A few weeks ago, one of the people I follow on Twitter posted a link to a blog post about reading challenges. I wasn’t aware of these before; someone posts a challenge, like “read 12 books this year and blog about them,” and people sign up to participate. Some offer prizes; some are just for fun. This one caught my eye: “Science Book Challenge 2011.”
A program called Scienticity hosts this science reading challenge yearly (since 2008), and they collect and post the notes that bloggers submit on the books they read. The challenge is to read three science books (loosely defined) this year and blog about them. There’s a decent collection of notes on books ranging from minimally scientistic novels like Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons (not sure how that one got in there) to popular science or social science books like Muller’s Physics for Future Presidents and Levitt’s Freakonomics. Someone even reviewed the first real work I read for a philosophy class, Dan Dennett’s Freedom Evolves.
They provide a nice rubric to help bloggers organize their notes and to help readers get a quick picture of how the bloggers rate each book. Each book gets a rating from one (least) to five (most) for how well it meets each of these five criteria:
- Scienticity (how “science-y” the book is)
- Readability (how easy it is to read – low isn’t necessarily bad; it could just be challenging material)
- Hermeneutics (how well the author understands and conveys the material)
- Charisma (how fun or engaging the book is to read)
- Recommendation (how strongly the reviewer recommends the book)
Of course, different people will be more or less generous in their ratings, but that’s what notes are for. 🙂
I love that they keep the reviews available for visitors to read (in fact, that’s a significant part of the challenge’s purpose); I’ve already added a book to my reading list because of the reviews it had there. I heard of Natalie Angier’s The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science through a podcast I listen to sometimes, but didn’t plan to read it until I saw an enthusiastic review in the science challenge book notes. (Oddly, the second review, which is negative, added to my desire to read it – I guess reviews that spend a full paragraph complaining that a book is too hard because it has a few 30-35 page chapters have that effect on me.)
I like the premise of the challenge enough that I think I’ll jump in, myself. I don’t know for sure which ones I’ll read, but here are my current ideas:
- Complexity: A Guided Tour (Melanie Mitchell, 2009)
- 1089 and All That – A Journey into Mathematics (David Acheson, 2002)
- The Undercover Economist (Tim Harford, 2005)
- Minds and Computers: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence (Matt Carter, 2007)
Wish me luck, and go check out the Science Book Challenge 2011!