Posted by: CJ | April 17, 2010

Pop Science and I

Ever since spending most of elementary school claiming I couldn’t read because I couldn’t understand The Way Things Work, I’ve never gotten into pop science books. I’ll read complicated technical books just fine, but pop science and I don’t get along very well. And this is despite being given many such books over the years.

I think there are three major reasons pop science books and I don’t get along, depending on what sort of pop science book it is.

One type of pop science book is actually about science, but just simplifies it. Trying to read those is frustrating for me, mostly because they’re not at my level, and I could get broad ideas online. It’s the equivalent of someone that studied some of the core Shakespeare tragedies in college reading a “for middle school” version of a Shakespeare tragedy they haven’t read. Amusing perhaps, but hardly worth it if it takes longer than an hour or there aren’t good pictures. (Good pictures are very important for a pop science book to have a chance of interesting me.) After all, if you just want the general overview you could read it on wikipedia.

The other type of pop science book isn’t about science at all. It’s about people. A number of books by/about Einstein or Feynman fall into that category. I’m not particularly interested in those. To the extent I’m interested in people, I’m interested in groups of them interacting, not individuals. So biographies are largely lost on me, as are pop science books that try to make science seem fun by focusing on a menagerie of individuals and neglecting the science.

The last reason is that I really just don’t give a damn about astronomy, particle physics, or cosmology. It’s taken me a long time to realize that’s really my opinion and that I’m comfortable with it, but there it is. I like science for its ability to explain things that I encounter in daily life and to generalize specific situations to more general mechanisms. Stars, high energy physics, and the whole meaning of life thing are rather lost on me. And thus so are a lot of pop science books.

That said, I do enjoy history and technical books. I just refuse to read a science book that doesn’t interest me or a bad history book labeled as a science book.


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