Books Like This Are Convincing

Lives of the ScientistsI’m more com­fort­able with mag­ic than I am with sci­ence. Mar­ried to a sci­ence guy, I work hard­er to be inter­est­ed in sci­ence. It gives us some­thing to talk about. When I find nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion that tells a com­pelling sto­ry, I’m thank­ful … and intrigued. I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly hap­py to find books that fea­ture less­er-known aspects of sci­ence, there­by taunt­ing my curiosity.

Do you know the Lives of … series, writ­ten by Kath­leen Krull and illus­trat­ed with dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly big heads by Kathryn Hewitt? First pub­lished in 2013 and now in paper­back for less than $10, I had a ball read­ing Lives of the Sci­en­tists: Exper­i­ments, Explo­sions (and What the Neigh­bors Thought). It reminds me of Peo­ple mag­a­zine in tone, lean­ing toward gos­sipy aspects of these most curi­ous of peo­ple past and present but bal­anced by the right amount of tan­ta­liz­ing infor­ma­tion about their work (for many of them, their obses­sion). And you may not have heard of many of these people.

For instance, William and Car­o­line Her­schel, broth­er and sis­ter, earned their liv­ing as musi­cians until they had sold enough of their hand­made tele­scopes (they used horse dung for the molds!) and their cat­a­log of new­ly dis­cov­ered heav­en­ly bod­ies attract­ed the atten­tion of England’s King George III, who paid them both a salary.

The gos­sipy part? Appar­ent­ly William was a bossy guy who didn’t have his sister’s well-being at the top of his pri­or­i­ty list. Dur­ing a long night of astro­nom­ic obser­va­tion, Caroline’s leg was impaled on a hook but he couldn’t hear her cries of pain. He was con­cen­trat­ing hard!

After each pro­file, there are “extra cred­it” points that didn’t fit into the nar­ra­tive but they’re awful­ly interesting.

Don’t you love this tid­bit about Grace Mur­ray Hop­per, com­put­er sci­en­tist? “When Grace Mur­ray Hop­per was sev­en, she took her alarm clock apart to see how it worked. Her par­ents were impressed — until she took apart sev­en more. They lim­it­ed her to dis­man­tling one clock at a time, but they ful­ly sup­port­ed her education.”

Rachel Carson, Lives of the Scientists, illustration copyright Kathryn Hewitt
Rachel Car­son, Lives of the Sci­en­tists, illus­tra­tion copy­right Kathryn Hewitt

Do you know the work of Chien-Shi­ung Wu, Zhang Heng, and Edwin Hub­ble? There are more famil­iar sci­en­tists as well, peo­ple like Jane Goodall, Albert Ein­stein, Rachel Car­son, and George Wash­ing­ton Carver.

This book sup­ports curios­i­ty, inves­ti­ga­tion, and the pur­su­ing of dreams … your kids will enjoy these three- to four-page biogra­phies even if they’re more inclined to mag­ic than science.

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