Reflecting on her career as a science writer (she started as a technical writer at IBM before graduating into science journalism), Dava Sobel–author of the award-winning book Longitude–offers some thoughts on what it means to be a full-time author of popular science books:
Both my parents loved to read, convincing me by their behavior that the best way to hold someone’s attention was with a book.
The publication of Longitude in 1995 — and its unexpected success - transformed me into a full-time author of books. I greatly enjoy the more in-depth research required for book-length projects. Someone once said to me, “I would hate your job. It’s like writing one college term paper after another.” That’s exactly what it’s like, and exactly what I love best about it. People may have the impression that book tours and public appearances are the most exciting times in an author’s life. […] But writing is really about sitting alone in a room, and the highlights occur in that room, with no one else as witness, in the small moments of the day when the work goes well.
Dava notes that she is currently working on a play about Copernicus: a piece she describes as “a complete departure” from her usual style, albeit with the familiar theme of “the great transformation of humankind’s worldview through science”.
Of course science-book-as-play isn’t new: Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia is a play “concerning the relationship between past and present and between order and disorder and the certainty of knowledge” that was shortlisted by the Royal Institution for the Best Science Book Ever award.