For the Wise Wizards

If you always play a wizard in D&D, then I’ve got some books for you.

Personally, spellcasting is the last role I would take in a party, but for those interested in amassing lore, legend, and alchemical sciences, memorizing set spells every night is a small sacrifice.

For those of you wondering about the mechanics of the world and curious about figures from history, these few books should entertain and inform you.

America’s Women: 400 years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins

These are the kinds of stories I wish I had read in history classes growing up. I’m American, but the figures in Collin’s America’s Women were left out of my education in school.

Not that they were all wholesome and inspiring. The first woman mentioned by name in Collins’ history was a Viking woman named Freydis, daughter of Erik the Red, who “organized a massacre of her business partners, finishing off the wives and female servants herself.” (Collins xvi). Definitely not #lifegoals.

When we think of the pursuit of equal voting rights in the US, it’s interesting to learn that for many white women, they “were not all that interested in the right to vote….The liquor industry was right–many women wanted to vote just so they could use the ballot box to ban the sale of alcohol” (316). Good ole’ Puritanism for you, there.

Collins doesn’t shy away from the messy nature of humanity–no one is truly perfect, and the women of America’s history are no different. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know about them.

Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry by Christie Wilcox

Both of this book and the next which I recommend have two things in common: both use etymology and history as a way to connect various, complex science concepts for the reader, and both authors have a very obvious and contagious passion for their respective fields.

With Wilcox’s Venemous, I learned that platypi and a handful of mammals have venom–and all along, here I thought none did! In fact, platypi are incredibly venomous, enough to require morphine as treatment for the excruciating pain. Further, I learned about the history of antivenoms and how different venomous animals are ranked in terms of victim mortality depending on the parameters of injection.

One thing which surprised me in a book seemingly about the very non-human world of venom was the very human stories behind this science. A rising PhD student goes for a swim; the box jelly stings that nearly kill her inspire her to devote her research solely to understanding those creatures. A man injecting himself with snake venom for immunity from his pets and to satisfy personal curiosity, despite the danger. There’s even a Princess Bride quote!

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe by Lisa Randall

Personally, I find it relaxing to learn about what we know of order in the kosmos–and that the origin of the word “cosmology” comes from the Greek concept of order, structure. Reading this book will give you, too, a deeper understanding of some similar-sounding but actually different words: anti-matter, dark matter, and dark-energy. If you read The Three Body Problem and felt like your comprehension of physics was pushed to the max, Randall’s nonfiction here will be a slightly friendlier hand with no plot to think of, just science in a fairly easy-to-understand tone.

The premise of Randall’s book here is simple, but is not anywhere near proven as theory; Randall argues that the overwhelming presence of dark matter led to the demise of the dinosaurs. That meteor, she points out, would not have come hurtling at us if it were not for dark matter, and this raises many questions about what we do and don’t understand about the physics of the universe.

I’ve found it fascinating, and I prefer this kind of reading before bed. I guess I’m not so different from you spellcasters after all, but I still think I’ll stick to playing a rogue in D&D.

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About this Column: With occasional parentheticals a la Robin McKinley, If This, Then That connects the dots between niche interests for LSQ readers and the books that suit them.

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