Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eric Roston

Eric Roston is the author of The Carbon Age: How Life's Core Element Has Become Civilization's Greatest Threat.

A few days ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Writers Read asked for book picks during the 30-hour span in which I absorbed John M. Barry's 500-page The Great Influenza, an epic synthesis of seven years of research. The writing is spare: He steps out of the way and lets the material tell the grisly tale of how 50 million to 100 million people succumbed to the inaptly named Spanish Flu in 1918-1919. I reported on the threat of a pandemic flu a couple of years ago, and the world's lack of preparedness on this front causes grave concern.

I read so much for work, it's difficult to say what or if I read for pleasure, though I've tried lately. John Hodgman's The Areas of My Experitse induced glee in a way few books have in recent memory (NB: Most books I read are closer in subject matter to Barry's account of the Black Death). I breezed through Watchmen, and enjoyed it, but also wish I'd read it when the world was shiny and new. Upon Sarah Palin's entrance to the national stage I reread Ionesco's Rhinoceros.

Most books relate somehow to science in general or specific writing projects. Nicholas Wade's Before the Dawn is a magnificent tour of history, evolution, and the human genome. 2009 is 150th anniversary of The Origin of Species and the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. Wade's book is a great modern choice to keep beside Origin during events this year. Genomics news moves so quickly that Darwin's work and Wade's should be supplemented with a steady diet of journal articles, if you're into that kind of thing. (Worth noting that The Carbon Age is a book about evolution; carbon itself is something of a red herring.)

I'm in the middle of Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought. I enjoy his books, but have slowed down because I covered some of the material in grad school. Mark Lynas' Six Degrees is a brilliant synthesis of research and re-organization of climate predictions as the thermometer rises this century.

My nightstand bears the weight of Infinite Jest, at the urging of my brother. I bought it in hardcover when it came out in 1995 or so, and swore I'd burn it if I didn't finish reading it in a year. I didn't, but hope to blast through it in 2009. Otherwise, I'll burn it.

Other than that, I recently reactivated my Economist subscription. That's a commitment!
Visit Eric Roston's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue