Books to read

Outside the lab, you can often find me reading science books written for lay people. I like the ones that walk you through the details of the scientific research but are easy to follow, even if you're not a specialist. These are some of my favorites.

I'm always looking for new books to read—if you have a recommendation, please do email me!

An absolutely wonderful exploration of how languages work. David Adger explains the core ideas of linguistic theory with a level of clarity, depth, and creativity that is honestly awe-inspiring. It's a masterclass in accessible writing. No coincidence that he's a famous and well-respected linguist—only someone who really understands the abstract structure of language could explain it so well.

Possibly my favorite popular science book of all time by Abby Marsh, a Georgetown professor and expert in the neural bases of extraordinary altruism and sociopathic behavior. This is a scientifically rigorous yet accessible overview of the research in this field. Gripping from start to finish.

You’ll need a strong stomach for this book, but I *highly* recommend it. Mary Roach is a hilarious narrator of the fascinating, important, and absurd research that's done with cadavers. (It's not just dissection!) Maybe don’t read this if you know someone who died in a car crash. I found her writing respectful, but could see room for disagreement.

Highly recommend for anyone interested in the science of language acquisition, sign language, and brain plasticity. Lydia Denworth, a science journalist, does a terrific job explaining the research in this field while telling the story of how she and her family navigated her son's significant hearing loss. She touches a bit on Deaf culture, but she's hearing, so it's written from that perspective.

This is a book about the effects of radium on the human body, told from the perspective of the young women who ingested radium paint as factory workers in the early 20th century. The data isn't from research studies, but rather from lawsuits, testimony and newspaper interivews with the women. Horrifying, but absolutely worth a read.

100 brief reflections by well-known psychologists about the scientific discoveries that made them famous. Some focus on the nuts and bolts of their discovery, while others reflect on the factors that contributed to their successful careers. But all are concise, relatively accessible, and illuminating.

Another one by Mary Roach, about the behind-the-scenes scientific research that enables human space travel. Lots of funny anecdotes about zero-gravity experiments and annoyed astronauts reporting unanticipated problems from space. It’s occasionally gross but not nearly as gross as Stiff—and like all her other books, it's hilarious.

(Currently reading; so far it's GREAT)

(Not a pop science book, but a biography of Mike May, a blind man who had his vision restored in adulthood. A different perspective on brain plasticity)