I Accidentally Created My Own Reading Challenge

I Accidentally Created My Own Reading Challenge

A little over six months ago, I wrote a post called 15 Nonfiction Books I Can’t Wait to Read. My intention was just to share some of the books on my to-be-read list, but it actually turned into a lot more than that. After completing four books from that list in a row, I decided to challenge myself to read the entire list without stopping! This might not sound revolutionary, but it did a lot for my reading experience. Not only did it make it easier for me to choose what to read next by narrowing down my options, but it saved me a lot of money on books I didn’t need.

I haven’t technically finished the entire list yet—I am about halfway through the final book, How to Be an Antiracist—but I’m finally (almost) done! Granted, there were three books that I didn’t finish, but the idea was that I at least tried them all. If you go back to that post, each book in the list is linked to its corresponding review (if there is one). I had a lot of fun looking at my first impressions of each book after I’d read them and sharing whether my predictions were right or whether my opinions had changed.

I liked this “challenge” so much that I decided to do it again! I couldn’t choose only 15 this time, so here are 16 books that I am excited to read next and why!

1. White Magic by Elissa Washuta

I don’t know if I’ve ever been as intrigued by a book as I am by this one. It’s easy to be skeptical both because of the title and because there is supposedly a lot of talk of auras and being a witch. But as soon as I read my fellow skeptic and nonfiction book blogger’s review, I knew I needed this book.

I’ve kind of dreaded assembling my thoughts to write about this book, because it moved me like little else, certainly in recent memory and probably in much longer. I thought about it constantly when I wasn’t reading it. It’s haunting, even when it felt strangely exhilarating. I’m afraid to attempt summarizing it because I can’t do it justice, it’ll inevitably fall short of what this writing does.

It’s such a hard-to-categorize book, so artistically unique, and the connection I felt to it was so almost bizarrely strong and emotional that I don’t even know how to do this. This is all to excuse the messiness that’s coming.

I know I’m not giving my future self much in the way of predictions, but there’s definitely something to be said for just jumping into a book that people have loved to an extent that it was indescribable.

2. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I have seen this book a lot on Instagram lately, especially from pages that focus on climate change. It sounds like Braiding Sweetgrass is great for helping readers to strengthen their relationship with the planet using the wisdom of some of the people who know it best: Indigenous women. Kimmerer is also a botanist, so I’m excited for her fusion of Western and Native scientific perspectives.

3. A People’s History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and Low Mechanicks by Clifford D. Conner

I bought this around the same time as Lost Discoveries, when I wanted to start learning more about science not done by rich white Western men. While that book focused on non-Western scientists, it looks like A People’s History of Science is more about how everyday people throughout time and space have set the groundwork for the discoveries that we’re familiar with today.

4. Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe by Simon Singh

While I’m on the topic of Lost Discoveries, it’s also the reason I decided to finally give Big Bang a read after it’s sat on my shelf for a couple of years. Dick Teresi, the author of Lost Discoveries, had some weird issue with the Big Bang Theory, which came as a huge surprise halfway through a pretty long book. I know that most technical explanations of how the Big Bang happened are over my head, so I look forward to reading instead about the history of the idea in Singh’s Big Bang. It will be interesting to put Teresi’s controversial opinion into the context of what the scientific community was saying at the time of his writing in 2002.

5. God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam

Both reading Lost Discoveries and writing my post about the Eurocentrism in Cosmos helped me to deconstruct my belief in the myth of the “Greek Miracle,” which is the common idea that ancient Greece was the birthplace of science. The Greek Miracle is usually accompanied by the belief that the death of Hypatia and burning of the Library of Alexandria (which Sagan got wrong in Cosmos) led to science being dormant in Europe during the Dark Ages until it was resurrected during the Age of Enlightenment (which was actually super racist).

Some people will grant that what we call the Dark Ages were actually the Golden Age of Islam and their scientific revolution, but God’s Philosophers goes even further. In it, Hannam shows how much of modern science got its roots in Medieval Europe. While I’ll be on the lookout, of course, for Christian or Eurocentric bias, I’m eager to learn more about this forgotten era of science.

6. Scientific Babel: How Science Was Done Before and After Global English by Michael D. Gordin

The history of science is becoming a bit of a theme in this list. And if science history is a hobby of mine, then etymology and the history of language are definitely budding interests. I look forward to reading Scientific Babel to decolonize my understanding of the history of science through the lens of language.

