Reading in retirement

Scientific research is a very creative and personally satisfying process. However, researchers often find that the inevitable specialisation and concentration on limited aspects of reality can lead to a lack of understanding and appreciation of discoveries in other fields.

Since retirement I’ve appreciated the opportunity to read more widely. I find myself returning to subjects I haven’t considered for decades, or have neglected. I’m learning about the amazing discoveries humanity has made (behind my back) in the meantime.

I was encouraged to check out, and summarise, what I have been reading by the reading lists blogged by Damian and others. The number of books I have got through (in four years) shocked me – perhaps I’m a bit obsessive, or maybe its just the freedom retirement has given me.

I can recommend most books on the list – but definitely not every one (guess which).

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Infidel
Peter Atkins: Galileo’s Finger
Michael J. Behe: Darwin’s Black Box
Sharon Begley: Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain
Sandra Blakeslee, Matthew Blakeslee: The Body Has a Mind of Its Own
Pascal Boyer: Religion Explained
John Brockman (Ed): What Is Your Dangerous Idea?
Christopher Brookmyre: Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks
Hamish Campbell, Gerald Hutching: In Search of Ancient New Zealand
Sean B. Carroll: Endless Forms Most Beautiful
Austin Dacey: The Secular Conscience
Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species
Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man
Paul Davies: The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World
Richard Dawkins: A Devil’s Chaplain
Richard Dawkins: Unweaving the Rainbow
Richard Dawkins: The Ancestor’s Tale
Richard Dawkins: The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition
Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion
Daniel C. Dennett: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
Daniel C. Dennett: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs, and Steel
Jared Diamond: Collapse
Norman Doidge: The Brain That Changes Itself
Helen Ellerbe: The Dark Side of Christian History
Barbara Forrest, Paul R. Gross: Creationism’s Trojan Horse
Steve Fuller: Kuhn Vs.Popper
Daniel Goleman: Destructive Emotions
Ursula Goodenough: The Sacred Depths of Nature
Malcolm Gladwell: Blink
Stephen Jay Gould: Rocks of Ages
Alan Grafen, Mark Ridley: Richard Dawkins
Brian Greene: The Fabric of the Cosmos
Nancy Thorndike Greenspan: The End of the Certain World
John Gribbin: The Fellowship
Nicky Hager: The Hollow Men
Sam Harris: Letter to a Christian Nation
Sam Harris: The End of Faith
Christopher Hitchens: God Is Not Great
Robert Henson: The Rough Guide to Climate Change
Edward Humes: Monkey Girl
Max Jammer: Einstein and Religion
Eric R. Kandel: In Search of Memory
David J. Linden: The Accidental Mind
Irshad Manji: The Trouble with Islam Today
Ernst Mayr: What Evolution Is
Kenneth R. Miller: Only a Theory
Andrew Newberg, Mark Robert Waldman: Born to Believe
Christop Norris: Quantum Theory and the Flight From Realism
Michel Onfray: Atheist Manifesto
Andrew J. Petto, Laurie R. Godfrey: Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism
Steven Pinker: The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
Sheldon Rampton, John Stauber: Weapons of Mass Deception
Martin Rees: Before The Beginning
Matt Ridley: Nature Via Nurture
Matt Ridley: Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code
Matt Ridley: Genome
Oliver Sacks: Uncle Tungsten
Carl Sagan: The Varieties of Scientific Experience
Sahotra Sarkar: Doubting Darwin
Michael Shermer: The Science of Good and Evil
Michael Shermer: How We Believe
Michael Shermer: Why People Believe Weird Things
Lee Smolin: The Trouble With Physics
Dava Sobel: Longitude
Victor J. Stenger: God: The Failed Hypothesis
Kim Sterelny: Dawkins vs Gould: Survival of the Fittest
Ian Tattersall: The Fossil Trail
Chris Turney: Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Things Happened
Neil deGrasse Tyson: Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution
Max Wallace:The Purple Economy
Peter Ward, Donald Brownlee: The Life and Death of Planet Earth
Peter Ward: Life as We Do Not Know It
James D. Watson: DNA: The Secret of Life
Spencer Wells: Deep Ancestry: Inside The Genographic Project
David Sloan Wilson: Darwin’s Cathedral
Edward O. Wilson: The Creation
Edward O. Wilson: Consilience
Peter Woit: Not Even Wrong
Lewis Wolpert: Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Lawrence Wright: The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
Phillip Zimbardo: The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
Carl Zimmer: At the Water’s Edge
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7 responses to “Reading in retirement

  1. Woah! Either I need to increase my reading speed or take an early retirement. A lot of those books look excellent. What would be your top five recommendations?


  2. His top pick would be Behe’s ‘Darwin’s Black Box’ I’m guessing ๐Ÿ˜‰


  3. I haven’t read them all (not retired yet! must add a few of Ken’s to my to-read list) but my top five of those that I have would be At the water’s edge; Guns, germs & steel; Collapse; Uncle Tungsten; Creationism’s trojan horse.


  4. I envy you. Bring on retirement ๐Ÿ™‚

    I own a few of these, but can’t find the time to read them, sod it.

    My dream job would be to write review papers. (Both the book review sort and the literature review sort.) Anyone willing to pay me for that?

    (Before anyone suggests it, it seems very few people are able to make a full-time living from science writing. At least from what I’ve read/heard.)

    Good list, although I’m generally not interested in the “prove G-d doesn’t exist” books, as its a non-issue to me.

    I preferred Sack’s earlier books, for what its worth.

    What is Blakeslee & Blakeslee like?

    Given a choice, I prefer popular science written by scientists: I worry a little about misinterpretations in some popular science books, particular those written by those with little science background. But then, I’m picky I guess…


  5. It’s hard to select a top 5 but I would have to include Ali’s Infidel and Wright’s The Looming Tower. Dawkin’s Ancestors Tale is excellent, as is Ridley’s Nature via Nurture and Forrest & Gross’s Creationismโ€™s Trojan Horse.

    Kandel’s In Search of Memory is excellent both as an autobiography (I quite enjoy biographies of scientists) and a history of the development of our understanding of neuroscience.

    The God Delusion is pretty significant for me – it’s the first Book by Dawkins I read (as I explain in Dealing with Dawkins I had been prejudiced against Dawkins for 30 years). I think it has been significant in enabling non-theists to “come out”, rather than for any scientific content.

    Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box was useful as it helped me understand the psychological/ ideological motivations underlying creationism/intelligent design. Scientifically it’s not convincing.

    The Blakeslees’ book was very good. It gives quite an extensive review of new knowledge in brain science – an area I find fascinating.

    I have just added Nicky Hager’s The Hollow Men. An excellent book about NZ’s political system – very relevant to current issues around Peters.

    Fuller’s Kuhn Vs.Popper was a waste of time. Fuller is a non-theist supporter of intelligent design. He gets there because of his post-modernism which is basically very anti-science. I’ll just have to get around to reading Popper and Kuhn’s own books.


  6. Ian Wishart’s Eve’s Bite sounds like an interesting read.


  7. Why do you say that Ross? Have you read it or anything else of Wishart’s?

    I did read his book about the wine box enquiry (many years ago) – it was a good read but I wasn’t confident about its reliability. He seems to have a history of distorting information to fit his personal agendas.


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