Category Archives: book reviews

Career arcs and “My Life in Fish”

I mentioned the other week that one of the books in my “to-read” pile was Gary Grossman’s My Life in Fish – his graphic autobiography (by which I mean it’s heavily illustrated in the style of a graphic novel, not that it’s NSFW!). Now, books sometimes linger on my “to-read” pile for a long time; but I read My Life in Fish last weekend and it made me think.

My Life in Fish is, obviously, the story Grossman tells about his own career (he’s a recently retired fish ecologist). But reading Grossman’s story made me think a bit about my own, and the way our career arcs have been both different and the same. I hope Gary would count this as a win for his book. Continue reading

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Holiday reading (some suggestions)

Semesters are winding down for most of us, which I hope means that you, like me, will get a bit of a break. So I thought I’d pull together a few book recommendations. It’s probably too late for you to use these as gifting ideas (unless you, like me, tend to procrastinate that sort of thing). But if you’d like to curl up with a book that’s not technical science reading but is sort of science-adjacent, here are some possibilities. Some are new to Scientist Sees Squirrel; others are books I’ve reviewed or mentioned before but deserve a boost.

Let’s start with something new. I’ve just finished Leslie Forbes’ Fish, Blood, and Bone,* and it was terrific. Continue reading

Dancing Cockatoos and the Dead Man Test (book review)

I’ve just finished reading Marlene Zuk’s newest book, Dancing Cockatoos and the Dead Man Test: How Behavior Evolves and Why it Matters. Now, before we do anything else, can we stop for a moment and admire that title? Is there a human being on Earth who wouldn’t want to know more?

Dancing Cockatoos is a book about the evolutionary ecology of animal behaviour. Continue reading

On creativity and science

Just a couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk at the joint annual meeting of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution and the Ecological Society of America. It was, admittedly, a weird one, and I thought I’d record a version of it for those who might have been interested but couldn’t be there in person.

My talk consisted of some reflections on creativity in science, and in writing about science. Continue reading

Parasitic Oscillations: new ecopoetry from Madhur Anand

If you’ve been following Scientist Sees Squirrel for a while, you’ll know that one of my pet topics is the intersection between science and the arts. This intersection is certainly smaller than it could be, but it’s not as small as common (mis)interpretations of CP Snow’s “Two Cultures” essay would have it. So I’ve been happy to discover and share with you some particularly interesting mashups between science and poetry – like Richard Kelley Kemick’s collection Caribou Run, and Madhur Anand’s A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes.  We can add to that little collection today, because Anand has a new book of poetry, Parasitic Oscillations, and I’ve just finished reading it. Continue reading

Better Posters: Zen Faulkes on ways to rescue the poster session

When I was revising The Scientist’s Guide to Writing for its forthcoming 2nd edition, I had a problem: too many topics I wanted to cover, and not enough space under my word limit to do it. That means my book has gaps. That’s no surprise, of course; every book does. But one gap that irked me is my coverage of poster presentations. Many posters are dreadful, there are few resources for those wanting to do better, and my book disposes of posters in a couple of hundred words. Ugh.

Well, I have good news. The gap in my book is now filled – more than filled – because I can simply cite Zen Faulkes’s new book, Better Posters: Plan, Design, and Present an Academic Poster. Continue reading

No two people see a book the same way (or, Canadians CAN TOO be funny)

No two people ever see a book quite the same way (as many folks noticed during my long, dull #AYearOfBooks post series). If you want a great illustration, consider this:

I know, you’re not supposed to read your reviews.* I can’t help it, and there are rewards. Continue reading

Is “Charles Darwin’s Barnacle” political? Sure, and I’m unrepentant.

They say you shouldn’t read your (book/album/movie) reviews, and I suppose they have a point.*

Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider, my book about eponymous scientific names and what they reveal about science and society, has been out long enough to have accumulated half a dozen Amazon reviews. (Incidentally, one easy thing you can do that really helps a small-time author out is to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Here are some more easy things you can do.)  I’m happy that overall, people have enjoyed the book (and I think you’d enjoy it to, so stop reading this post and get to your nearest public library or bookstore).  But I’m intrigued by one theme that crops up a few times: the book is “political”.

It really is a theme. Continue reading

The teaching book I’ve always needed

I taught my first undergraduate course in 1992 (I think it was), as a final-year PhD student. I had no idea what I was doing.

28 years later, some days I feel like not much has changed.*

I’m like most university instructors, I think, in three important ways.  First, I’ve never had any formal instruction in how to teach.** Second, while I know there’s an enormous literature on the scholarship of teaching, I’ve read very little of it, and when I try, I usually find it impenetrable. Third, I care about my teaching and want to do it better. (Yes, I’m aware of the apparent tension between the third statement and the first two – but that will have to be a blog post of its own.)

What I needed desperately, 28 years ago, and still need now, is a user-friendly book that could orient me to best practices in teaching. Continue reading

Art and science in “This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart”

Read any good books lately? I have.

CP Snow famously argued, in the 1950s, that science and the arts/humanities were “two cultures”, with a gulf between them that was far too seldom bridged. While there’s been pushback against Snow’s portrayal,* it’s surely true that there’s more separation between the two than there ought to be (just as an example, I’ve commented here on the relative dearth of scientists as characters in novels). After all, if points of contact between science and the arts were commonplace, people (including me) wouldn’t be so fascinated with them when they do occur. Continue reading