7. A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes by Adam Rutherford

This is another one that I’ve had on my shelf for quite a while, but I realized it was a must-read after reading Rutherford’s How to Argue with a Racist. In it, he thoroughly debunked racist pseudoscience by showing that we’re all related—in more of a family web than a family tree. The bits of the book about genealogy were my favorite, so I think I will love this book of his that is dedicated to it.

8. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Pérez

Invisible Women is another book that I have seen a lot, including in a book review by my blogger friend Rennie from What’s Nonfiction?. Even if you initially doubt just how gripping a book about data can be, her description makes me think this one will be eye-opening.

The central tenet is that men are viewed as the default and the standard in every way, from the safety standards in automobile design to the size of smartphone that comfortably fits a hand, and deeper into fields of public policy, medicine and healthcare, technology, education, urban development — any conceivable sector you can think of.

I also want to keep in mind as I read this whether Criado Pérez treats gender as a binary or acknowledges how patriarchal data affects gender non-conforming people. I’ve already run into this issue in feminist literature once before.

9. The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers by Emily Levesque

Think of an astronomer, from any point in history.

Who did you think of? Was it a man?

Any book that tells the stories of women in science is bound to interest me. And the people whose job it is to view the Universe through giant telescopes are bound to have some great stories. I can’t wait to jump into The Last Stargazers, which, by the way, also has a really cool website!

10. The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen

I have never been very interested in the life story of Charles Darwin, especially since it’s simply so ubiquitous when you have any interest in evolution at all. But there is a specific blog post that I’ve wanted to write for years, and I’ll need to read this book first to bring the post to the next level. What’s the post? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

11. The Piltdown Men by Ronald Millar

In the same vein, I want to read the full story of the famous Piltdown Man hoax so that I can dedicate a post to refuting some of our favorite creationists’ claims about it. It doesn’t get more fun than that!

12. Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science by Carl Sagan

Every book list I make must have the obligatory Sagan book, right?

13. Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos by William Poundstone

Me reading a Carl Sagan biography should come as a surprise to no one. After flipping through this book, it sounds like the man’s life was quite interesting.

14. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible & Why We Don’t Know About Them by Bart Ehrman

My book lists also wouldn’t be complete without a book on Christian history. I’m excited for Jesus, Interrupted, because I’ve really enjoyed Ehrman’s books so far, and this is one of his most famous. It’s also one of the books that convinced Rhett McLaughlin to leave Christianity.

15. Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine by Alan Lightman

I came across this book at an independent bookstore when I was on vacation in Maine, so I felt that my buying it was meant to be. Fate aside, it looks to be that Lightman is a scientist who had a spiritual experience when stargazing, and that this book is his way of reckoning with moments like these while maintaining his integrity as a scientist and a skeptic.

16. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

Last but not least is the book that made it so that I can’t call this a nonfiction reading list. I don’t read much science fiction, but Clan of the Cave Bear seems to be a beloved classic especially within the paleoanthropology community. I think it will be great fun to get a glimpse of Auel’s fossil-inspired world of Neanderthal daily life.

These are my next 16 books that I can’t wait to get started on! What’s on your TBR list?

4 thoughts on “I Accidentally Created My Own Reading Challenge

  • October 4, 2021 at 8:00 am

    I envy you. Great list. Hope all goes well with com to org shift.

  • October 5, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    I am SO glad I could put those two excellent books on your radar! I can’t wait to hear what you think of both of them.

    I think you might be disappointed with the gender binary treatment in Invisible Women, though. I believe she did catch some flack for not including as much information related to outside of the male/female binary, but I looked at this as being the perspective from which the data itself was derived. Even though our understanding of what gender encompasses is rightfully expanding, in many measurable objectives that were used for these studies and research it’s applicable to the binary, or really, more likely, just to men as a standard and everybody else is lumped into a category that doesn’t even get considered.

    Anyway, hope you enjoy both of those and really looking forward to reading your thoughts on them!

  • October 24, 2021 at 8:29 am

    What an amazing list. I could not get into Braiding Sweetgrass though I tried many times, but would love to read The Last Stargazers and Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men!


What do you think?