Toilet Reads: Fascinating Nonfiction about the Necessary Acts

Cover of the book "Life of Pee." Click here to find it in the Seattle Public Library catalog. The human body is fascinating. But sometimes what is more fascinating is what we do with what comes out of the human body. The book Life of Pee, by Sally Magnusson, is a testament to some of the strange and ingenious things we have done with urine. We have used it to dye our hair, make gunpowder and clean our clothes. Every page of this book is filled with fascinating facts about pee.

The book begins with a glossary with all the urine related words you will ever need to know. Weeting, for instance, was what they called the urine that was collected each day from people’s homes and used in the wool industry of England. Continue reading “Toilet Reads: Fascinating Nonfiction about the Necessary Acts”

Science: Our Family Tree

The Richness of Life: the essential Stephen Jay Gould by Stephen Jay Gould  2007 

A wide-ranging collection of essays culled from 3 decades of writing by the paleontologist known for being the passionate voice of popular science.

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: an intimate portrait of Charles Darwin and the making of his theory of evolution by David Quammen 2006 

Drawing on private letters and notebooks, Quammen elegantly elucidates Darwin’s ideas as well as his personal life.

Before the Dawn: recovering the lost history of our ancestors by Nicholas Wade 2006

Drawing on new genetic research, Wade looks at how human ancestors in Africa were transformed by the development of language.  He also shows how DNA findings cast new light on other areas of history.

Nature via Nurture: genes, experience, and what makes us human by Matt Ridley 2003 

Ridley examines the human genome and environmental factors, exploring how their interplay influences who we are.

Evolution for Everyone: how Darwin’s theory can change the way we think about our lives by David Sloan Wilson 2007

A fresh, humorous and engaging look at the fascinating ways in which evolution is part of our existence – why do dogs have curly tails, anyway? – and how it connects us all.

Science: The Big Picture

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier 2007  

This exuberant guided tour of the major fields of science highlights issues big (global warming) and small (ice cream melting), making it all understandable and fascinating.

The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking 2001

One of the greatest scientific minds of our times, Stephen Hawking lucidly explains the workings of the universe for the layperson in this beautifully illustrated volume.

The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing by Richard Dawkins 2008 

This “best of” anthology from the current and previous century pulls together science writing on topics ranging from natural selection to other universes to wet towels.

A People’s History of Science: Miners, midwives, and “low mechanicks” by Clifford D. Conner  2005 

Conner highlights how “common” people have contributed to the progress of science since ancient times, but rarely have received credit.

Science: Deep Thoughts, Deep Space

Physics of the Impossible: a scientific exploration into the world of phasers, force fields, teleportation, and time travel by Michio Kaku 2008
Kaku examines the stuff of science fiction – time machines, invisibility cloaks, starships – and uses the laws of physics to judge their feasibility.


The Unfinished Game: Pascal, Fermat, and the seventeenth-century letter that made the world modern by Keith Devlin  2008
A slim, readable account of the birth of probability theory and its wide-reaching impact on modern life.

The Planets by Dava Sobel 2005 
Adept at making complex topics easy to grasp, Sobel gracefully explores our solar system, weaving together science, mythology, history, art and music.

The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Revolutionized Our Understanding of the Cosmos by Michael Lemonick 2009 
After a self-taught astronomer discovered Uranus in 1781, he and his sister were hired by King George as royal scientists, and they made discoveries and established methods still used today.

Science: The Great Adventure

The Ghost Map: the story of London’s most terrifying epidemic– and how it changed science, cities, and the modern world by Steven Johnson 2006 

This page-turner chronicles the spread of cholera in 1850’s London and profiles the doctor who tried to persuade a skeptical medical establishment that the disease was spread by contaminated water.

Bretz’s Flood: the remarkable story of a rebel geologist and the world’s greatest flood by John Soennichsen 2008

Although his ideas were initially ridiculed, geologist Bretz eventually convinced the scientific establishment that eastern Washington’s topography was formed not by glaciers but by an enormous flood.

Justinian’s Flea : plague, empire, and the birth of Europe by William Rosen 2007

Rosen traces the huge impact of a tiny organism that carried the bubonic plague in the 6th century, leading to 25 million deaths in the Roman Empire and contributing, he argues, to the empire’s fall.

Lost Discoveries : the ancient roots of modern science, from the Babylonians to the Maya by Dick Teresi  2002

This fascinating, accessible multicultural history of science explores the ancient and medieval contributions of many non-European peoples to the fields of math, astronomy, chemistry and technology.

The Great Warming: climate change and the rise and fall of civilizations by Brian Fagan  2008

An acclaimed archeologist reconstructs centuries-old weather patterns, exploring the huge impact that rising temperatures had on the world’s civilizations.