Amy Stewart and the Botany of Alcohol

 Hello, my Curious Readers! 

Today’s post I’m especially excited to share with you, as I had the privilege of interviewing best-selling author Amy Stewart. Amy is a beloved author for us botanists, writing books such as Wicked Plants, Wicked Bugs, Flower Confidential, and The Drunken Botanist. She’s also written multiple fiction books as well. In the interview below, I focus specifically on The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants. 

download (7)The Drunken Botanist, as Amy describes in the interview, came out of a budding interest in the history of how plants become alcohol. From tequila to vodka to rum, plants have been a fundamental part of any alcoholic drink. Amy focuses on the history of these alcoholic beverages, giving interesting and bizarre anecdotes, as well as recipes to make your own cocktails. She also gives recommendations for growing your own cocktail garden! That is something I will definitely be doing in the future. The Drunken Botanist is something I recommend not just for us plant-lovers, but also for people interested in alcohol (who isn’t lol), as well as the history of trading and merchant ships. It’s a fun and engaging read, with lots of surprising stories. After the initial publication, The Drunken Botanist became so popular Amy started a blog about plant cocktails. You can find the link here.  

Amy’s book Wicked Plants is also a best-seller. It covers some of the most poisonous and deadly plants on our planet. Amy wanted this to be different from other books that cover poisonous plants, and decided to focus on stories of these plants and who they killed/injured. Her book Wicked Bugs does the same thing but covers bugs as opposed to plants. I’d highly recommend for anyone interested in history, as this book gives a fun and dark side to botany that you may not know. Wicked Plants is full of twists and surprises. You can find your copy of Wicked Plants here

If you’re looking for The Drunken Botanist, you can get a copy here as well, from an independent bookstore. 

Listen to the interview below with Amy as she discusses topics ranging from her books to cocktail gardens to unique plants. I’d also recommend checking out Amy’s other books. Currently, Amy is taking a break from writing to enjoy some well-deserved relaxation. 


Laura Pritchett and the stories of Colorado nature

 Hello, my curious and avid Readers! 

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This week we’re heading deep into the Colorado wildland to discuss bear populations, rangeland science, and soil. I was privileged enough to interview local writer Laura Pritchett to discuss these topics with her, specifically focusing on her book Great Colorado Bear Stories. I actually contacted Laura years ago for my undergraduate dissertation, as I had questions for her about her work in science communication. Laura has mainly published books in the fiction genre, but her book Great Colorado Bear Stories is full of wild and fascinating true stories about the bear populations in Colorado. She also recently, as requested by a local theater in Fort Collins, Colorado, wrote and produced a play called Dirt which focuses on soil science and preserving our environment. It was Dirt that originally sparked my interest in interviewing her, as the play is so unique (more about Dirt in a minute). 

When I interviewed Laura (as you can hear below), it was mainly Great Colorado Bear Stories that I focused on, asking her why she had chosen bears as her subject. Laura was asked to write this book and became engrossed in the bear populations of Colorado, specifically near where she lives in Fort Collins. As she explained, there is one species of bear in Colorado, the black bear, and the science around bears has been wrongly misinterpreted. For example, Laura explains, that the myth that “a fed bear is a dead bear” is not actually true, as studies have shown that bears will revert back to their natural prey if given the option. 

Laura also went on to tell me the story of how the grizzly bears were purposefully exterminated within the state of Colorado in the early 1900s, due to the myth that grizzlies are ferocious maneaters (which is also false). The extermination of grizzlies got so bad that we currently don’t know if there are any in Colorado anymore or not. There have been possible sightings of grizzlies, the last one Laura mentioned was in the 1970s. The map on the right shows the distribution of grizzly bears within the northwest U.S. 

These pictures below show how the extermination of grizzly bears was being perceived by the Colorado public during the early 1900s. Clearly, the lack of accurate science communication led to tragic results. 

While the extermination of grizzlies was catastrophic and heartbreaking, Laura also focused on how during the same time, the national parks were being recognized and preserved as wildlands, free of human involvement. We still obviously have national parks today, and I for one am grateful for this. 

