For the first time in a long time (ie. no longer a student), I have been reading for pleasure. Over the past two years or so I’ve kept a list of titles I really wanted to read but just didn’t have the time or energy. My entire list is nonfiction. I’m not a fiction reader; I used to be, but to be completely honest, Harry Potter killed it for me. Those books were not that great, but I couldn’t stop reading them! And don’t get me started on the ending… could it be any more saccharine? I want those hours back!
Anyway…back to the list… almost all of the books on it are what one might call Popular Science. I think a good popular science book should include the following:
- humor (when appropriate, which it almost always is)
- the assumption that the reader has some scientific knowledge, but isn’t a specialist
- an interesting story, history, or problem to discuss (I want to learn AND be entertained)
- be memorable enough that if I put the book down for a week, I won’t have to reread past chapters to remember all the science that came before)
This summer I plan on reviewing every book I read. Hopefully, that will amount to about 10 or more titles. We’ll see. I used to have an aversion to ‘quitting’ on a book, even if every second reading it made me want to hurl it across the room. Since deciding on criteria for a good pop sci book, I’m going to try giving myself the freedom to walk away from a dud. Once again, we’ll see.
Book 1: Dark Banquet by Bill Schutt (2008)
Why I finished it: Schutt combines his witty, at times sarcastic tone for describing personal anecdotes and history lessons with extremely clear and informative scientific sections. The best stories were the author’s own experiences capturing and studying bats in the wild. Actually, all of the chapters dealing with bats were the most fascinating. Of the 1,110 species of bats, only three are vampires, and all are native to the Americas. They are also extremely cute ( its worth noting here that Patricia Wynne’s sketches in the book are really terrific.) Many sections contained graphic descriptions of bats feeding, and many readers may have a hard time getting through those sections. However, you shouldn’t sugar coat nature, and I think Schutt has done his bats a great service by telling their story to general audience.
Why it was difficult to finish: No more bats after the first couple chapters (less than half the book). This would not have been a problem except that the rest of the chapters were at best disjointed and at worst boring. Schutt is a bat man. He knows bats better than almost anyone else. He makes it quite clear that the research he did on leeches, bed bugs, etc. was done solely for this publication, and that’s the problem. His stories about bats come alive because they are written with the passion of a man who loves these animals and has lived these experience. Anyone could go interview some entomologists, read a few papers, and write his chapters about the other sanguivores. The latter half of the book just is not genuine. I wish Schutt had collected more material about vampire bats, even if that meant including more science and upping the reading level.
Overall Rating: On a scale of 1 – 5 (where 1 is ‘Chuck it’, 5 is ‘Loved it’), this book gets a 3.5. The sections on bats get a 5, but the rest of the book is more like a 2. Still, I found the bat chapters interesting and entertaining enough to recommend this title.