With Black History Month coming to a close, the Book Awards Committee has been reflecting on the lack of diversity in science writing. There’s no denying that the majority of science books have been written by white men. While their contributions to our understanding of science are important, we wanted to broaden the conversation by seeking out the perspectives of underrepresented groups, such as BIPOC and neurodivergent writers. The five authors listed below bring a wealth of expertise and personal experience to their subjects, which include Indigenous Knowledge, materials science, human behaviour, unconscious bias, and beta decay. These books manage to strike a difficult balance between narrative-driven storytelling and research, resulting in science writing that’s compelling and informative. It is our hope that the book recommendations will help encourage the SWCC community to continue reading and amplifying diverse voices in science communication year-round.
Explaining Humans: What Science Can Teach Us about Love, Life and Relationships - Written by Camilla Pang (Viking Press, 2020)
Have you ever considered that thermodynamics and enthalpy may explain why a messy room sometimes stays messy despite our best intentions to keep everything tidy? Or that anxiety and fear could be thought of as light passing through a prism, which can be refracted and scattered into more manageable wavelengths? These incredible connections, along with some hand-drawn illustrations, are part of Camilla Pang’s Explaining Humans, which won the Royal Society Science Book Prize in 2020. As a scientist who is on the autism spectrum, Pang wrote the book as a manual for herself, but it’s frank details will help readers learn about navigating life with neurodiversity. With insightful and enthusiastic prose, the book describes interesting ways of seeing and understanding the world.
Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias - Written by Pragya Agarwal (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020)
Written by Pragya Agarwal, a behavioral and data scientist, Sway is a timely read that highlights implicit and explicit biases against black and ethnic minorities, as well as women and queer individuals. Having faced racial and gender bias as an Indian woman, Agarwal combines her personal experiences with scientific studies, using clear language to explain information to readers. The last chapter offers hope of working through our biases by taking more time to make decisions and recognizing when biases may arise in order to dismantle them. Sway is a well-researched book that will help readers identify and evaluate unconscious bias in their own lives.
Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom - Written by Teresa Robeson, Illustrated by Rebecca Huang (Sterling Children’s Books, 2019)
Most people would consider Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking to be among the most influential physicists of the 20th century, but there’s another name that deserves to be added to the list: Chien-Shiung Wu. Born in China at a time when girls often received a sub-par education to boys, Wu defied the odds by studying physics at the National Central University in Nanjing. She later immigrated to the United States, where she became an expert on beta decay. During her career, Wu helped other researchers design experiments that earned three Nobel Prizes, but her contributions were overlooked and she never received a nomination. In Queen of Physics, Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang use poignant text and illustrations to capture Wu’s story for young readers, never shying away from the discrimination that she faced as an Asian woman in a male-dominated field.
Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World - Written by Tyson Yunkaporta (HarperCollins, 2020)
“Our knowledge endures because everybody carries a part of it, no matter how fragmentary. If you want to see the pattern of creation, you talk to everybody and listen carefully,” Tyson Yunkaporta writes in Sand Talk, a book that will challenge the way you think about science and the world. An Aboriginal scholar and artist, Yukaporta uses oral culture exchanges, symbols, and songlines to guide readers through a range of topics that clearly demonstrate the enduring relevance of Indigenous Knowledge, while stressing the importance of community and connection. His skillful narration is humorous and insightful, making it easy to see why the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper named Sand Talk one of the best science book of 2020.
The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another - Written by Ainissa Ramirez (The MIT Press, 2020)
Ainissa Ramirez was close to giving up on her dream of becoming a scientist when a professor at Brown University made a remark in class that she never forgot: “The reason why we don’t fall through the floor, the reason why my sweater is blue, and the reason why the lights work is because of the way atoms interact with each other.” So began a lifelong fascination with materials science, which combines physics, engineering, and chemistry to study the properties of solid materials. Ramirez, an award-winning scientist, has captured the intrigue of this interdisciplinary field in The Alchemy of Us, making topics like quartz clocks, steel rails, and glass labware come alive for readers. With a keen eye for perspectives that have been overlooked by history, her book is guaranteed to enlighten and entertain.
By: The Book Awards Committee