The preservation of our wildlands and forests caused me to switch topics to ask Laura about her play Dirt, which focuses on soil science. In seeing the play, I was amazed at how different it was and how accurate soil science was being portrayed. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the need for nutrient-rich soil becomes more and more important as life dies all around. Laura takes this dialogue one step further by having her protagonist conjure up mental arguments with philosophers, scientists, and even the Greek goddess Persephone. The arguments given in the play are enlightening and challenging for any audience member. But the play isn’t all negative, as Laura has a funny and dazzling scene of nematodes dancing across the stage. If this play is put on again, I’d highly recommend for everyone to go see it. 

If you’re interested in reading Laura’s Great Colorado Bear Stories, you can get it here. In finishing the interview with Laura Pritchett, I felt grateful for writers like her, who took efforts to communicate the science of local nature however they could, even if their mediums seemed unorthodox. I look forward to the future work Laura will publish and hope that her work has and will continue to make an impact on how people perceive Colorado nature. Listen to the full interview below for more information about Colorado bears and Laura’s play! 


Sheril Kirshenbaum and Scientific Literacy

 Hello Lovely Readers! 

download (9)This week I am honored to showcase an author that inspired me to start the journey into science communication. Sheril Kirshenbaum is both a scientist, and a science communicator, and is best known for teaming up with journalist Chris Mooney to write the book Unscientific America. In this book, Sheril focuses on the U.S. public and their scientific literacy. She looks at how science and scientists are being portrayed by the media, movies, and even books. 

When I met Sheril over zoom I was shocked by how young she was. I was expecting someone who had written a popular and ground-breaking book to be much older than she is, and I was impressed by this. In interviewing Sheril I was struck by how passionate she was on the topic of science communication. Currently, she’s working in the food science communication industry, particularly looking at food shortages. Our interview ranged from how she communicates food shortages to the public to COVID-19’s effect on science communication. When I asked Sheril what we can do as science communicators, Sheril advised education (reading and research) as well as listening to the audience you’re trying to communicate with. She said that when she worked on Capitol Hill, the scientists she would talk to wouldn’t listen to her point of view as they were too busy arguing their own. I couldn’t help but agree with this point, and hope to use it in my own future science communication. 

Sheril is about to start her Ph.D., and I hope to continue to follow her writing and her work throughout the rest of my life. Please listen to her interview below, even if you’re not into science or science communication. She gives great advice about the effects the current political climate has on science, as well as how we can help our society be more scientifically advanced. You can even read her book here, if you want your own copy. Though Unscientific America is 10 years old, it’s still extremely relevant today, especially in the wake of COVID-19. 


Sam Kean and the periodic table

 Hello, my Amazing Readers! 

download (10)This week I’m excited to highlight science writer Sam Kean, who was nice enough to grant me an interview. Sam has written many popular books, including The Disappearing Spoon, The Violinist’s Thumb, Caesar’s Last Breath, The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists, and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb, and others. If you read enough of Sam’s books, which I have, you start to realize that he’s very interested in how humans interact with different elements on the periodic table. 

In this interview below, I focused specifically on one of Sam’s first books, The Disappearing Spoon. This book gives an overview of the periodic table of elements in thematic clusters. It answers questions you may never have had such as: “why did Gandhi hate iodine?” Sam gives an in-depth analysis of how human history is built around the periodic table, and how humans have used these elements for the better…or worse. 

From bombs to mythology to medicine, Sam covers it all. I’d recommend for anyone interested in a different telling of recent human history, or someone interested in weird science. This book will hook you from page one and is great at giving random and cool facts. You can get a copy right here for your own perusal. 

Check out my interview with Sam below to find out why he is interested in chemistry, as well as prefers open-faced sandwiches. 


John Wright and Latin Names

Hello Curious Readers! 

download (11)This week I had a real treat as I was able to interview John Wright, an amateur mycologist and a science writer who is interested in the Latin names of species. Wright lives in the United Kingdom and had quite a few interesting stories to tell when we started talking. Unfortunately, his microphone wasn’t working properly, and I only got 15 seconds of useable interview material. Oops! Oh well! 

