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How to write a popular science book


Popular Science - literary works about science, scientific achievements and scientists, intended for a wide range of readers.

Popular science literature is designed both for specialists from other fields of knowledge, as well as for poorly prepared readers, including children and adolescents.

Popular science literature includes works on the foundations and individual problems of fundamental and applied sciences, biographies of scientists, travel descriptions, etc., written in various genres.

The best popular works propagate the achievements of science in the form most accessible to the readers to whom they are intended. The following is written in poetic form: the first popular work on science that has come down to us - “On the Nature of Things” by Lucretius Cara and “Letter on the Use of Glass” by M. V. Lomonosov. At the popular science level, the Dialogues on the Two Major World Systems by Galileo Galilei and the humorous treatise On Hexagonal Snowflakes by Johannes Kepler are sustained. From the conversations, the “Candle History” by M. Faraday and the “Plant Life” by K. A. Timiryazev arose. Popular works written in the form of a calendar of nature, sketches, essays, “intellectual” adventures, etc. are known.

Non-fiction is adjacent to non-fiction.

Popular knowledge sensu stricto - this knowledge is not for specialists, but for a wide range of adult amateurs with a general education. Therefore, it cannot be considered an introductory science, school textbooks serve these purposes, and not popular books. A characteristic feature of the popular presentation of scientific knowledge is the lack of details and, above all, controversial opinions, as a result of which this knowledge appears artificially simplified. The form of this presentation has artistic appeal, liveliness and accessibility. More importantly, it is presented in an apodictic manner that allows one to simply accept or reject any points of view. Simplification, imagery and apodictic judgments are the most characteristic features of exoteric knowledge.

Popular science book series

  • International Yearbook "Science and Humanity"
  • biological: “Animal Life” by Alfred Brehm and Soviet multivolume non-fiction editions of the collective of authors “Plant Life” and “Animal Life”
  • Popular Astronomy by Camille Flammarion
  • a series of books by Jacob Perelman: "Entertaining Physics", "Entertaining Mathematics", "Entertaining Geometry", etc.
  • The History of Atomic Energy by Frederick Soddy
  • “Under the Sign of Quantum" L. I. Ponomareva
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • "Something named nothing" by Roman Podolny
  • The Science Guide Isaac Asimov
  • The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins

Popular science book series

How to name a popular science book

The title should be what responds to the reader. And how does it come, I do not know. This is the most creative side of things. My book about Constantinople is called "In Search of Constantinople." When the second edition was being prepared, the publisher convinced me that the book should be called Walks in Istanbul. In search of Constantinople. " Despite the severity, this makes sense - this name refers to a number of well-known guides “Walking in ...”: “Walking in Italy”, “Walking in London”. Not even professional guides, but writers. I thought for a long time whether I wanted to be in this series, and decided that maybe the publisher feels more correctly than I do. But of course, there are forbidden tricks in the title of the book, for example, to introduce the word “secret” in the title.

On the difference between scientific publications and popular science

The subject of a scientific publication is something that no one knew before you. You are reporting this to the world and mainly to your colleagues. The worst thing is to reinvent the wheel. You are always afraid that you will say: yes, what are you, in fact, about this has already been written in the country in the language of the journal. Therefore, the main requirement for scientific publication is to check everything that has already been written on this topic and make sure that no one has done this before you. There is no such requirement for popular science publications. Popular science books can and should be written about what scientists have long known, because the general public knows nothing about it.

About how to captivate the reader

The most outstanding popular history book was written by Mikhail Leonovich Gasparov. This book is called "Entertaining Greece." But at the same time, the sphere of the scientific interests of the author was a completely different topic: Gasparov wrote very excitingly only about which he was not a unique expert. So the first thing you need is to find a topic that you can write about excitingly.

"New Literary Review"

Big questions are important to people. Where did the Russian land come from? Did Homer exist? Was Atlantis? They won’t read about small things, and this leads us to another important principle, which must be observed if you write for the general public: the general public is not able to focus attention for a long time. It needs to be hooked and held, and hooked it can only be one way - relying on some background knowledge. How to determine what constitutes background knowledge in the public? This is not always obvious: from the cinema, from the school course, from the children's book, from the popular culture. people know on top, in pieces - you need to find it and start with it.

