Non-fiction November: Become the Expert


This is my second discussion post for Non-Fiction November, an exciting event celebrating non-fiction hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness and Leslie at Regular Ruminations. Every Monday this month, a discussion question will be posted. Then each Friday there will be a link-up for discussion posts and non-fiction reviews, with each linky entry entered in a prize drawing at the end of the month! Today’s topic is…

Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Share a list of nonfiction books on a topic you know a lot about. Or, ask for some advice for books on a particular topic. Or, put together a list of nonfiction books on a topic you’re curious about.

As someone who does a lot of science reading for work, I’m surprised that I can still enjoy reading about science for fun. Fortunately, in popular science books compared to professional papers there are far fewer details and far more attempts to make the subject interesting to the non-expert. As such, they can require far less brain power to read and can be enjoyed by a much wider audience. If you don’t have a science background, but are interested in what the life of a scientist it like or are interested in a topic like sports or politics that some scientific analysis can help explain, here are some books I’d recommend for you:

 The Signal and The Noise is written by a statistician who created a model that does an impressive job predicting election winners. He includes lots of great graphs that make complex topics much easier to follow. In addition to learning about stats, you’ll learn all sorts of fun facts that people have discerned using statistical methods.


Microcosm does the best job of any book I’ve read at giving a glimpse into the life of a scientist. Especially for biologists, the day-to-day work can be rote and mundane, but the big picture is awe-inspiring. If you’re thinking of going into the sciences, this would be a great book to read.

16171221The Sports Gene was so well written that it was easy to follow even though I knew nothing about the topic before I started and it was interesting even though sports aren’t my favorite subject. I was also very impressed by the nuanced conclusions the author drew. He also handled sensitive issues like race and gender with great delicacy.

The Lives of a Cell is a collection of short but thought-provoking essays which was sometimes humorous, sometimes inspiring, and always an insightful, approachable look at some of the wonders of biology. I would particularly recommend this to people who do lab work because it’s a great reminder of how wonderful biology is, even the things that become rote in the lab.

The Emperor of All Maladies is elegantly written, with both scientific precision and human empathy, both historical interest and fascinating stories about people. It’s also one of the best written books I’ve ever read.


Filed under Blogger Events, non-fiction, Science

26 responses to “Non-fiction November: Become the Expert

  1. This is a wonderful post for me because I work in a biology lab and while I don’t normally read non-fiction this appeals to me. Especially The Lives of a Cell! It’s nice to have something short to read in the 10-20 min I’m waiting for something to spin down or run or something. 🙂 Thank you for this!

    • Oh The Lives of a Cell would be perfect for that! The essays are pretty short, so you might even be able to make it through one while something runs. And it really helped me remember why I love my job, so there’s that too 🙂

  2. I have heard so many good things about THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE. I think it might be a Christmas present for my husband. Sounds like it is right up his alley. And the title is great too.

    • I adored that book! To be fair, I love machine learning and am starting to enjoy statistics in general, so I might be a little bit weird… However, if your husband is interested in big data, I couldn’t recommend a better book 🙂

  3. ebookclassics

    All of these books sound fascinating and have great potential as Christmas gifts. Thanks for the summary!

  4. I got into science precisely because these sorts of books exist, it’s so much more interesting than school (at least my classes!). The Signal and the Noise sounds fascinating, what a subject! Though I really like the idea of Microcosm and the cells book.

  5. Great list! The Emperor of All Maladies is a wonderful book — so easy to read, even though the science of cancer can be intimidating. I’ve wanted to read The Signal and the Noise for awhile, and The Sports Gene sounds amazing too.

    • I was so impressed by The Emperor of All Maladies. I would like to get better at identifying what about a book like that made the writing so good, so I could better describe it. I’m not sure I loved it far more than most other five star reviews, but I think the writing was in another league!

  6. The Emperor of Maladies is terrific. The Sports Gene sounds really interesting too!

    • I loved The Emperor of All Maladies! It was just so well written 🙂 The Sports Gene was very good and I’m sure someone excited about sports would like it even more than I did.

  7. Oh, I LOVED The Emperor of All Maladies…and you’re right, it’s very approachable (from this very non-sciencey person). I remember seeing The Sports Gene a while ago, thanks for reminding me of it!

    • Wonderful! Since I do have a bit of a science background, even if not directly applicable to everything I read, I do sometimes wonder if I’m right about how approachable a book is. I loved The Sports Gene and would definitely recommend it 🙂

  8. After reading Mortality by Christopher Hitchens reading about his battle with cancer I really wanna read The Emperor of All Maladies. Microcosm looks great. I’ve had Lives of a Cell sitting in my library for years and I haven’t touched it. After reading your post, I think I gotta get off my butt and finally read it!

  9. Pingback: Nonfiction November: Week 2 Wrap-Up

  10. joyweesemoll

    These all sound fascinating. I read LIves of a Cell in an essay class because the writing is so superb.

    • That’s great! I was so impressed with the writing, I thought it was really beautiful and it makes me happy to hear that it was used in a class as an example of good writing 🙂

  11. Woah, this is a great list! I work in a lab, but I’ve never realized that books like The Lives of a Cell and Microcosm existed. (An excuse to read something other than journal articles during those long incubation times? Score!) Thanks for sharing!

    • It’s so true! One of the brilliant things about reading a good science book is that you’re both doing something enjoyable and doing something work-related enough that it’s ok to do it in the lab 🙂

  12. I can’t wait to read Emperor of Maladies. I’m waiting for winter break to read some of my longer books and it’s on the list.

  13. Wow! The Lives of a Cell has been around a long time, hasn’t it? Good to know it’s still a classic!

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