Wright’s book Naming of the Shrew is all about the Latin names behind certain plants and animals. From weird names like Ahaha (I kid you not), Ba humbugi (again, not joking, these are the real names), Kamera lens, Ytu brutus (yep, it’s real) to Ninjemys oweni (which roughly translates to Owen’s Ninja Turtle), John’s book is sure to keep you entertained as well as educated. I was hooked by the end of the first chapter. This book helps to explain why there are such weird names out there for species, as well as the process of taxonomy. 
John goes farther though and explains some of the interesting common names we have for animals and plants as well, including penis snake (yep), ice cream worm (doesn’t look like ice cream for anyone who is wondering), the fried egg jellyfish, and even the chicken turtle. Common names are different from Latin names in that common names are what people commonly refer to a species, as opposed to using their Latin names to refer to them. Some plants and animals, like Aloe vera, actually have their Latin name as their common name. Cool huh? 
Even after writing his book, John continues to enjoy finding interesting names. When I asked him what his favorite name was (listen to the short interview below), he said it was the Hoopoe, which is a bird native to Africa, Asia, and Europe, and notable for their distinctive “crown” of feathers. John explained that the Hoopoe’s Latin name mimics the bird’s calls, which I thought was cool. 
You can find John’s book here to get a copy for yourself. I’d highly recommend for an entertaining and hilarious read about some of the weirdest plants and animals on our planet. 

John Calderazzo and the art of Volcanoes

Hello, my Lovely Readers,

This week I was honored to interview John Calderazzo, a nature writer and science communicator. John was a professor of English at Colorado State University, and while I did attend that school, I was never lucky enough to have him as a professor as he had retired by that point. John currently is a freelance writer, focusing on science communication and coastal living.

download (6)By complete accident, I had found John’s book, Rising Fire, in a bookstore one day and both the title and the author caught my eye. In cracking it open, I was immediately hooked in the stories John tells about volcanoes all around the world, and how people survive in the shadows of these geological monuments. From Pompeii to Krakatoa, John gives an in-depth history of each volcano, and his journeys to get to the actual volcano and describe what’s going on. From various near-death experiences to making friends with the locals, John uses his skills as a story-teller to communicate the science of volcanoes in a new and fascinating way. I couldn’t put the book down!

John was more than excited to have me interview him, and we talked for longer than I was expecting. While the main focus of the exclusive interview below is on his book Rising Fire, we also discuss the importance of being a good story-teller and science communicator. John’s stories are both entertaining and valuable and have changed the way I see volcanoes. I’d highly recommend reading John’s book if you’re looking for something easy, fascinating, and adventurous. You can get your own copy here.

And make sure to listen to the fun and interesting interview I had with John below!


Chris Ferrie and the Science of Astrophysics for Babies

Hello, my lovely readers!

I apologize for taking a longer break than usual, as it was the Fourth of July. However, this week I want to talk about science writing for…babies? Yep! I was privileged enough to interview physicist Chris Ferrie, who is also the author of some best-selling baby books about science, such as Astrophysics for Babies or Quantum Physics for Babies. I asked Chris about the difficulty of trying to explain hard theoretical science to someone like a baby. He responded by saying that you can’t keep all the science the same, but using analogies and also simple models will help get the ideas across better.

I asked Chris why he decided to write these books originally, and he replied with explaining the desire to show his kids what type of work he does as a physicist. Besides writing Astrophysics for babies, Chris has also written a couple science parody books, such as Goodnight Lab and Scientist, Scientist, Who do you See? I remember picking up Goodnight Lab just for the obvious parody on Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, and loving it! Though I won’t give too much away, my favorite page from the book is “Goodnight Liquid Nitrogen.” I ended up displaying Goodnight Lab inside my glass-windowed laboratory as an undergraduate. Passersby asked if that was an actual book, and I explained that it was. From these conversations, I had been wanting to interview Chris for a while, and hearing his story has just made me fall in love with his books all over again!

Whether you have young kids or are a curious adult like me, Chris’s books are full of surprise and entertainment for all ages. You can even find videos of him reading his own books on YouTube. If you want your own copy, you can find it here! Chris is continuing to work with the Baby University series, where Astrophysics for Babies first got published and is grateful they have expanded out to Climate Change for Babies as well as other fields of science! I’d highly recommend Chris’ books to any expecting parents, current parents, or anyone wanting an entertaining and nerdy read.

