionary history has for health and medicine. While Lieberman’s ork does not mean we should all embark on the paleo diet, it does suggest that activity is crucial to our health, and an attitude of prevention (informed by evolution) can help us live healthier, more comfortable lives. Grab a copy here.

The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, by David George Haskell. By spending a year sitting in the woods in Tennessee, observing a small patch of old growth forest, Haskell reminds us that much can be learned from just sitting and noticing. Haskell’s method is an exercise in mindfulness and nature appreciation, he encourages us to open our senses and turn our attention to the present moment and the natural world. “Nature is not a separate place,” Haskell writes, but instead something we are inextricably part of. Observing nature can remind us how incredible the world around us truly is. A desire to “name, understand, and enjoy the rest of the community of life is part of our humanity,” Haskell reminds us. Pick up a copy.


The beauty of our national parks, author’s photo

Bonus! 1984 by George Orwell. Though it’s not science, I had to include this novel. 1984, which recently became Amazon’s number one bestseller, reminds us that alternative facts are bold faced lies and two plus two does not equal five. The NY Times explained the significance of 1984 in 2017.

How about you, is there anything you’ve been reading lately that helps you through the current situation, gives you hope, or makes you think in a way that’s helpful? Let me know in the comments!

5 thoughts on “From Dinosaurs to Human Ancestors to Climate Change; 5 Science Books to Read Right Now

  1. Body by Darwin: How Evolution Shapes Our Health and Transforms Medicine, by Jeremy Taylor.
    Another example of how evolution is directly relevant to our well-being. How common medical conditions, such as cancer, blindness, and orthopedic disorders, have deep roots in our evolutionary history.


  2. Thank you Paige for the great summary and book reviews, from here in sunny South Africa on 1st January 2018. I am so busy with Aquatic Sciences research and reporting I battle to keep up with other serious interests like paleoanthropology, especially, as you say, when all the new discoveries are rich in material and hypotheses and the old gets a new coat!

    Liked by 1 person

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