(Thank you to Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology at Imperial College, for providing the core of this ToREAD booklist - and to The Guardian for publishing it!)
1. All Art Is Propoganda, Critical Essays, George Orwell
Ok - this is a cheat. I've already read Orwell's essays and am now rereading them. But in a dangerous time when hypocrisy and humbug are the height of literary fashion, Orwell's fearless and direct analysis is a refreshing reminder of what writing in general and journalism in particular can be (when not engaged in apologizing for totalitarianism or tiptoeing around taboos). For a bracing French essay in this great tradition, I highly recommend Caroline Fourest's new book, In Praise of Blasphemy: Why Charlie Hebdo Is Not Islamophic, so far available in English translation only as an ebook.
2. The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker
A diehard Pinker fan, I will eagerly follow him wherever he goes, so if he moves from the brain to grammar, so will I. Pinker is one of those rare scientists who write with exceptional clarity about things I know nothing about. Always a pleasure.
3. The Only Woman in the Room, Eileen Pollack
Having witnessed an appalling case of sexism in the classroom this year, I'm curious to read Pollack's account of her own struggles. And maybe get some guidance on what to do today. After watching a science teacher blatantly discriminate against girls in his class, I'm ready to slap anyone who asks "Why aren't there more women in science?" as if it were a mystery.
4. Herding Hemingway’s Cats, Kat Arney
I'm a little afraid of a book on DNA but Dr Curry assures us that "Arney’s chirpy tour through the mysteries of modern genetics is engrossing and fun", so I'll give it a try. Anything to get a handle on the Build-A-Human start-ups that are bound to go public soon. Also, there's Hemingway in the title, so that's good.
5. What’s Left, Nick Cohen
I am grateful to Nick Cohen for his articulate and courageous articles in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo Pen America debacle in which feted and privileged writers took a stand AGAINST French satirists murdered in the heart of Paris for what they wrote or drew. As a person traditionally of the left, I am appalled by what passes for thought these days in progressive circles and hope to get some insights into what the hell happened.
6. Being Mortal, Atul Gawande
This book comes with a warning from Dr Curry: "Don’t pick up Being Mortal if you aren’t prepared to hold your gaze on the face of death." Having been unable to prevent my mother from suffering a horribly long and painful death, I am very interested in anything that might spare others this experience. Or offer some kind of understanding.
7. The Vital Question, Nick Lane
Dr Curry calls this a "rip-roaring tale of the most fundamental problem in biology". Who can resist? Though, ahem, it's "not for fair-weather readers". But then, vital questions shouldn't be, should they?
8. Life’s Greatest Secret, Matthew Cobb
Is it the advancing years that draw me to yet another book on DNA, this time from cybernetics and molecular biology angles? Dr Curry says this is "one of the year’s greatest science books". Definitely worth a try.
9. Serving the Reich, Philip Ball
One of the great mysteries of the rise of Nazis was just how many scientists (and other intellectuals), when faced with a terrible dilemma, made the wrong moral choice. An ever topical subject.
10. You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson
As a practitioner of social media (ok - addict) I'm curious to discover the case histories of "shaming". Looking forward to some refreshing facts. And maybe some tips?
11. The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler
This may look like a weird choice on a scientist's booklist but it's one I delight in. Is there anything more fun than Chandler? Philip Marlowe is "every bit as cynical, embittered and humane as Le Carré’s Leamas, but he is a sharper and more loquacious observer of human life. Wickedly joyous." :)
12. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
I can't believe I haven't read this yet. 2016 will be the year! Robinson spoke last year at the Key West Writers Conference on the subject of grace, and she was luminous.
(I found Stephen Curry's booklist from which my own is a small selection on Twitter @Stephen_Curry . He is a professor of structural biology at Imperial College,)