For holiday reading I took The Faber Book of Science edited by John Carey, an anthology of short pieces about various scientific breakthroughs and discoveries. It’s good holiday reading as I could sit on a train, read an essay in a few minutes, then go back to watching the scenery. I found it an inspiring read.
A physiologist friend had given me the book for my birthday, in an effort to educate me out of my blank-headed ignorance when it comes to science. I disliked science at school and I still remember my lightness of heart when I had finished the last General Science exam I would ever have to do and being scolded by one of the teachers for skipping down the corridor singing while others were still writing their papers to show they had grasped something of the rudiments of physics, chemistry and biology.
I was never interested in the experiments we had to do but I like to read about aspects of the earth, or the universe. About black holes for instance, or evolution, or tectonic plates – those are huge ideas, and cut humanity down to size. However, humanity, or some members of it like Darwin, Mendeyev and Curie, grow large again for their patient observation and their relentless passion for discovery.
Carey included Orwell’s essay about toads. Orwell, in another life, would have been a good naturalist. I can imagine him as a vicar like Gilbert White in the eighteenth century observing field mice or in the nineteenth century as a colonial administrator who published a book on The Flora and Fauna of the Punjab.