summer reading 2020

… in the garden, in front of the tent or the camper, or on the beach …

… recommended distance included – virus free zone …

My summer reading 2020 is “The Great Influenza” (2004) by John M. Barry. The author is a journalist, who covers the horrendous events of the 1918 Spanish Flu in the US. Barry is intertwining today’s knowledge of the 1918 pandemic with personal accounts of contemporaries, with newspaper articles and reactions of politicians, from the US president down to the mayors. He tells the heroic stories of scientists and physicians, trying to get a grip on the disease. And he tells of the massive, and deliberately made wrong decisions by the political and economic castes, who feared for their personal benefits.

For today’s readers the parallels to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic are tragic and enlightening at the same time. Cities that reacted too slowly on the threat were hit hardest. Cities that lifted restrictions too early, were subsequently hit by the so-called “second wave” that killed thousands. In 1918 as well, there was intentional false information, to keep the population calm (it was “only influenza”, the fear from it was considered more deadly than the virus itself). Today, this sounds familiar, when listening to accounts from the US and other countries.

In 1918, as well, scientific journals published a lot of rubbish, for lack of enough peer-review capacity, in 1918, as well, there were charlatans selling panaceas, in 1918, as well, there were trials to use known old medication or to use vaccines originally aimed at other pathogens. Over the past one hundred years, there has not been a lot of change. Science has made great leaps of progress, but society and power-conscious politicians have not. The latter ones obviously did not have to.

The book is making clear, that (in Germany) we are lucky to have an as-yet responsibly acting government and a working federal system.

Should you not yet have some reading for this summer, this is a recommendation. The book is written excellently, a true page turner, but no bedtime reading. You better read it during daytime, otherwise you might have a sleepless night.

For a more relaxing, entertaining, and educating read, here are some more suggestions:

Jared Diamond (1997): “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. Diamond is taking us through the history of human civilizations. It is a great read, an exceptional book, which deals with the impact of agriculture, diseases, wars, and other influences on the global development. Along the way, he also debunks the junk about human races and prejudice. Please read the original version. The German translation disqualified itself by the title “Arm und Reich” (Poor and Rich). The translator obviously did not comprehend the book.

Horace Freeland Judson (1979): “The Eighth Day of Creation”. The author very vividly describes the origins and development of modern molecular biology. From its starting points, with many protagonists, many of whom later would receive the Nobel Prize, to the establishment as a field of natural sciences. Numerous personal accounts and interviews of the people involved make this book brim with life. It would be an enrichment of today’s school and general education.

Jeremy Cherfas and John Gribbin (1984): “The Redundant Male” – a phantastic book on the role of the male sex in reproduction and evolution, scientifically sound, entertaining, and told with an occasional tongue-in-cheek. Very sobering for those men who still adhere to an old-fashioned female role model; thus, to all of you oldtimers and patriarchs: You better prepare yourself for the worst, since with your way of thinking, you are bound to be an obsolescent model, even biologically. Unfortunately, this treasure is even today only available antiquarian.

Richard Dawkins (ed., 2008): “The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing”. This is a collection worth reading of essays, articles, and excerpts from larger works all around the sciences and their protagonists. Dawkins has assembled famous scientists from numerous disciplines (astrophysics, evolutionary biology, neurobiology, mathematics, chemistry…), who wrote about their work, their ways of thinking and acting. Each piece being less than ten pages long, it makes these essays a wonderful reading on a day of leisure at a lake, on the beach, in the hammock in your garden, or in the folding chair in front of your tent or camper.

One thing these readings have in common is the fact that they may be read while keeping physical distancing. I like to repeat myself: Distance, distance, distance.

Science and its history are a thrilling and lively field. Science is enriching, and progress always has secured prosperity. Unfortunately, the European Union recently has made cuts in the science budget. This is short sighted. We hope that some European countries might still join the global race for progress. The EU is one global player only. Decisions made now in this respect, will be part of the future history of science. The global role of Europe is not a fixed one, it needs to be worked on constantly.

I would recommend building upon progress rather than regress.

Yours, Joerg Baumann

SAJO – for a healthy and better future!

This is giving me the opportunity to thank all the giants on whose shoulders we are standing today. Their genius, their enthusiasm, and their tireless work built the foundation on today’s progresses. Thank you!