In the future, when you are already leading the reader your own way and keeping your attention, it is very important to remember all the time that he does not know what you know, and this is not a reason to despise and snob. It is very bad if a scientist begins to pour in esoteric terms, formulas, unknown names and hints to unknown circumstances. This is a sign of lack of culture. It must be kept in mind that, as Aristotle said, few know the known.

About how not to write

In no case do you need to delve into the abyss of petty circumstances. It is necessary to choose the most important thing, that which is interesting. You need to watch every second to see if the reader is tired or if you downloaded it too much. The experience of communicating with students here partly helps me. When you give a lecture, you see that they quickly get tired, they begin to poke a finger on the phone, watch facebook. Challenge is to bridle them all the time, twitch their attention. If you don’t see your audience, you must always mentally imagine these people and their reactions and make sure that they are not tired. Place baits in the right places, reward readers with a tasty story. If you told too much serious, joke. This is a separate art.

About intonation

In no case should you speak from top to bottom. Readers are no worse than you: they just don’t know what you know, and they know what you don’t know. It is very important not to feel like a priest in this secret knowledge. It is important to have a slightly ironic tone. Do not clown, but a little bit to unite with readers against the material. You and the reader are unfortunate comrades, you live at the same time, and you have things in common that you can allude to.

Now my guide to Constantinople is being translated into English, and I have found there a huge number of hints of literary and near-literary character, understandable only to the Russian reader. In the English text they completely lose their meaning, and they have to be ruthlessly thrown away, because with the English-speaking reader I have almost no general background knowledge. For example, referring to the Duke of Buckingham, I boldly write “the same”, based on the fact that every Russian reader knows about the Duke of Buckingham. Does the English reader know about the Duke of Buckingham, I have no idea. Maybe not. But too patting the past on the shoulder is also wrong. Is that just to make it clear that you live in a different time.

Michil van Mirevelt. Portrait of George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham. 1625–1626 Art Gallery of South Australia

How to Avoid Simplification

Such a danger always exists. It seems that if you properly own the subject, you can try to squeeze it to an acceptable size for the public, to retell in your own words what is called. Sometimes it turns out. My teacher, Aleksandr Petrovich Kazhdan, loved to write popular things, did it with pleasure, and this did not stop him from being the most important Byzantine of the country, or maybe even the world. But the danger of simplification is always there, and this must be borne in mind. I will not throw a stone at someone who believes that popular books are vulgarization that offends taste. Such a position is possible. I am engaged in education, but I don’t think at all that I have to do this: scientists have the right to turn their backs on popularizing science.

About the scale

Whatever I do in the scientific sense, I always ask myself the question of how it fits into the larger picture. But he will consider this question heresy. The big picture is not for the scientist. There are scholars who consider it indecent to write monographs. The book is too big a swing, so you need to write articles. There was such a great Belgian Byzantine, Henri Gregoire, who said: "Let my wife write books." I am aware that I seem to be a vulgarizer in the scientific field. And precisely because I always want to see what this particular new text says about a big whole. And it seems important to me to keep this whole in my head.

How to finish

Ideally, you need to feel the air space behind the last sentence. In this sense, Nabokov’s novel “Gift” has a very correct end. The reader must take a few more steps, when the author has already stopped, and think out himself. This is important to the author and pleasing to the reader. You lead him by the hand, and then you say that he walk himself. I don’t know if this can always be achieved, but I want it. Without some taste for creating a literary text, this is not worth undertaking. But, simply briefly retelling your own book at the end and removing the footnotes, you will not get the desired result.

About why write non-fix

If there is demand, there must be a supply. Are people interested in the story? Let them read me better than Fomenko. It so happened that in Russia the intelligentsia is engaged in the education of the people. There are a large number of people who want to read, who are interested, and it is strange to leave them without satisfying this need. People attend lectures, people watch popular programs. And it is wonderful that this is so. It seems to me that in the humanities this can be a duty, moreover, of a civilian character. A turbid stream of nonsense falls on the head of a curious person, and you need to have a very healthy psyche, critical eyes, so as not to get bogged down in this stream. The calm voice of the popularizer is hard to hear in this noise. But I do this little to bring peace of mind. And it seems to me that this should be done, because I do not care what country I live in.

The 18th non / fiction International Literature Fair will be held from November 30 to December 4 at the Central House of Artists on Krymsky Val.

How to write a popular science work

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