Today is National Science Day! We’re excited, and perhaps you are wondering why. We are, after all, in the business of books—collecting, selling, and writing about them. Indeed, we share with you who wins the Nobel Prize in Literature, not who wins the Nobel Prize in Physics or Chemistry or even Medicine. But that’s not to say we don’t love science! As a matter of fact, we love it when books and science intersect, which happens quite often. Today, we’re focusing our attention on five of our favorite rare science books. If you, like us, have an affinity to books of scientific importance or would like to build a collection surrounding this topic, read on!
Physica Sacra (Kupfer-Bibel), by Johann Jakob Scheuchzer
It makes sense to start our list of rare science books with this title. Physica Sacra is a mammoth work, and it’s price tag is just as mammoth. The book itself is a compilation or art, science, and spirituality. Its author, Johann Jakob Scheuchzer, was a physician and mathematician by trade. As with many natural scientists of his day, Scheuchzer used the bible as his point of reference and to serve as a sort of frame work for the scientific discoveries being made. Thus, we get Physica Sacra wherein Scheuchzer comments on different bible passages and events through a scientific lens.
We’ve written more thoroughly about Physica Sacra in the past, and if you’re interested, we’d recommend reading this article, What is Physica Sacra and Why is it Important? and this article, Scheuchzer and the History of the Biblical Encyclopedia.
For now, here's an excerpt from the above linked article:
Perhaps the most remarkable aspects of the collection are the images captured within it. Every illustration included references a specific chapter and verse from the books of the 1611 edition of the King James Bible. Physica Sacra is also known as the Kupfer-Bibel which translates to “Copper Bible.” The “copper” in the title is a nod to the prints from the copper plate engravings that make up the masterpiece. There are 762 plates in total, and the images are astounding. The illustrations range in detailing everything from the creation of man and the story of Adam and Eve, to a description of the human heart, to descriptions of snakes, to the creation of the sun and moon, to a detailed list of different kinds of snowflakes, and so much more.
50 Years at Gombe by Jane Goodall
We love Jane Goodall, and her contributions to both science and literature cannot be overstated. While we picked 50 Years at Gombe for this list, we could have easily selected many other Goodall titles (Hope for Animals and their World, The Chimpanzee: The Living Link Between Man and “Beast”, Africa in My Blood, not to mention several important children’s books). In 50 Years at Gombe, Goodall reflects on her decades-long research efforts and what she’s learned.
Goodall was remarkable not only as a female scientist, breaking through glass ceilings one jungle trek at a time, but also for her ability to synthesize her discoveries and the knowledge she gained and share it with the rest of us. If you have a science book collection, or a collection of women in literature, Jane Goodall must be included.
Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen
Fridtjof Nansen was a Norwegian scientist and explorer. He gained much notoriety after his Fram expedition from the years of 1893-1896. It is this expedition that is detailed in the book Farthest North. Nasen reached a record setting northern latitude of 86°14′. His ship, the Fram, became frozen and drifted with the ice caps north. After 18 months of this, Nasen and a partner left the ship and used dogs and sleds to travel even further north, hoping to reach the North Pole. Most people assumed Nansen was dead.
Andrew Neiland, in his review of the book for Amazon, states: “Because he wrote while still thawing from his adventures, his story has an exciting immediacy, one that the passing of a century has done little to diminish. As a historical document, as an epic adventure, and as a revival of a worthy hero long forgotten, Farthest North is a tale well worth remembering.”
Apollo: An Eye Witness Account by Alan Bean
From polar expedition to space expedition, Apollo: An Eye Witness Account is, as the title suggestions, a first-hand account of Bean's time on the moon during the Apollo 12 mission. Apollo 12 landed on the moon about 4 months after Apollo 11 had, making Alan Bean the fourth man to walk on the moon (after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin from the Apollo 11 mission, and Charles “Pete” Conrad, mission commander for Apollo 12).
In Apollo: An Eye Witness Account, Bean shares his thorough account of his time in space. His minute-by-minute description is accompanied by Bean’s own paintings of important material like the lunar surface and his own astronaut gear.
Darwin: The Indelible Stamp: The Evolution of an Idea by James D. Watson, editor
Any discussion of science and science writing would seemingly be incomplete without mention of Charles Darwin. That’s why we like Darwin: The Indelible Stamp. This book is a collection of four of Darwin’s most influential and important essays. It includes: On the Origin of Species, Voyage of the Beagle, The Descent of Man, and The Expressions of Emotions in Man and Animals. Each of these works is significant for its own reasons, from Darwin’s exploration of evolution, to his discussion of the nature of the mind. Included in Darwin: The Indelible Stamp is helpful commentary from editor James D. Watson, himself a highly regarded scientist.