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SCIENTISTS' NIGHTSTAND

Scientists' Nightstand: Tim Friend

Frank Diller

Tim Friend is a senior science writer for USA Today and a fellow of the Explorers Club, an international multidisciplinary professional society dedicated to the advancement of field research and scientific exploration. Born in Springfield, Missouri, Friend attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has worked as a surgical scrub, a cop and a newspaper editor and reporter at The Centralia Fireside Guard, one of the world's smallest weekly papers (with 3,700 copies circulating through Centralia, Missouri, every Wednesday).

Tim FriendClick to Enlarge Image

A science journalist for almost two decades, Friend tries to spend as much time as possible in the field. He's written stories from Everest base camp, the Titanic, the Amazon, tombs in Egypt, Antarctica, the Arctic Circle and from the microgravity environment of NASA's "vomit comet." His new book Animal Talk: Breaking the Codes of Animal Language (Free Press, $25) finds Friend talking and traveling with scientists who decipher the communication methods that are common in the animal kingdom.

What books are you currently reading (or have you just finished reading) for your work or for pleasure?

I am currently reading Microbe Hunters, by Paul de Kruif, published in 1926; The Surprising Archaea: Discovering Another Domain of Life, by John L. Howland (Oxford University Press, 2000); and Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life, by David Grinspoon (ECCO, 2003), as general background for a new book project. For fun, I just finished reading the fiction book The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown.

Why did you choose them, and what do you think of them?

I chose the nonfiction books specifically to broaden my knowledge base for writing a book on the microbial universe and its explorers. Fiction is for relaxing before bed; I selected this book to see what everyone was talking about, and I really enjoyed its premise.

When and where do you usually read (specific location, time of day, etc.)?

Usually I read at home at night after 10 p.m. But I love to sit back on a long flight and burrow in with a good spy thriller.

Who are your favorite writers (fiction, nonfiction or poetry)?

Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling and Kurt Vonnegut.

Why?

I received The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as a gift when I turned 8 years old. The two books inspired a sense of adventure that has lasted a lifetime. Twain is a concise thinker and writer. I enjoyed Rudyard Kipling for his style. Of course, both authors were reporters who succeeded in breaking away from the grasp of their newspaper editors. Vonnegut captures the imagination and a sense of the absurdity in everyday life. His books beg the mind to question everything.

What are the three best books you've ever read?

The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin; In the Shadow of Man, by Jane Goodall; and Dragons of Eden, by Carl Sagan. These three books, taken together, seem to capture the essence of what we are all about. Darwin sets the stage for the connectedness of life, Goodall provides the first genuine look at our primate selves, and Sagan brings us around to the evolution of human intelligence.

What book has influenced you most? Explain how.

The Origin of Species. The book redefined the most basic notions of life on earth and provided us with a new way to view our own relationship with all the other living things. Darwin's ideas have stood the test of time.

What book recommendations do you have for young readers?

Read whatever attracts your interest. Follow your instincts. There is plenty of time in college for required reading.

What science book recommendations do you have for nonscientists?

Back to Darwin, if people would simply take the time to actually read Origin of Species, we could demystify the evolution thing and still make room for personal religious beliefs.


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