Techers share their favorite books and podcasts
by Hope Jahren
Chosen by the Undergraduate Deans to be read and discussed by this year's Frosh class during their first weeks on campus, Lab Girl is the exploration of a female scientist's love for her work, as well as the personal and professional obstacles she had to overcome in order to achieve her goals.
by Thad Williamson
Thad Williamson covers “sprawl” by examining societal, environmental, and personal preference angles. The book takes a data-driven and philosophical approach from a neutral point of view. It’s useful for understanding the economic and environmental effects of sprawl as well as the motivating forces that drive geospatial planning in America.
—Dan Liebling (BS ’02)
by Alice Dreger
Science and democracy grew up together. It is no coincidence that many of America’s founders were science geeks. The American freedom to think, to know, to learn, to speak—these were freedoms that the radical Galileo had seized.
—Frank Hobbs (BS ‘74)
by William Manchester
As far away as you can get from technology: It’s about American letters and its most curmudgeonly practitioner. And it’s by William Manchester, who became a friend of Mencken. As I will see any movie with Meryl Streep, I will read any book by William Manchester. This is a lively and engaging work, carrying the reader, as the best books do, into another world. You don’t read such books so much as you watch them, for the language magically turns to images in the mind.
—Frank Mullen (MS ’86)
by Janna Levin
A terrific book about gravity waves, timely and right at home for Techers. A really fine portrayal of the people involved, the human aspect of science. Weber is a particularly striking figure. She also caught the scope of this effort—a work spanning or exceeding a human lifetime like a European cathedral. And brought out the contrast of extremes—the near infinitesimal of interferometry to the energy released in black hole merger.
—Bob Wieting (BS ’74)
by Robert Browning
Better than any other book I know, it captures this feature of reality: of our often agreeing on all of the relevant facts, but not knowing what they all mean. Who did what to whom isn’t questioned by anybody. What’s in doubt is the ‘why.’
—James Michael (BS ’77)
by Douglas Hofstadter
This book was written almost 40 years ago, but it poses very interesting questions about what consciousness is. Now that everyone is talking about artificial intelligence, I think this is very relevant.
— Peter Balint (BS ’67)
trilogy by Cixin Liu
I know it’s dangerous to recommend sci-fi to this crowd, but I’m going to do it anyway. The philosophical questions explored by the trilogy also transcend that of scientific concepts, reaching sociological ones as well. Although I grew up reading Chinese novels, I actually prefer reading the English translations because of the physics, and they do great justice to the original series.
—Vivian U (BS ‘06)
by Daniel Kahneman
This book tells how people make decisions under different conditions. Although Michael Lewis published a popular description of this work, I felt that Kahneman’s book was a more direct source for this interesting topic.
—Leon Keer (BS ‘56, MS ‘58)
Big Picture Science podcast
Shamelessly recommending our own podcast, one hour of science each week. We interview lots of Caltech faculty members, too!
—Seth Shostak (PhD ’72)
The Theoretical Minimum
While not exactly a podcast, Stanford’s Leonard Susskind’s “The Theoretical Minimum” is a (free) online series that does it for me. Over the last few years, Susskind has created an impressive array of lectures that provide people like me to have a way to slowly (oh so slowly) learn the basics (and the math) and build up toward some of the most exciting developments in theoretical physics.
—Robert Manning (BS ’82)
I am continually astonished by the amazing untold stories that I hear on Radiolab. It’s part science, part human interest, and part detective show. I love it.
—Delwin Elder (PhD ’99)