Saturday, December 18, 2010

My current wish-list of ambition

I always have a stack of books next to my bed that fit into this category: "I should really read this book to become a more educated scientist and a better teacher." The problem with the books in this category is that by the time I come home from work after a tough day the last thing I want to do is pleasure reading about chemistry. I'd rather pick up Narnia or Cold Mountain or even Schindler's List (as depressing as it seems) for crying out loud.

But, just today I received something that really piqued my interest in terms of thrilling science. It is called the Disappearing Spoon. Yes, thrills chills, it is a book of anecdotal information about the periodic table and the elements on it. It tells tales of poison, politics and even a bit of science mixed in. I haven't read it yet but the introduction talked about mercury and its haunting tendencies to poison and hurt people.
When I first read the summary I thought to myself, "this sounds like another rendition of Primo Levi and the Periodic Table." Primo Levi is the Jewish freelance chemist who wrote about his experiences in chemistry during world war II by focusing each chapter of his book on one particular experience. The experience was somehow tied into one of the elements on the periodic table- either peripherially or focally.  I can already see that this book is vastly different from Levi's. For one thing the author is not a bench scientist. And for another he is not telling personal experiences- he is recounting facts he learned about elements mixed in with some of his own impressions and conversations with professors during his science education experience. So far it is not evident that he has been employed in science beyond his basic education level.

So- as soon as I gather lots of riveting poisoner stories and other scandalous tidbits to shock my students with perhaps I will gain ambition to read the other two books on my ambition checklist. They are these two books:
One is based on history of science classes taught at Johns Hopkins and the other is a book written by a man exploring the nature of ocean waves with his daughter. Two very different books but both potentially helpful in getting nonscientists interested in science.

I just can't muster up the ambition to actually read these books.