With thousands of good books out there, and only a few decades of reading, it helps to have some guidance. Any time a list of “recommended books” comes out, I peruse it ferociously, looking for something interesting while chastising myself for how little I’ve read (if you want to feel bad about yourself, have a look at this).
Yesterday the Guardian published its summer reading list, calling on a number of luminaries—Colm Tóibin, Tom Stoppard, Margaret Drabble and the like—to each recommend two books for your “holiday.” British summer reading lists tend to be much better than American ones, which are almost invariably packed with fluff for “beach reading.” The Guardian list doesn’t disappoint, and I’ve found at least two books for my must-read list (The Peregrine by J. A. Baker and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion). And I may have a look at Perfect Rigor by Masha Gessen; it recounts how a strange Russian mathematician solved the Poincaré Conjecture.
The dearth of science books is unsurprising, I guess. There are only two: one is Perfect Rigor (chosen, of course, by Tom Stoppard), and the other, I’m sad to say, could easily be called Imperfect Rigor. It was chosen by Richard Mabey, apparently described by The Times as “Britain’s greatest living nature writer.” Here’s his recommendation:
I’ll need a long summer break just to finish Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s dense but explosively exciting What Darwin Got Wrong (Profile). The celebration of the great scientist’s bicentenary last year courteously sidestepped the fact that most cutting-edge biologists now regard natural selection as little more than cosmetic tweaking in the process of evolution. What’s happening is far more philosophically thrilling: creatures are doing it for themselves. The authors show how ancient “managerial” genes, self-organising systems in cells and the inherent tendency towards symmetry in living structures all help to generate new organisms fully pre-adapted to their environments. Wings already pre-balanced for flight!
I’m not sure who these “cutting-edge biologists” are, but I haven’t met them. Sad that Britain’s greatest living nature writer is so ignorant about biology’s greatest theory.
Perhaps readers can chime in with their own summer books. Here’s what I’m reading at the moment:
Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens
A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell (12 novels!)
A Very Short Introduction to Free Will by Thomas Pink