A Theoretical Physicist's Reading List — Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
Hi Dr. Prescod-Weinstein, tell us more about yourself!
I am a theoretical physicist who specialises in what happened during the first second of the universe’s existence, dark matter, and the imprints of these phenomena on observable astrophysical phenomena like galaxies and neutron stars. There’s something thrilling about knowing weird details about how the universe might work under circumstances that are very different from every day life. Every day, life can be challenging – people are so illogical, and as an introvert, I can struggle with being around them sometimes. Thank goodness for books!
What are you currently reading?
I am always reading several books at once, but the ones I am most committed to right now are:
- Taking Back Our Spirits: Indigenous Literature, Public Policy, and Healing – Jo-Ann Episkenew
- The Experimental Self: Humphry Davy and The Making of a Man of Science – Jan Golinski
- Race and the Totalitarian Century: Geopolitics in the Black Literary Imagination – Vaughn Rasberry
Can you recommend your best five titles to us?
In no order of preference,
- How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe – Charles Yu
- Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
- Cane – Jean Toomer
- The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness – Kyung-Sook Shin
- The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is a brilliant meditation on love, family, and how General Relativity might work in a universe where the rules are a little different. This book became part of my brain years ago, and it hasn’t left.
Mansfield Park is severely underappreciated, in my opinion. It lacks the emotional linearity of Pride and Prejudice, but in exchange for the effort, readers are rewarded with a deep meditation on (white) feminism, the English gentry, and the lifestyle that enslaved Africans in the Americas (like my ancestors) paid for with their lives.
Cane is a Harlem Renaissance classic which experimented with form through a blend of poetry/song, playwriting, and prose. Toomer’s effort to make a facsimile of southern Black American culture translated into a successful modernist experiment in how to tell a story.
The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness is a blend of fiction and memoir that spoke to me as a person who comes from a fairly humble economic background and who is now regarded as an intellectual and academic “success story.” Shin communicates the doublethink that entails having a past that feels disconnected from one’s future, and although moving back and forth in time can be challenging for a lesser writer, Shin’s work is seamless.
The Bluest Eye shocked me when I first read it as a teenager but since has served as an important foundation for understanding colorism and the terrible things that American white supremacy does to Black women, psychologically and physically.
What's one quote you live by?
I used to want the words ‘She tried’ on my tombstone. Now I want ‘She did it.’
— Katherine Dunham, dancer, choreographer and barrier breaker
What is education to you?
Education is growth, learning about oneself and the world. There are many ways to experience education – from books, in the classroom, from a conversation with a dear friend who tells you about their painful encounters with discrimination. I don’t believe formal education or even reading are key to learning about the world.
Much of your work revolve around science and social activism — what were some of your key observations over the past few years that could impact youths and working adults in various societies?
From my standpoint as an American, it seems obvious that people of my generation and younger are worried about a globally warmed planet, economic inequities, and racial injustice. We’re concerned about the mistakes our parents’ generation made, especially the politicians who are still running the show and seem to be making things worse. The problems we face are significant and terrifying, especially global warming, but I observe—with hope—that many people are not ready to give up yet.
Above all, what does the universe mean to you?
The universe is a place beyond our wildest dreams. I hope that we work together to create the conditions so that we can continue to be a part of it.