If you’re a bibliophile, you’ll already know about the Five Books site of The Browser, where you can read really nice interviews with luminaries and learn which five books they most recommend for popular reading in their field.
The site has just been reorganized, so you can scan all the interviews by general topic (“World literature,” “poetry,” “natural history,” and so on), by the person being interviewed, or by the recommended books themselves. It’s even better than a bookstore, because you get recommendations, a precis of each book, and a look inside the heads of a diverse collection of scholars and enthusiasts.
In the latest contribution, science writer Seth Mnookin gives an interview in which he recommends his five “best books” about vaccines. It’s a fascinating read, and I’m particularly pleased that he recommended a long-forgotten book that was one of my childhood favorites: Paul de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters, a history of microbiology told through the biographies of its colorful founders.
de Kruif, (1890-1971), a Dutch microbiologist with a novelistic bent, collaborated with Sinclair Lewis on my favorite novel about science, Arrowsmith. de Kruif’s name isn’t on the title page, but he helped Lewis plot the novel and get the science right. (The book won a Pulitzer Prize,but Lewis refused it.) Can I get a Darwin for Arrowsmith? (More on Jerry DeWitt tomorrow.)
As the lively stories for van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), Spallanzani (1729-1799), Pasteur (1822-1895), Koch (1843-1910), Roux (1853-1893), Behring (1854-1917), Metchnikoss (1845-1916), Theobald Smith (1869-1934), Bruce (1855-1931), Ross (1857-1932), Grassi (1854-1925), Walter Reed (1851-1902), and Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915) unfold, the reader is overwhelmed.
Indeed. My old copy is smudged and dog-eared from repeated readings. The book was enormously influential in turning many young people to science, and those include me.