Recommended summer reading from Australia’s top scientific minds

December 12, 2018
from left to right: Professor Jennie Brand-Miller FAA, Professor Jenny Graves FAA, Professor Lois Salamonsen FAA, Professor Frances Separovic FAA.
Academy Fellows with their recommended Christmas reads

There’s nothing like fully immersing yourself in a good book—so what do Australia’s top scientific minds recommend you read this holiday season?

The Australian Academy of Science’s third Annual Christmas Reading List, released today, contains 55 favourite reads submitted by the Academy’s Fellows.

Academy Chief Executive, Ms Anna-Maria Arabia, said while some Fellows recommend good reads for exploring science, there are plenty of suggestions for escaping it altogether.

“From politics and history through to spy thrillers and murder mysteries, there’s something for everyone on this year’s list,” Ms Arabia said.

Here’s a selection of the recommended reads:


Lab Girl, Hope Jahren

Recommended by Professor Jenny Graves FAA
Brutally honest, passionate and wry account of the author’s rather eccentric life and career as a geobiologist. Her insider observations on the secret life of plants parallel her growth as a scientist, her struggles with officialdom, budgets, pregnancy and mental disease. I really empathised, groaned, laughed and cried with her.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt

Recommended by Professor Karl Glazebrook FAA
An extremely interesting take (from 2013) on the ‘moral divide’ between right and left in politics—and why good people on both sides seem to simply talk past each other. Includes an interesting, controversial claim that people on the left have a more limited moral palette. Not sure I am persuaded by that, but it is thoughtfully argued.

The Cellist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway

Recommended by Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger FAA
The book is a profoundly moving account of life in Sarajevo while under siege in the 1990s, from the viewpoint of several residents of the ruined city. The cellist, whom we meet in the first chapter, symbolises the soul of the city as he plays to commemorate those killed.

Scrublands, Chris Hammer

Recommended by Professor Ian Frazer FAA
A murder mystery set in an Australian town, and with more twists than the average murder story. Difficult to put down once you get started. It will keep you guessing right to the end pages.

Old School, Tobias Wolff

Recommended by Professor Wendy Hoy FAA
I need to read this book yet another time to further grasp its subtleties. These are the reflections of a young man on his journey as an aspiring writer competing for acknowledgement in an elite educational environment. The smooth low-key narrative belies the profundity and complexity of content: deliberations on personal morality, class issues at several levels, great human empathy. It is, to quote the review of Entertainment Weekly, ‘emotionally devastating’.

Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe

Recommended by: Professor Jennie Brand-Miller FAA
This book will change forever how you think about Australia and its traditional owners. Pascoe argues forcefully that Indigenous Australians were thriving in an environment that was semi-settled in many parts of the country, with villages of thousands of people and huts up to 15 meters in diameter. The description of a ‘fairy-like’ burying-ground by the explorer Thomas Mitchell brought me to tears (see page 100).

Other recommendations include:

The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect, Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie

Recommended by Professor Dacheng Tao FAA

How Does Government Listen to Scientists? Dr Claire Craig

Recommended by Anna-Maria Arabia, Chief Executive, Australian Academy of Science

Who We Were, Lucy Neave

Recommended by Professor Peter Doherty FAA


Read the complete Annual Christmas Reading List.

© 2019 Australian Academy of Science

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