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Comfort bedtime reading for nerds?
January 21, 2014 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Help complete the set: (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Calvin and Hobbes, ...).

I'm looking for the sorts of books that remind you that science can solve most human problems, and what it can't solve are probably human issues that we'll be stuck with as a race forever. Probably looking for humorous fiction and non-fiction rather than drama or adventure/fantasy. (Don't want a downer before bed!) Ideally with short chapters, a wink, and a sigh. Books that are chicken soup for the scientific and secular humanist soul.
posted by pbh to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Flatland
posted by kdern at 10:35 AM on January 21


I like Bill Bryson's A Walk In The Woods - it's an account of his hike of part of the Appalachian Trail and while it's not science per se, it's a cheeringly down to earth account of the process and the trail. (I find some of his other books really reductionist and grating, but I find this one very soothing.)
posted by Frowner at 10:40 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


The Joy of x
posted by Asparagus at 10:43 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's just me, but this is kind of how I feel about Vonnegut. His writing always seems to come from this place of "Look, the world is a bit damaged and fucked up, but that's ok. We have all these things that humans have created. Some of them are good. Some of them are maybe not so good. But there's not a whole lot we can do about it. Let's just try to be a little more generous and a little more understanding of one another, love while we can, and make the best of it." He somehow manages to touch on a lot of humanity's problems without a stitch of contempt for his fellow man. I find that comforting.
posted by phunniemee at 10:48 AM on January 21


Terry Pratchett, surely!
posted by Erasmouse at 10:49 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


While equally applicable to bedtime, I find a good Foxtrot book makes restroom visits have a p<0.05.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:50 AM on January 21


The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.
posted by jbickers at 10:53 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


Terry Pratchet, yep.
posted by Jacen at 10:53 AM on January 21


This suggestion is not scientific, but it is wonderful secular humanist reading.
It is short, sweet, and often very poignant.
This. And This. and This. and others.
posted by Flood at 10:56 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


To Be Or Not To Be, Ryan North.
posted by tilde at 11:17 AM on January 21


Any Far Side collection.
And, it's not funny, but The Ghost Map fits your other criteria.
posted by five toed sloth at 11:18 AM on January 21


I sort of found Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb to be like this. There's a lot of politics thrown in as well, but it really goes into the background and history of the nuclear physics to show how improbable a task the Manhattan Project was.
posted by supercres at 11:18 AM on January 21


Terry Pratchett for sure.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:20 AM on January 21


Ready for an odd suggestion? "T.Rex and the Crater of Doom" by Walter Alvarez.

He's a paleontologist who began to wonder about the sedimentary clay layer at the so-called K-T boundary (the end of the Cretaceous and beginning of the Tertiary period), and got his father Luis Alvarez, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, interested in the problem. Together (and with help from a few others) they developed the theory that a giant asteroid impact caused the Cretaceous extinction event.

This book is Walter's story of the process by which that theory was developed. It's fascinating to read, because Walter is a good writer. But it also makes clear that science is something done by people, real people, with all the same quirks and failings of any other people. Walter doesn't try to hide the mistakes and wrong turns they made.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:32 AM on January 21


Mastering Regular Expressions

I'm only half-joking; I've been reading it before dozing off these past few weeks. It's quite readable and has little jokes sprinkled through. And if you want affirmation that technology can solve human problems then by golly MRE will scratch that itch!
posted by chebucto at 11:48 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Three Men in A Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K Jerome.
posted by pseudonick at 12:01 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]


Maybe A Canticle for Leibowitz? I mean, it's about nuclear fallout, but it's also funny and warm and strangely optimistic and all about science.
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:04 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Year Zero - Rob Reid. Aliens discover our music which turns out to be the best in the universe, downloading and sharing it all and inadvertently getting into a copyright of universal proportions. Then it gets weird.

Like A Walk in the Woods, I'm a big Bryson fan. He did a nice history book, A Short History of Nearly Everything.

The Pinball Effect - James Burke an interesting history of connectivity. It's meant to be read non-linearly and many paragraphs have margin links to take you to a related item elsewhere in the book.

Redshirts - John Scalzi (mefi's own) homage novel to Star Trek/Sci Fi tropes. Liked it a lot.
posted by plinth at 12:18 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


You might also enjoy Dianna Wynne Jones's YA novel Dark Lord of Derkholm - it's poking fun at all the "people from our world go to Magical Place to Defeat the Dark Lord" high fantasy novels. There's this world, see, where an evil entrepreneur (from our world) forces them to host the annual Tours, where they have to stage this elaborate quest thing for multiple groups from our world and it has to be all High Fantasy Serious and it is this huge bureaucratic undertaking. It's a really funny novel, particularly the first bits.


(There's a section that I find really offensive, actually, which hinges on the idea that all these random prisoners from jails in our world are actually ipso facto terrible people instead of just people who committed a crime of some kind. But other than that....)
posted by Frowner at 12:29 PM on January 21


One of my favorites in science history is Longitude by Dava Sobel. It's a quick, fun read, and quite gripping. It's also perfect for a flight to London, where you can then see The Harrison Clocks in person.
posted by bruceo at 1:27 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Mary Roach
posted by j_curiouser at 1:45 PM on January 21


So far, anything I've read by Bryson is quite good, funny, and researched. Highly recommend Robert Sapolsky, esp. Primate's Memoir.
posted by theora55 at 2:37 PM on January 21


P.G. Wodehouse. Start with The Code Of The Woosters.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 2:39 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Seconding Scalzi's REDSHIRTS which I devoured in three days. Read to the end of Chapter 2 before you decide if you like it or not; the surprises pick up after that.
posted by wittgenstein at 2:42 PM on January 21


James Gleick, Chaos. (Also, Genius, a biography of Richard Feynman.)
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Everything.
Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain.
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:35 PM on January 21


I really enjoyed Connie Willis' Passage, a science fiction novel about near death experiences.
posted by applesurf at 4:48 PM on January 21




And Terry Pratchett - best of the best.

(I probably didn't do the link thing properly - wanted to link to When Elephants Weep - a wonderful book)
posted by aryma at 12:02 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Maybe Earth by Jon Stewart?
posted by starman at 7:29 AM on January 22


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