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Blast into Summer Reading with The Canon

Science Under the Microscope

Blast into Summer Reading with The CanonWhile I don't technically get to enjoy a traditional summer thanks to the year-round schedule at my middle school, I find myself collecting books all year long for summer reading during those lazy, hazy, crazy days. 

My most recent read came to me as an end-of-the-year thank you gift from a wonderfully generous and helpful parent.  It's called The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier.  As a science teacher, I have to share my thoughts about the book. 

Many science books that I have read are targeted at a particular demographic of college-educated folks who have a natural interest and (usually) a strong background in the sciences.  Sometimes, you even need specific knowledge in a narrow field of science in order to understand and appreciate them.  A few of my favorite to fall in this specialty category are Life in Moving Fluids by the subtly witty Steven Vogel and Richard Dawkins' indispensable The Selfish Gene.  Though I thoroughly enjoy them, these books just aren’t for everyone.  

The Canon, on the other hand, is.  What I enjoyed most about this work by the Pulitzer-winning reporter Angier is that she goes about writing it in the same way that I attempt to teach my science class.

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Angier learns from scientists, both renowned and promising, in an effort to distill the basic tenets of modern science.  Rather than focusing on pure science in its embryonic and intangible essence, she directs the reader to more concrete examples of applied science and its ubiquitous presence in our lives.  She prods her subjects into dispelling the myths of science while playing the part of naive and untrained observer.  She looks on with the starry-eyed amazement of a middle school student. 

All the while, the reader gains a better understanding for the nature of science.  There's no better example than when Angier meets with biochemist Scott Strobel, who shows her how to play the game Mastermind.  The lesson meets with failure, but a larger message is made apparent: 

"Mastermind, he declares, is 'a microcosm for how science works.'  By insisting I play the game, he was trying to impress on me an essential truth about science.  And while the dramady at Strobel's gaming table was not my favorite hour, in its intensity and memorability it reflects the strength with which scientists, whatever their specialty, agree with this truth.  Science is not a body of facts.  Science is a state of mind."

This book has a captivating way of reaching out to novices and science-lovers alike, rendering the complexities of nature into easily digestible chunks.  She makes scientific concepts apparent in the mundane aspects of our familiar world.  In a nutshell, she makes for an excellent science teacher.  We could all do well to follow her lead, and reading The Canon is a great start.

Have you read this one?  Other science summer reading favorites? Share in the comments section!