Dr Emily Grossman, South Hampstead High School alumna and science author, speaker and TV personality, tells us about the books that have inspired and shaped her.
The Forty Rules of Love – Elif Shafak
This novel is one of the most beautiful, heart opening and inspiring books I’ve ever read. It tells the story of the 13th century poet Rumi, and how his spiritual teacher Shams converts him from a scholar into a Sufi mystic, through love. This book made me cry, started me on my spiritual journey. When I finished it I broke up with my partner at the time. Seven years later, I am now marrying the love of my life.
Macbeth – William Shakespeare
I first read this play at school, through the amazing guidance of Mrs Cullen, who sadly passed away recently. I fell deeply in love with the language, the poetry, the passion, the metaphors, and the recurring themes of love, treachery, blood and the dangers of “vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’ other”. Years later, when I spent some time working as a professional actress, I played Lady Macbeth in a production touring secondary schools. One time, a teenage boy yelled out “Oi, lady, why are you such a bitch?”. Deeply ‘in character’, I replied, “I take it you don’t know what it’s like to love someone?”. I realised something in that moment about the human condition and what we will do for love, faith or power – believing we are right.
Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma – Peter Levine
Everyone should read this book. It explains simply and powerfully how we live in a traumatised society, in which so many of us, regardless of whether we’ve experienced specific traumatic events or difficult childhoods, are trapped in low-level nervous system activation due to the success-driven, isolated and disconnected society we live in, leading us to spend much of our lives in Fight (frustration, irritation or aggression), Flight (anxiety or busy-ness), or Freeze (overwhelm or stuck-ness). After reading this book I embarked on a journey to regulate my nervous system and to make life choices that prioritise this.
Drama Queen: One Autistic Woman and a Lifetime of Unhelpful Labels – Sara Gibbs
In 2020, at the age of 42 and after a lifetime of invisibly struggling in many areas of my life and feeling like I didn’t fit in, I was diagnosed as autistic. One of the many gifts of that diagnosis was that I finally understood, after years of enjoying books but struggling to read them, that I have challenges with information processing that make it hard for me to absorb stuff unless I either make notes or listen to things slowly and in small chunks, pausing often to rest my brain. This explained why I sailed through education with flying colours but struggled as soon as it came to real life. So I decided to listen to this brilliantly-crafted, hilariously-written and searingly-honest account of what it’s like to be a late-diagnosed autistic woman, as an audiobook.
Jews Don’t Count – David Baddiel
I found this funny, thought-provoking masterpiece immensely disturbing and enormously validating of my experience of being a Jewish woman today. It is a must-read, especially for anyone who thinks that they don’t need to read it.
The Beach – Alex Garland
I read this novel about a young backpacker’s search for a legendary, idyllic and isolated beach in my early twenties, and could not put it down. It inspired a decade of travel and searching for alternative ways to live, outside of the mainstream model. In my late 30s, my quest for new experiences, and a fantastic work opportunity through The British Council that got me as far as Bangkok, finally took me to the hippy beach community on Koh Phangan that inspired the novel – and I never wanted to leave. I also visited the stunning-but-tourist-trap beach on Koh Phi Phi where the subsequent Leonardo DiCaprio movie was filmed, but where my reality was a sleepless night on an uncomfortably-sandy roll mat, covered in flies. My desire to live an alternative life eventually saw me, in early 2020, move away from London to a small hippy town in Devon. Over the next few years, my partner and I intend to build a small sustainable community, where we will try to live in harmony with the planet and teach and inspire others to do so too.
Dr Emily Grossman is a bestselling science author, acclaimed speaker and TV personality. She is best known as a Resident Science Expert on ITV’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show and Sky1’s Duck Quacks Don’t Echo, for her talks in schools, universities and at live events, and for her TEDx talk Why Science Needs People Who Cry.
Emily is the author of Emergency on Planet Earth, a critically acclaimed, free online guide to the climate and ecological crisis and Brain-Fizzing Facts: Awesome Science Questions Answered, shortlisted for the Teach Primary Book Awards 2020. Emily was recently named as the second Honorary STEM Ambassador, alongside astronaut Tim Peake, for her pioneering work in STEM education and as a role model to young people.