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What We Read Last Year
Welcome to the SB&F Editor's Blog. I am Maria Sosa, Editor-in-Chief of SB&F. Through this blog I hope to interact with the SB&F community and post news and information related to science books, videos, authors, opportunities and other topics of interest to our readers. I hope you find the blog useful and entertaining. Please, join the conversation by posting a comment on our Facebook page. I'd love to hear from you!


As the editor of a review journal, reading is literally the heart of my job. It isn’t surprising, then, that I think of years in terms of books, For me, 2014 was the year that I discovered Parade’s End, Ford Madox Ford’s brilliant tetralogy, published between 1924 and 1928.  I don’t know how I missed it all these years, but I’m glad I did because it came to me at a time when I needed to have my mind opened in just such a way. Similarly, Kip Thorn’s The Science of Interstellar, which I read shortly after seeing the movie, filled a craving left by the film to understand concepts that always seemed just outside of my grasp. (Do be mindful of the spoiler alerts if you haven't seen the movie yet.)

Inspired by my own personal connections to reading in 2014, I asked several of my colleagues at AAAS to name their favorite reads of the past year. Below are some of their responses.

Melissa Rosenthal, Project Manager

Front CoverMy favorite book is anything by Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafon. His books are so beautifully written, their settings so masterfully described, and his characters so well-developed that you find yourself becoming a part of their world; seeing and experiencing everything right along with them.

Zafon started out writing for young adults, and I read the first of his books targeting an adult audience, The Shadow of the Wind, years ago. It’s long been one of my favorites, and I recently completed the other two books in the trilogy, The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven.  Left wanting for more, I decided to go back and read all of his other books in succession. My favorite among those was probably  Marina, but they’re all fantastic. With each of his books, I couldn't wait for the chance to pick it up, never wanted it to end, and felt a sense of loss when I turned the last page. I don’t know when he plans to publish his next book, but I can’t wait to read it!

Shirley M. Malcom, Head, Directorate for Education and Human Resources

18775337When Maria Sosa approached me about writing about my favorite 2014 book, I did a mental shuffle through all the titles. Amazingly the book I chose was the same one that she’d hoped I had chosen: Lynn Sherr’s Sally Ride. For me this book was more than just about finding a good read; it was personal.

I read quite a bit of biography, not surprisingly, weighted toward scientists or inventors. In the case of Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space I was in the strange position of reading about someone I had known for about two decades, someone I had known and yet someone I had not known. Of course everybody had heard of Sally Ride and her accomplishments at NASA (first American woman in space; member of the commission to investigate the Challenger disaster). I was a fan; I had been at her launch into space which became a huge block party to celebrate a major breakthrough for women.

I was honored to be able to work with her: when we served together on President Clinton’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, and on the boards of Caltech and the National Math-Science Initiative (NMSI). She actually called and recruited me to join the NMSI board.

I was happy to support Sally’s efforts on behalf of attracting more girls to science, coming from a common understanding of the challenges involved in accomplishing that. Lynn Sherr beautifully captures these stories of Sally’s commitment to public service and to bringing more girls to science. Perhaps the more important aspect of her book was the opening up of a side of Sally Ride that was less public, a side of which I was not aware. I knew about Tam as co-author and STEM educator, but not about Tam as life partner. I knew the public Sally, and was allowed glimpses of the private Sally… I am grateful to the family for giving access so that Lynn Sherr could share the richer and more complicated story.

For me, personally, I am now able to fill in some of the pieces that I encountered but didn’t fully understand. She always seemed to “get” the “race thing” with me; I had not realized that she was Arthur B.C. Walker’s first doctoral student at Stanford. Walker was a mentor in physics to many underrepresented students as well as to other African American faculty on campus.

I was shocked when I heard she’s died; I had not known she was sick. I am grateful that the author helped us understand her last days. Personally, I felt the loss more deeply because I was unprepared for it. Through the book I was able to mourn a bit more fully… to move from a sense of loss to a celebration of  Sally Ride and the legacy that she left to all of us: courage, commitment, achievement, service.

The Sally Ride I knew was an amazing person. Lynn Sherr helped me know a more complicated Sally Ride who was an even more amazing person than I might have ever imagined.

Melissa McCartney, Associate Editor, Science

This is Where I Leave You

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to spend a week in your childhood home with your now adult siblings This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper,  is worth a read.  I laughed, I cried, and I drew numerous parallel scenarios onto my own childhood memories (which led to more laughing and crying!).  As soon as I finished I ordered the rest of Tropper’s work which wasn't nearly as impressive as this one was; “This is where I leave you” is definitely his opus.  I would also echo the words of countless book reviewers before me when they say “skip the movie version and read the book twice instead.”

Lynn Rozental, Senior Development Officer for Individual Philanthropy

I listen to most of my books because to get to my wonderful job at AAAS I have to spend two hours in the car each day. I have really enjoyed listening to James Herriott’s books about a veterinarian in Yorkshire, England.  They are really about people and their relationships with each other as well as with their animals.  Lots of great insights about human nature and wonderful Yorkshire dialect. Among his better known books are All Creatures Great and Small and Every Living Thing.

Bob Hirshon, Program Director for Technology and Learning

The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in NatureThe Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature, by David George Haskell, was my favorite, although I only got halfway through it before my sister-in-law borrowed it away and took it up to Boston with her. I'll have to get it back when we're up there this weekend.  To write this book, Biologist and award winning author Haskell picked a spot in the woods of Tennessee and visited it regularly over the course of a year. Through his close observations and encyclopedic knowledge of natural history, he illuminates the evolution of life on Earth in short, poetic essays.

[Editor’s Note: Bob, we sure hope you got your book back!]


Posted 1 Jan 2015 3:06 PM by Maria Sosa