Deborah Blum and the mystery of Poisons

Hello Fellow Readers!

download (5)This week we have a really cool interview with one of my favorite authors, Deborah Blum. Deborah has been fascinated with the science of chemistry, and in particular, poisons. In interviewing Deborah, I realized that she had I have the same sense of morbid humor, as she told me that she pitched the idea for her first book, The Poisoner’s Handbook, as to how she would get away with murdering her husband. New York Times best-selling book was born. The Poisoner’s Handbook tells the mysterious tale of a series of poisonings in New York City in the 1920s. Follow Chief Medical Examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler as they begin to use some of the first forensic science methods to catch this elusive killer. Deborah’s book is full of shocking details about the dark side of the Prohibition Era and the underbelly of the Jazz Scene in New York City. As a reader, you’ll be startled to find some of the most normal regulations for alcohol and other products, rose out of this time period. I couldn’t put this book down, and it’s definitely on my list to reread again! You can find the book here if you’re desperate enough for your own copy! 

I also interviewed Deborah about her more recent book The Poison Squad. If you can’t sense a theme yet, keep reading, lol. Deborah’s background is in chemistry, and she wanted to follow up on The Poisoner’s Handbook by discussing the rise of the FDA and the regulations of dangerous foods during the 1920s. This book tells the story of Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, the chief chemist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and his struggle to help regulate food so it would be safe enough to eat. This book is definitely a must-read and you can find it here!

You can find my interview with Deborah below. Please note that it is both humorous and surprising, and I enjoyed talking to her, and appreciate her taking the time to talk to me.


Brian Clegg and the Science of Randomness

Hello, my lovely readers!

This week we’re moving from the evolution of sexual behavior to theoretical physics. I was honored to interview English science writer Brian Clegg, who has won several awards for his books, as well as worked with the BBC on multiple occasions. I read Brian’s book Dice World, a while ago, and was immediately intrigued by the subtitle: “Science and Life in a Random Universe.” What did it mean to be in a random universe, I couldn’t help but wonder. As I started to read Brian’s book, I was impressed by how well Brian communicated the hard-to-understand world of theoretical physics and chaos theory.

imagesDice World is a book I couldn’t put down, not because the story was addictive, but because it gave me answers to many questions I had about what it meant to live in a random universe. Brian puts our lives into perspective, giving applicable scenarios, from luck to statistics. I found myself asking even more questions after each chapter, curious if the universe was as random as I had thought. For the record, I have very little background in physics or mathematics, shying away from them in high school and college, as I thought they were always challenging and difficult. Thankfully, Dice World makes the math and physics easy to understand, and even enjoyable. For anyone looking for an intriguing read about the universe around them, I’d have to recommend this book. Each chapter is sure to surprise you and blow your mind a bit, making you realize how much more there is to the universe than just us.
You can find Brian’s book here if you want your own copy! He’s also written other award-winning and popular reads such as Inflight Science, which is on my list for my next read. Brian’s most recent book Are Numbers Real? also sounds extremely interesting, and will definitely be going on my to-be-read list. You can find the interview with Brian below!


Olivia Judson and the Evolution of Sex

Hello, amazing Readers!

download (4)This week we’re talking about the weirdest and wildest book you’d ever read, all about the evolution of sex on our planet. I interviewed Dr. Olivia Judson, who studies evolution in animal behavior. I’ve met Olivia previously while in my undergraduate research, and we’ve been friends since then. Currently, Olivia is in Berlin, working on her next upcoming novel, all about the origins of the earth.
The book we’re talking about today, however, is Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation. It’s an interesting title that prefaces a very interesting read. Not only will you learn about the weirdest sexual rituals performed by animals of all species in all places on earth, but you’ll read it in a very interesting way. And by that, I mean that Olivia wrote this book in a series of letters coming from different animals to a fictional sex expert, Dr. Tatiana, discussing their sex lives. Dr. Tatiana then goes onto explain common patterns of sexual behavior in these animals, answering dilemmas ranging from female promiscuity to raging cannibalism. This book is both fascinating and hilarious. I couldn’t put it down!
You’ll definitely want to give this a read if you’re looking for something new and fun. This book is definitely not one your grandmother would like, but it is something deliciously interesting and funny as hell!
After I read Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, I had quite a few questions for Olivia, mainly, how she even came up with this engaging but definitely unorthodox idea. You can listen to her answer and more in the funny and interesting interview below!