I read science books, magazines and journals, books with social relevance and technical ones – for example, writings on biotechnologies and networks
My favourite reads: Viqar Ahmad
The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life by Richard Dawkins (2004)
Dawkins’s tale is a play on Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. You don’t need to be a scientist to get drawn into his explorations of evolution’s rendezvous points – 40 of them – from humankind to bacteria, through genetics, geology and geography. In this story of four billion years of life on Earth, we meet our distant ancestors.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach (2013)
I love food, the whole experience of it. Roach makes sense of what happens when we eat, through questions on the science of eating yourself to death; being swallowed alive; and even the inflammability of bowel gas. It’s fun, funny, and also makes your stomach turn. That’s the life of a scientist – and some of it can be extremely gross.
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (1995)
This is like a horror story but nevertheless a true one. The book takes the reader from a monkey research lab in Washington DC into Africa to learn about the hot zone viruses Ebola and Marburg. Preston adds names and dates, which bring disturbing detail to it with a graphic edge. This is a cautionary tale of what happens when complex, finely balanced ecosystems are upset.
In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz, Michela Wrong (2002)
A tragedy about a corrupt dictator, a vast resource-rich country and brutal colonial exploitation. Wrong looks for president Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo), following in the footsteps of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and finds a country brought to its knees through kleptocratic rule and cruelty.
The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin (2002)
Walter Benjamin fled Germany in 1932, after the Nazis took over. This unfinished book is already more than 1,000 pages, and was first published in English in 1982. It is a collection of reflections based on Parisian arcades, architecture and humane interaction, and is a book to dip into like a flaneur, an urban observer. I reflect on my own home city of London through it.
Viqar Ahmad is a sub-editor at The National