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Natasha Hurley-Walker recommends

Check out these reading resources and inspiration, curated by Natasha Hurley-Walker.

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    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

    Douglas Adams

    "Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." I've spent half of my career being reminded of this fact, and the other half trying to get it across to other humans. Adams' comedy not only perfectly sketches the absurdity of humans trying to understand something as random and bizarre as the Universe, it's a great adventure with hilarious characters and just the beginning of a stellar and increasingly misnamed trilogy.

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    Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character

    Richard P. Feynman

    This autobiography was a big inspiration for me during my childhood years in the US. Feynman wasn't just a physicist, he was a practical joker, a lock-picker, and passionate about inspiring and educating his students. That said, he worked on the atomic bomb project and mixed with greats like Einstein and Bohr! What I really took from this book was that Feynman cared little for human rituals or rewards, preferring to get to the heart of the matter and learn how things worked. That really shaped my own attitude to life: let's get past our mere human differences and customs and do some great science!

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    Contact

    Carl Sagan

    Set primarily at radio observatories, in laboratories, on airplanes, and lobbying funding councils (so, all familiar settings to me!) this is a great sci-fi drama about a female radio astronomer who is first to pick up a signal from an extraterrestrial intelligence. I am not as positive as Sagan that we will detect such a signal (see my next book recommendation) but this is still a fun story which also touches on deeper themes of reconciliation of doubt and faith, science and religion. For me, it was an inspiration that women could not only be scientists, but they could change the world with their ideas.

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    The Three-Body Problem

    Cixin Liu

    So I thought my mind was made up on Fermi's Paradox and SETI. Then I read The Three-body Problem, and my entire universe was rocked. Liu uses game theory to put forward some really impressive hypotheses about what forms intelligence would take in our Galaxy, and also how they would (or would not!) contact other civilizations. That's just the backbone: add to that a fantastic story of two intertwined lives spanning decades, and an amazing setting starting with the Cultural Revolution in China, a context rarely explored in Western sci-fi. The physics is so excellent that I actually got chills reading a particular scene where a protagonist conducts some observations and finds them counter to expectation. Yes, I'm a nerd, and I'm very happy.

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    The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia

    Bill Gammage

    Since moving to Australia, I've found the environment here to be deeply fascinating. It's incredibly hostile, with extremes in temperature and rainfall that challenge all life. Yet Australia has one of the highest biodiversities in the world and is host to some of the most ancient life forms. And incredibly, it supported the longest continuous human culture in all of history. The ecosystems here were shaped and formed by 45,000 years of human settlement, but never pillaged or exhausted until the advent of colonialism. This book explores the unique ways the Indigenous Australians maintained a bountiful and pleasant existence in a challenging environment and has lessons for us all in our stewardship of our single planet and the biosphere which is critical for our existence.