Books I Wish I Had Written

Always buy from an independent bookseller! Instead of Amazon, try Powell’s. Cover images will link to a book’s sales page.

finch I read The Beak of the Finch when I was ski racing full-time, and grappling with the decision about whether or not to “retire” (quit, we should just say quit). It reminded me about everything I love about science, and provided the perfect push for me to get back into research. Eventually, I decided to do a masters in evolution because I wanted, like the Grants, to combine ecology and evolution. Well, we all know that things don’t turn out as you originally plan, but it was still a great decision! As I read this book, though, I faced a quandary: I wanted to both be the Grants, and to be Weiner writing about them.
9780143119463_FourFish_CV.indd  Four Fish is a great read about food and our effect on ecosystems and communities. But one of the things I love most about this book is how Greenberg weaves in his own childhood – and adult – experience fishing and gives the story an emotional, human element. The debate between wild-caught and farmed fish is especially interesting for ecologists.
sportsgene Had I heard a few of the stories and research papers in The Sports Gene before? Yeah. But I lapped them up a second time, as well as the many examples that were fresh and new. As both an athlete and a biologist, like Epstein, I’ve thought long and hard about my own athletic past: I know that I wasn’t blessed with the natural talent or beastliness of some of my teammates, and yet I got pretty far. How much of that can I chalk up to my own work ethic? Determination? Or was I just being lazier than I thought, relying on whatever level of endurance strength I was given? Then again, I’d talk with my coach about how, physiologically, I ought to be a better sprinter, but I had never played sports as a kid so those patterns just didn’t develop. Talking to non-athletes about “genetic giftedness” can be frustrating, but so can thinking about it yourself. Epstein does a great job of laying things out without coming down firmly on one side or the other because, like humanity, biology is complicated.
botany of desire The Botany of Desire is my favorite Michael Pollan book – I find it far more powerful than the oft-cited Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan follows the history of apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes alongside the history of humanity and examines how the plants have shaped us, and vice versa.
 whywerun Long before Born To Run, Bernd Heinrich wrote this amazing book, Why We Run, about his own experience as a record-setting ultramarathon runner and our own evolutionary history of running. My bachelors supervisor, Becky Irwin, gave it to me the first summer I worked for her in Colorado. We spent a long time talking about the higher-than-usual overlap between scientists and endurance athletes: both Becky and I raced on our college’s cross country ski teams. Heinrich is an amazing writer on biology and you should also check out his other books, like The Mind of the Raven, The Nesting Season, and A Year in the Maine Woods. Heinrich is an emeritus professor of biology at the University of Vermont.
 plutopia I heard an interview with Brown on NPR’s Fresh Air, and was hooked on the story. Plutopia grabbed me from the first page and held my attention the whole way through. The scientific, environmental, and social history of plutonium production in the U.S. and the Soviet Union is incredibly fascinating.
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