Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Michael Novacek

Michael Novacek, Senior Vice-President and Provost of Science at the American Museum of Natural History, is the author of Time Traveler, Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs, and the recently released Terra: Our 100-Million-Year-Old Ecosystem--and the Threats That Now Put It at Risk.

Late last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:

As a scientist, and a science writer, I am a research news freak. I daily siphon publications on everything from the latest data on the big melt at the poles to mammalian anatomy, evolution and paleontology (the latter are research specialties of mine). When it comes to my readings outside of science, pleasure often requires a similar level of obsession. Currently I am completely captured, and enraptured, by Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. Ross seems to have succeeded at what I thought was impossible, an interlacing of lives of the composers and their tumultuous societies with a vivid dissection of their music. Here, notes do leap off the page, descriptions so enticing that they have rekindled deep-seated musical passions (I come from a family of musicians including, at one time, myself), and have driven me to contribute mightily this week to a spike in sales of overlooked works by Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg (who, according to Ross, was dismayed whenever one of his works was actually well-received by the German public). Ross, by the way, has an excellent website that offers some free audiofile tidbits, but that will only inspire you to hear (and acquire) more. I am halfway through the book, and halfway through a mind-blowing, ear-shattering experience.

Another transporting book involves bicycles. I just finished reading Tim KrabbĂ©’s novel The Rider, a spare, gut-wrenching, first-person description, meter-by-meter, of the hundred-and thirty-seven kilometer Tour de Mont Aigoul. This sinuous course through frigid mountain passes, terrifying hairpin downhills, and sun-scorched plateaus is reputedly the most grueling stage of the Tour de France. KrabbĂ©, famous for his disturbing story of psychological horror in The Vanishing, shows he is also good for drama and suspense when comes to exhausting hill climbs, tire blowouts, cycle crashes, and the combination of relentless drive, arrogance, and race savvy it takes to win, or even finish. The pages, like the bikes, fly by. I was a good way through this 160-pager by the time my delayed flight at LaGuardia got to the head of the queue for takeoff.

What next? I plan to bury myself in Bruce Barcott’s new, highly-praised book The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird. I share with this eloquent writer many of the same concerns and hopes for our environmental future. Also it’s time to re-board the Pequod in search of Moby Dick, that being of “… outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it.”
Read more about Terra at the publisher's website, and listen to Novacek discuss the book on NPR's Talk of the Nation.

Learn more about Michael Novacek's research and many publications.

--Marshal Zeringue