Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Canon: A Book Review from a Science Teacher's Perspective

Ok, so my husband heard about this book from a podcast to which he is an avid and devoted listener. He immediately brought me up to speed on the author (Natalie Angier), the book (The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science), as well as the book’s purpose (do I really need to write it?). I will admit, it piqued my interests.

So he bought the book for me and it became a member of my summer reading list. Well, I finished it while vacationing in hot and humid Hilton Head Island, SC. Now, either Sarasota is having an exceptionally non-humid summer or Hilton Head is just having a really sweaty summer. I guess I didn’t remember it being THAT bad as a childhood vacation destination, but then again, I guess I was too much of a tomboy back then to really consider how the humidity would affect my hair. Needless to say, I read quite a bit on that trip – lounging by the pool, lying on the couch, lying in bed, you get the picture. And honestly, I wasn’t really “hooked” like I was when I read A Short History of Nearly Everything. Now, in Natalie Angier’s defense, Bill Bryson is a really tough author to follow. I mean, REALLY tough. And it probably doesn’t help that I consider him my favorite author. So the odds were already stacked against her before I even read the first paragraph. Besides, I am in no way, shape or form, admitting to being a fabulous book reviewer. I could really suck at it - so proceed with caution - what you are about to read could cause bodily harm (especially if you are reading this while sitting cross legged on the baggage claim belt at Sarasota Bradenton Airport).

But let’s forget about Bill Bryson for just a moment.

Natalie’s book, from a middle school science teacher’s point of view, would be a great book for adults. It is not suitable for middle school students, and I would honestly find it hard pressed to find too many high school kids that would thoroughly enjoy her witty analogies and sarcasti humor. When I picked up this book, I was hoping to find it to be a tool I could use in my classroom, just like A Short History, because (ALERT - Sarasota County buzz words ahead!) I am always looking to enhance literacy in my content area. Unfortunately, my kids would not understand a fraction of her humor or sarcasm because some of the jokes are before their time. With that being said, she is extremely witty (and I mean EXTREMELY), enormously eloquent and really quite passionate about science. I have a tremendous amount of respect for her in her effort to create an entertaining guide to the basics of science. Honestly, her writing is poetic.

It’s only 264 pages long, has a reference section and takes you through the major scientific disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, geology and astronomy, in that order. It is exactly what the title says – it describes the basics of those major categories of science. Now, I am just a science teacher, and it was a good refresher for me before the school year begins here shortly, but I honestly can’t say that I learned anything new. But, for the average American who probably struggled with physics and failed chemistry and isn't necessarily in a scientific profession, this book will make sense. I could also see it having potential with college freshmen or even for college students who are interesting in becoming a science teacher.

Sorry, I just can't find another book to trump Bill Bryson.

Bill Bry the Science Guy! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!

Bill Bry the Science Guy!

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