I have a little metric for rationality that I exercise now and then: when I visit a bookstore, I compare the sizes of the religion/new age sections to the size of the science section…if I can find it. Typically, there’s at least a 10:1 disparity in the amount of shelf space dedicated, and it’s often much worse — there have been a few bookstores where, when I ask to find the science books, the clerk will point me to a small shelf labeled “Pets/Nature”. Bleh.
Anyway, I got a good question on Saturday at Guelph, which also mentioned this cluelessness by too many bookstores. Could we compile a list of excellent science books, that is, books that should appeal to the lay public, have some chance of commercial success, and that we think do a good job of presenting an interesting and accurate view of science? I suspect there are a few people here who read books, and might have some opinions here — how about expressing them in the comments?
What I’d like to accumulate is actually a couple of lists. If you went to the religion section of the local Barnes & Noble, you’d be quite surprised if the Christian bible were absent — similarly, I’d like a list of the essential books a good bookstore ought to carry, the ones that are perennially useful and popular. This would be handy for confronting an owner and asking him why he has so many obvious omissions.
Another list would be of commercially viable popular science books. These would be books that present good science, but ought also to be popular among readers. Bookstore owners want to make money, so doing a little pre-screening for them and helping them to make an informed decision would be productive and helpful, and maybe they’d actually listen if we showed a list like that.
So here’s the deal: nominate some books. For each one, say whether it is essential or popular. It might also be useful to assign a broad category (math, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, psychology, for instance) to each. I’ll compile them later this month and put together some simple pdfs that you can download and use at your local bookstore to try and encourage some upgrading of the stock.