Category Archives: books

Some (more) great reads from the history of natural history

Image: Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland in the Amazon jungle, via Painting by Eduard Ender, circa 1850; from the collection of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Research for my new book has me reading a lot of books about the history of natural history. Some are well known, some are obscure; some are old; some are new. (Some were borrowed, although at least this time around, none were blue.)  Here are a few more minireviews (in no particular order), in case the pile of books you’ve been meaning to read isn’t big enough.

Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science (Yoon 2009, Norton).  This book, Yoon tells us, started out as a history and explanation of taxonomy – the science of naming and describing species.  It grew into something else, something a little bit strange, and something a bit difficult to put one’s finger on.  Continue reading


I’ve submitted the manuscript for my new book!

Image: the David Bowie spider, Heteropoda davidbowie.  KS Seshadri, CC BY-SA 4.0 via

Last week I hit a big milestone.  I hit submit not just on another journal paper, but on something much more fun: my new book.  I’m both relieved and excited!

The book’s working title is “The Strangest Tribute: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels”*Continue reading

Turns out “The Scientist’s Guide to Writing” was not actually my first book!

Image: Max atop the tallest tree.  Detail from The Tallest Tree in the World.  Read on.

Warning: utterly trivial.

If you’ve been hanging around Scientist Sees Squirrel, you’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve written a book – The Scientist’s Guide to Writing.  I’ve been telling people it was my first book (and that I’m now working on a second one), and I even wrote a humongously long post about how I had no prior experience with book-writing.

But then I made a discovery.  Continue reading

I’m writing another book!

I got some great news recently that I’ve been itching to share.  I can tell you now – because just the other day signed, I signed the contract.  I’m writing another book! Continue reading

The Scientist’s Guide to Writing is a year old!

One year ago*, The Scientist’s Guide to Writing hit the world’s bookshelves. A year is very young for a human or a redwood tree; it’s very old for a butterfly.  I hope a year is still quite young for The Scientist’s Guide, although that depends entirely on whether people keep reading and using it.

People often ask me how the book is “doing”.  I’d love to know the answer to that!  Continue reading

Why so few novels about scientists?

Image: “Scientists” sensu Wikipedia, by Urcomunicacion CC BY 3.0.

Like most scientists, I live a life rich in other scientists.  That’s true because I work among them, but I also live in a university town with a couple of major government research labs.  That means there are often scientists at the movie theatre, scientists at the grocery store, and scientists at the next table when I go out for dinner.  There are nearly always scientists at the bookstore and at the local library, too.  But there’s one place there aren’t scientists (or at least, not very many): in the pages of the books shelved there. I find that peculiar. Continue reading

Writing a book: what a long strange trip it’s been

Image: Sidewalk art by Jeremy Brooks, via CC BY-NC 2.0; lyrics from Truckin’, Garcia/Weir/Lesh/Hunter.

Warning: really long post.  TL;DR: Publishing a book is really different, and I learned a lot by doing it.

Heard_Scientist'sGuide coverPerhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve just published a book, The Scientist’s Guide to Writing.  (I’ve tried to make it hard for you not to notice.)  And lately, it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.

What do I mean by that? Well, if I were an academic in the arts or humanities, there’d be nothing unusual about having published a book.  But in the sciences we don’t write a lot of books.  Like most scientists, I knew next to nothing about writing or publishing a book before I started working on mine.  If you’re curious about how it works and what it’s like, read on. Who knows, maybe you’ll write a book too, someday. (Caution: since I have a sample size of one – for now – I can’t guarantee that my story is representative.)

Books take a long time

It took almost five years* from the first tentative plan to a published book I could hold in my hand.  I knew it would take a long time, of course, but I didn’t see five years coming.  Inasmuch as I planned it out at all (and I’ll admit that making and sticking to a plan is not my academic strong suit), I thought perhaps six months to write a prospectus and get the book under contract, a year to write the rest of it, and another to get it published. (Ha!)

In hindsight, of course, I’m not sure how I thought I could write a 90,000-word book in a year.  Continue reading