As I mentioned in an earlier post, the folks at TED asked me to be one of eight “guest curators” of the TED bookstore. I put together a list of thematically-related books, and the books–along with my short descriptions of them–were featured on the bookshelves of the onsite bookstore. Here is my list of ten books, along with my “curation philosophy:”
Electricity and Water: Who says they don’t mix?
Throw in a dash of technology, engineering or science, and end up with a galvanising read.
Over the past few years, I’ve been reading and lecturing about the invention of modern science in nineteenth century Britain. Water—the power it generates, as well as the challenges it poses to an island nation—and electricity played crucial roles in England’s rise to scientific and imperial dominance in this period. On my bookshelf now are ten books—fiction and non-fiction—in which water, electricity, or both are central to the tales they tell.
1. Waterland, Graham Swift
Takes place in the Fen country of East Anglia, in bleak marshlands wrested from the sea—a sea that wants the land back. Spanning 240 years, the book weaves a tale of empire-building, sluice-minding, eel reproduction, brewing, incest and madness, adding up to a thoughtful reflection of the nature of history and memory. Both history and memory, like the sea, are fluid and ever-changing. A magical book.
2. Remarkable Creatures, Tracy Chevalier
On the shores of the beaches of Lyme-Regis, a young woman named Mary Anning distinguished herself in the early 19th century as a talented fossil-hunter, discovering the first complete skeletons of the ichthyosaurus and plesiosaur. Her discoveries cast doubt on the prevailing views about the age of the earth, helping to make Darwin’s theory of evolution possible. Chevalier does a fine job of fleshing out the lives of Anning and her main champion, Elizabeth Philpot (real people about whom we know little) and setting their story in the context of science and discovery in the nineteenth century. Read more