What we're reading: Australia's top scientists' summer book and podcast recommendations

December 09, 2021
From left: Professor David Lindenmayer with Cold Coast' by Robyn Mundy, and Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger with Ciara's Gift: Grief Edged with Gold', by Una Glennon. Photos: supplied.

How do Australia's top minds relax?

The Australian Academy of Science’s 6th Annual Fellows’ Christmas Book and Podcast List has been released, with recommendations from Australia's leading scientists.

Whether you're looking to tickle your grey matter or tug on your heartstrings, there is something for everyone in this year's list.

Below is a small sample of this year's recommendations:


Ciara's gift: Grief Edged with Gold, by Una Glennon

Ciara's gift: grief edged with gold, by Una Glennon

Recommended by Professor Cheryl Praeger AC FAA

"This is an intensely moving, beautifully written account of memories and reflections of a mother about her daughter. Ciara Glennon’s murder was a lasting scar on the Western Australian community, and totally devastating for her family. Una Glennon’s courage in writing this book is a gift to all who have faced the heartbreak of grief."

Cold Coast, by Robyn Mundy

Recommended by Professor David Lindenmayer AO FAA

"An extraordinary epic story about the first woman fur trapper on Svalbard—based on a real Norwegian. Evocative imagery and a classic narrative of a remarkable person and stunning location."

Everything You Need to Know About the Uluru Statement from the Heart, by Megan Davis and George Williams

Recommended by Emeritus Professor John Patrick FAA

"Written by two acclaimed international experts in constitutional law, and deeply involved in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander matters, the text delivers in spades on what the title promises for those not familiar with constitutional law. The reader is taken on an historical journey from 1770 to the present that builds a compelling case for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Australian Constitution and the framework upon which this can be achieved—Voice, Treaty, Truth."

The Soul of Genius: Marie Curie, Albert Einstein and the Meeting that Changed the Course of Science, by Jeffrey Orens

The Soul of Genius: Marie Curie, Albert Einstein and the Meeting that Changed the Course of Science, by Jeffrey Orens

Recommended by Professor Fiona Stanley AC FAA FAHMS(Hon) FASSA

"This book describes the Solway Conferences, set up in 1911 by a business man (Ernest Solway) passionate about science and how it could improve society (physics, chemistry and even the social sciences). The issue of this time was the realisation that classical physics was giving way to quantum theory—which would change the course of science (in our world and in the universe). It describes the scientific and personal lives of both Marie Curie and Albert Einstein, the appalling way in which Curie was condemned for her affair with Paul Langevin and how Einstein supported her. Beautifully written."

Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization, by Scott Barry Kaufman

Recommended by Professor Robert C Williamson FAA

"Scientists love to talk about their science, but perhaps not their subjective experience of doing it. Kaufman’s book is a detailed exposition of psychologist Abraham Maslow’s thinking on what makes us human. Any non-scientist who wants to understand what makes scientists work so hard at their science will learn, amongst other things, from this book why they do: they have a purpose; a large goal outside themselves, which they pursue with a passion, and, crucially, which provides intrinsic meaning to their lives."

Interestingly Enough... The Life of Tom Keneally, by Stephany Evans Steggall

Interestingly enough... The Life of Tom Keneally, by Stephany Evans Steggall

Recommended by Professor Lois Salamonsen FAA

"Tom Keneally is one of Australia’s most awarded and prolific authors and a great storyteller. This biography provides considerable insight into the influences (particularly of the Catholic church) on his life, his need to be productive in order to support his family, and his unerring nose for a good story. While ‘Schindler’s Ark’ is the best known of his books, this well-written coverage of the widely ranging topics of his books (including a major history of the Irish diaspora and his unforgettable story of Eritrea during its long war) provides insights into Tom’s writing that will delight all of his readers."

Audio and video

Herbert Blomstedt conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in Bruckner (video)

Recommended by Professor The Honourable Barry Jones AC FAA FTSE FAHA FASSA

"Even if you are not familiar with Bruckner’s symphonies, or if complex music has passed you by, it is immensely rewarding to see a master conducting at an exalted level at the age of 94. Start with Symphony No. 4, filmed in September 2021. Or if Mozart is more to your taste, look for Menahem Pressler playing his Piano Concerto No. 20, in his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic, at the age of 90 (I’m serious)."

Cautionary Tales, by Tim Harford (podcast)

Cautionary Tales, by Tim Harford

Recommended by Professor Brian Schmidt AC FAA FRS Nobel Laureate

"Lessons from history that talk about how people’s decisions and the psychology behind them have profound implications—often with a good and bad side, and always a lesson. Very entertaining and thought provoking, they are great case studies for being an academic leader."

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