Is this what you wanted to do when you were a kid? What first got you interested in your field?
As a kid I wanted to be an explorer. That’s a pretty tricky occupation these days, but I think trying to understand the world through science does some of the same things.
What was your first ‘A-ha!’ or ‘Woah’ moment?
Not sure what my first one was, but a recent one came when I was sitting on the couch at night flicking through long term data about the topics we talk about. I was pretty surprised to see a very strong correlation between climate related words (flood, heat wave etc) and the actual changing temperature. I think the thing that amazed me is that it would literally have been impossible to do history like that – to understand literally atom scale changes in society – until recently.
What is the one thing from your field do you wish people just ‘got’?
That telling people things is perhaps the worst way for them to ‘get’ them.
Who’s the most interesting person you’ve learnt about in the course of your work?
I was really impressed talking with Alan Alda recently. He’s a famous actor, but I was more impressed with both his curiosity and his humanity – I think there’s a lot we can learn from people like him.
What’s the biggest challenge facing people in your field?
Not really getting our purpose.
What books/journals etc. do you suggest people read to learn more?
I don’t think I ever suggest books / journals en masse, it depends on the problem people have. But everyone would gain a lot by reading Simon Schama’s Citizens (a history of the French Revolution), On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, Battle Cry of Freedom (a history of the US Civil War) by James McPherson.