Science Ink

Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed by Carl Zimmer, Published 2011, ISBN #978-1-4027-8360-9

Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed by Carl Zimmer, Published 2011, ISBN #978-1-4027-8360-9

Books for me are a wholly tactile experience, existing in the feel of a spine in an open hand, the weight of the paper between a thumb and forefinger as they turn the pages, and this is part of the joy of Science Ink: it's rather like a coffee table book, meets science history overview, meets that leather-bound volume of Goethe's Faust I checked out of the library especially for my college class. 

The book itself is hard cover (I don't believe it's available as a paperback or - thank goodness - an ebook), and it is divided into various science disciplines, ranging from mathematics, to earth sciences, to astronomy. Each page of each section features one (or several) tattoos emblazoned on the real bodies of real scientists who really wanted to show their geek pride to the world by writing it on their skin (I say this with love, and empathy, as I plan my own book-nerd tattoo in the near future). The descriptions by author Carl Zimmer, a lecturer at Yale University, are fun and catchy, and when describing things like Gestalt and Pi Orbitals, fun and catchy writing is very much appreciated.

The tattoos are simply breathtaking, and walking through them is rather like walking through an unabridged Grimm's Fairy Tales of scientific fact, where white mariposas and fig wasps coexist with Schrödinger's Cat and Euler's Identity. Much has been made of Darwin's Finches in other reviews of this book, and they are, indeed, gorgeous, but my favorite moment was stumbling into Ernst Haeckel's nineteenth century illustrations of nature displayed on arms and backs and rib cages. Zimmer ably covers the controversy surrounding Haeckel as a scientist (he shared many racist views that were, unfortunately, prevalent in the nineteenth century), while still pointing to his positive contributions to science.

As I mentioned, I am thinking of getting my own tattoo (based more in literature than science) and, ironically, I actually found it in this book. It's on page 204, it's 2400 years old, it comes from the Pazyryk people of Siberia, and archaeologists believe it may have come from a shaman, an ancient story-teller, her body mummified and wrapped in Indian silk, a silk pouch containing a sacred mirror at her knee. There are moments like this throughout the book, stories next to skin inked in fact, and it forces you to slow down as you read it, taking in its beauty, watching truth after truth, finding that one moment of connection that made the journey to get there all the more pleasurable. Read it, it's a blast.