In honor of our Quantum Leap initiative, we’ve curated a Quantum Leap book collection for our Novel Conversations lending library. The collection combines the old with the new, beloved classics with hot bestsellers, fiction with nonfiction and, most of all, STEM with the humanities. We have at least 15 copies of each title that you can check out for free to read with your book club.
Here’s an introduction to the 12 titles, a little about why they were selected and an excerpt from each that we think exemplifies the spirit of Quantum Leap.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley’s masterpiece of scientific innovation gone awry is the perfect starting point for Hoosiers to explore the larger themes of Quantum Leap—primarily those related to science and its role in society. Plus, if you haven’t heard, Frankenstein turns 200 in 2018, and Indiana Humanities has big plans to make the book come alive with fun and diverse programming.
“So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein — more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.”
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
In this bestselling 2016 memoir, geobiologist Hope Jahren invites us to join in as she recalls her lifelong pursuit to study trees, flowers and soil. Starting with her childhood in the Minnesotan outdoors and following through her career as an award-winning scientist and professor, Jahren inspires us to care for the environment and to partake in scientific exploration. We’re excited to read this selection in our staff book club later this summer.
“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.”
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
We were inspired to look into this book when the Andrew Luck Book Club made it one of their selections earlier this spring. We thought it made a perfect Quantum Leap selection. The bestselling 2016 memoir follows neurosurgeon Paul Kalanathi’s final battle with stage IV lung cancer and his struggle to face questions about living and dying.
“Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.”
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This classic dystopian novel from 1953 imagines the horrors of a world where all books must be burned. Bradbury is a staple in the science fiction genre. This fall we’ll have an INconversation with the director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies, which is located in Indianapolis, to discuss Bradbury’s legacy and the unique role of science fiction to help us imagine the future.
“With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.”
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
In her 2010 nonfiction bestseller, Rebecca Skloot tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman whose cancer cells were vital for developing a number of vaccines and gene mapping technology in the mid-twentieth century. Though her cells have been sold throughout the years for billions of dollars, her family remains poor and her name relatively unknown. The book looks at the ethical questions surrounding the HeLa cells and prompts dialogue of race, immortality, faith and scientific discovery.
“These cells have transformed modern medicine. … They shaped the policies of countries and of presidents. They even became involved in the Cold War. Because scientists were convinced that in her cells lay the secret of how to conquer death.”
A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman
Our board member Dr. Joseph Trimmer suggested we add this book by popular author Diane Ackerman (The Zookeeper’s Wife) to our Quantum Leap collection, lauding the book’s brilliant writing, engaging style, surprising subject matter and nexus of science and the humanities. Ackerman explores each of the senses through historical, scientific, visceral and experiential lenses—asking questions ranging from why we crave chocolate to how pheromones control human desire.
“The senses don’t just make sense of life in bold or subtle acts of clarity, they tear reality apart into vibrant morsels and reassemble them into a meaningful pattern.”
Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
This modern classic is a fictional collage of stories dreamt by Albert Einstein in 1905, when he worked in a patent office in Switzerland. The poetic vignettes explore the connections between science and art, the process of creativity and the tender fragility of human existence. In April, we had an INconversation with author and physicist Alan Lightman as our Quantum Leap kickoff. Read this recap of the event for more about our discussion of immortality, spirituality, time, physics and creativity.
“Suppose that time is not a quantity but a quality, like the luminescence of the night above the trees just when a rising moon has touched the treeline. Time exists, but it cannot be measured.”
The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
This collection of 21 short autobiographical stories details the life of a young Jewish-Italian doctoral candidate studying chemistry under a wartime fascist regime. Levi names each story after a chemical element, connecting the stories in some metaphorical way to the different elements, and in doing so, brings the reader along for a journey through scientific pursuit, historical commentary and the human experience.
“This cell belongs to a brain, and it is my brain, the brain of me who is writing; and the cell in question, and within it the atom in question, is in charge of my writing, in a gigantic minuscule game which nobody has yet described.”
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
We already had this book in Novel Conversations, but when I listened to our audiobook copy of it earlier this year, I thought it would be perfect for the Quantum Leap collection, since it raises ethical questions related to scientific exploration. Patchett’s 2011 work of fiction tells the story of pharmacologist Dr. Marina Singh and her trip into the Brazilian jungle to track down a missing colleague who was onsite performing medical research. While she’s there, Dr. Singh encounters ethical questions, scientific marvels and danger she never could have prepared for.
“Never be so focused on what you’re looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.”
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Huxley’s famous work of speculative fiction depicts a future where humans are bred and conditioned for societal manipulation. The classic book has served as a warning against the dangers of taking scientific innovation too far since its debut in 1931 and addresses some of the ethical questions we’re hoping to help Hoosiers discuss with Quantum Leap.
“Words can be like X-rays, if you use them properly—they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced. That’s one of the things I try to teach my students—how to write piercingly.”
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Shetterly’s 2016 bestseller tells the true story of three female African American mathematicians who worked for NASA during the Cold War, Civil Rights Movement, and Space Race of the mid-twentieth century. We thought this book would be a great addition to our Quantum Leap collection especially due to its heightened popularity in light of the Oscar-nominated movie that came out in December 2016. We also think the book prompts important discussions about race, gender and scientific ambition.
“War, technology, and social progress; it seemed that the second two always came with the first.”
He, She and It by Marge Piercy
Our board member Rabbi Sandy Sasso suggested we add this book to our Quantum Leap collection, calling it an important novel that forces us to ask what makes us human. In the post-apocalyptic world of the book, computers begin to take on and sense human emotion. The novel explores themes of gender, humanity, technology and love, all while carrying on a suspenseful and memorable plot.
“He makes an absolute distinction between the truths of science, which are based on observation and are always changing as the world is always changing … and the truths of religion, which are of another order.”
The post was written by Bronwen Fetters, who manages Novel Conversations, our free statewide lending library. Indiana Humanities lends more than 600 titles, primarily fiction and biography, to reading and discussion groups all over Indiana, free of charge. We also have books available in several other genres, including nonfiction, mysteries, plays, poetry and young adult.