Category Archives: books

To see the worlds behind the names behind the trees behind the forest, all convolved together with strange and impossible contingencies…

How does a book come to be translated? How does a book come to be translated into Estonian, a language with only about a million speakers? What’s the connection between translation and the oldest living tree in the world, or translation, Soviet gulags, and Ronald Reagan? If you’re curious about any of these things, then this guest post by Lauri Laanisto is for you. Lauri is a plant ecologist and a translator of natural history books, and his most recent project is the Estonian translation of Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider.  Enjoy!

Recently Stephen´s book about eponymous Latin taxon names was published in Estonian. And as it happened, I was the one who translated it. Shortly after bragging about it on Twitter, I got a message from Stephen asking me if I would like to write a short guest post about this for his blog. The exact wording of the “assignment”, after I agreed to do it, was: “You could write whatever you like, short or long, doesn’t matter. I would be really interested, myself, in knowing more about what it’s like to translate a book, how the Press found and chose you, etc. – but anything would be interesting!”

That´s the thing – anything can be interesting! Continue reading


The books I wrote but cannot read (and how translations come to be)

I’ve just received my copy of the new Estonian translation of Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider. It’s now sitting in a very special section of my bookshelf: “my” translations. So far, there are Turkish, Japanese, Korean, Russian*, and now Estonian editions of Charles Darwin’s Barnacle; this spring they’ll be joined by a Chinese edition of The Scientist’s Guide to Writing. These are (and I’m hardly exaggerating at all**), the books I wrote but cannot read.

There’s something both exhilarating and terrifying about seeing my name on the cover of a book I can’t read. Continue reading

“A Gentleman in Moscow” and scientific writing

In a career, how many extraordinary papers might a scientist write?

I got thinking about this, believe it or not, after noticing a copy of Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow in a neighbourhood Little Free Library. That novel is astonishing (in fact, it’s not at all clear why you’re reading this post instead of A Gentleman in Moscow; but thanks.) Since reading it, I’ve read Towles’ other novels (Rules of Civility and The Lincoln Highway); and while both were fine books well worth my time, neither grabbed me the way A Gentleman in Moscow did.*

Towles isn’t the only author to show this pattern. Continue reading

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

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

Exciting news: I’m (co-)writing another book!

I’ve been itching to share this news, and now I can: I’m writing another book! Actually, even better: I’m co-writing this one, with Bethann Garramon Merkle. It’s been hard to keep this quiet for so long, but we’ve just signed a contract (with the University of Chicago Press), so now it’s official. Hooray!

What’s it about, you ask? Well, our working title is Helping Students Write in the Sciences: Strategies for Efficient and Effective Mentoring of Developing Writers. Writing is a huge part of the job of a scientist, and it’s hard – but teaching and mentoring writing is too, and it’s harder. Continue reading

How to boost a book, and an author – and why you should

Last week, I reassured you that you don’t need to buy my books – I’m perfectly content if you borrow them from a library, or from a friend. I suspect most authors are the same – most of understand very well that writing books isn’t going to make us wealthy!

But let’s imagine that you’ve read a book and liked it, and you’d like to thank the author in some small way. You can do that, in ways that won’t cost you a single penny, and I can guarantee you your gesture will be gratefully received. Continue reading

I don’t mind at all if you get my book from the library

If you’ve been reading Scientist Sees Squirrel at all, you know I’ve written a couple of books: The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, and Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider (so far). When I’m talking with folks about these books, there’s a bit of awkwardness that often comes up. Someone will politely mention their interest in reading one of the books, and I’ll tell them that I have copies for sale. That’s not the awkward part, though! The awkward part, instead, comes when I mention that they can also borrow either book from their university or public library. Folks seem to think that they shouldn’t show interest in that option – that I’d be upset if they borrowed my book rather than buying a copy. Continue reading

My proceeds from the Russian translation of my book are going to Ukraine

I’ve just received my author copies of Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider in Russian translation. When I heard that there would be a Russian translation, I was (perhaps naively) pretty excited. By the time my copy got to me – somehow, not so much. So: I’ve just donated all my proceeds from the Russian translation* to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, to support humanitarian relief in the wake of the Russian invasion. Continue reading

It’s out today! The 2nd edition “Scientist’s Guide to Writing”

Forgive me for being very excited today: it’s the official release date for the second edition of The Scientist’s Guide to Writing. It’s been a long time in the works, but now it’s for real: you can have your very own copy! (US evil corporate behemoth; publisher; more ordering links).

I hope you’ll like the new edition. It has two new chapters (on strategies for reading, and on preprinting and choice of journals), and a whole slew of other additions and improvements. You can read more about what’s new here.

I thought today I’d use the book’s release as a hook to answer a question I get asked a lot, in various forms. Continue reading