UNpopular Science (and Arts / Humanities) Books
August 4, 2015 3:43 PM   Subscribe

Looking for interesting, readable (if dense) books aimed at professional colleagues, rather than the general public.

In the preface to Quantum Computing Since Democritus Scott Aaronson discusses
[...] books that are neither "popular" nor "professional": books that describe a piece of the intellectural landscape from one researcher's heavily biased vantage point, using the same sort of language you might hear in a hallway conversation with a colleague from a different field
and his book is a great example.

I think this could also include review papers (if they become book sized), and (some - if they're "famously good") textbooks. For example, Judea Pearl's Causality is an important, cross-discipline landmark, aimed at researchers in other fields. Or anthologies of papers, like Conceptual Problems in Evolutionary Biology.

Outside the physical sciences, I don't have so much knowledge to draw on, but perhaps Clara Han's Life in Debt which is, I guess, an anthropological report (review).

Obviously, the field is large. So I'm asking for the "best" examples you can think of. The kind of reading, perhaps, that you would give an undergrad who's interested in the field you work in.
posted by andrewcooke to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century" is about as "famous" as a professional-yet-readable report can come in my line of work. It's been by far the most paradigm-shifting work in toxicology since... well, ever, really. And it didn't invent the modern paradigm, it put it all in one place and told the world to shift already. Free to download, too. It came out in 2007 and has led to all sorts of big changes, like the Tox21 "consortium" (which is still coalescing, but basically all regulatory agencies have signed on).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:18 PM on August 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: A very dense book about how we form our ego, emotion and sense of self via our early relationships. I've only read a few chapters but it's a favorite for sure.

Affect Regulation, Mentalization and the Development of the Self

Amazon link here
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:32 PM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: (these are great - exactly the kind of thing i was looking for! please, more!)
posted by andrewcooke at 5:02 PM on August 4, 2015

Best answer: Grad student here, Quadrupole Ion Trap Mass Spectrometry is a staple in my lab because it's just approachable enough for a new student while still being very information-dense.
posted by kagredon at 5:08 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Homeowner Revolution: Democracy, Land Use and the Los Angeles Slow-Growth Movement, 1965-1992.

It's not exactly a book (it's a book-length urban planning doctoral thesis) but it's accessible and engaging enough that it could easily be published as one. It's a deep dive into the recent history of land use regulation in LA, but many of the trends identified have parallels elsewhere in North America. I recommend it to anyone looking to understand the political context of land use and housing prices in modern North American cities.
posted by ripley_ at 5:35 PM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: on the off chance that you'd be interested in a law book, I collected trial practice books early in my legal career, and Winning at Trial was far and away the best I found. I think I've mentioned it here before; it comes with a DVD illustrating masterful trial techniques with real clips of OJ Simpson's defense counsel at his murder trial. The book is great and I always recommended it to my colleagues, who in turn became big fans.
posted by jayder at 5:55 PM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Kyle Gann's Introduction to Historical Tunings
posted by moonmilk at 6:01 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Biological sequence analysis
posted by grouse at 6:29 PM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: oh, and to go back to a classic: The Nature of the Chemical Bond, intended as a textbook (and is at a level that a 3rd or 4th year undergrad can follow), but became an indispensable reference/touchstone, and still gets cited about 500 times a year in scholarly publications.
posted by kagredon at 6:31 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seeing Like A State is an academic, research-rich book of anthropology and social science which is nonetheless readable, and endlessly fascinating, for the general reader.

In case you care about math, I implore all undergrads interested in number theory to read J. P. Serre's A Course In Arithmetic.
posted by escabeche at 7:09 PM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Mary Fulbrook's The People's State: East German Society from Hitler to Honecker is really readable.

I'm tempted to throw Stanley's Enumerative Combinatorics, Volume 1 out there as a math suggestion, but it's kind of hard to sit down and read math books as a, uh, book. (Volume 2 is less self-contained and requires more math background.)
posted by hoyland at 7:15 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Keith Nugent's Coherent Methods in the X-ray Sciences is an amazing, comprehensive, but readable survey by a giant in the field. Don't be thrown by the arxiv link; it's basically a longish monograph/shortish text that he has kindly opted to keep free.
posted by dorque at 7:36 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm thinking Bill Labov's Sociolinguistic Patterns might fit the bill. It summarizes key results from a number of his early studies in quantitative sociolinguistics and is loosely framed as an argument to other linguists that "socio"linguistics is inseparable from linguistics.
posted by somedaycatlady at 10:46 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was surprised to find Gerard Genette's Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretations incredibly entertaining and amusing. It's about all those things that turn a piece of text into a book (and how those things shape our perception of said book): page numbers, authors' blurbs, typography, layout, titles etc.
posted by kariebookish at 3:58 AM on August 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In my field, James Fearon's 'Rationalist Explanations for War' is a paradigm shifting work that is incredibly simple and clear. Its one of those papers that I have read over and over.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:49 AM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Avoiding Attack : The Evolutionary Ecology of Crypsis, Warning Signals and Mimicry
posted by dhruva at 7:57 AM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In my (non-scientific, non-math-y) field, Chemerinsky's Constitutional Law is pretty much the hands-down best book about how all those Supreme Court cases fit together -- reading individual cases gives you the reasoning of the author of the opinion, but a limited idea of how that case fits with overall jurisprudence on that topic, how much of a departure the case is from what came before, how much the case influenced what came after, what all this legalese actually means, etc.

Chemerinsky does that, and in remarkably elegant, clear prose.
posted by joyceanmachine at 12:22 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: looks like this thread has come to an end (but feel free...). thanks for the diverse recommendations. gold stars for all!
posted by andrewcooke at 12:36 PM on August 5, 2015

Best answer: Ivars Peterson was the math and science editor for the magazine Science News for about 25 years. He wrote a number of books about science and math that are accessible to, say, an undergraduate reader, but don't seem to be well known.
[full disclosure] Peterson taught Physics at my high school before he switched careers to science journalism.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:46 AM on September 15, 2015

Response by poster: just popping in to add physics from symmetry which, in an undergrad (physics) level textbook, develops the maths (not terribly rigorously) necessary to then extract "all" of modern physics (except gravitation) from symmetries (ie "the standard model"). it's currently blowing my mind. also, related, an intro to tensors and group theory for physicists has the most simple, intuitive, no-long-words description of what a tensor is that it's worth buying for the first few pages alone.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:18 PM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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