Books To Read Before University

Thursday, April 14th, 2016 The Times Education Supplement and the Times Higher Education Supplement have combined to produce a feature article on books that students should read before going to university ( I was pleased that my contribution to the discussion was used pretty well in full. Here it is:

Len Fisher, visiting fellow in physics at the University of Bristol , also regrets the increasing move towards seeking information on the internet, since books “drive and encourage readers to think for themselves in a way that just looking up answers does not” and “allow for serendipity – spotting that unexpected, fascinating titbit as you turn the pages or glance at the next book on the shelf”. Students also have a lot to learn from “books that show why scientists ask the questions that they do, rather than mere explanations of the answers – not just ‘history and philosophy of science’ type books, but biographies, books about big questions and intimate histories”. The point, he says, is to bring ideas to life by associating them with the lives and personalities of the people who first had them. As well as physicist Richard Feynman’s memoir Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman, he also recommends James Watson’s The Double Helix as another prime example.

Sitting in my home library as I write this, I am surrounded by shelves of books, and realize that these are a reflection of myself and my dreams as I have progressed through life. Dreams (sadly unfulfilled) of making a major contribution to science are reflected in the rows of scientific biographies and books about the history and progress of science. Dreams (partly fulfilled) of becoming a writer are reflected in biographies of writers from Agatha Christie to P.G. Wodehouse. Dreams (a mangled mess) of coming to understand what the world is about and how it works are reflected by hundreds of books on philosophy and a similar number on the emerging science of complexity.

Without these books and the lives that I have lived through them, I would feel less complete as a person. I can glance along them and re-live the thoughts that they have provoked and initiated in a way that is simply not possible with the electronic versions, however convenient these might otherwise be. Long live libraries! Long live books!

PHOTO: The bookworm that watches over me as I write.


Share This