Which book should every scientist read?

Text work by scientists: That's how the pros read

Some paint on paper, others only use a tablet: five insights into the text work of scientists.

DIE ZEIT No. 2/201930 comments

The all-reader

I work without paper. I use a tablet, a laptop and two screens. The tablet is very similar to paper. With the accompanying pen, I can insert marks and comments just like on paper. For each meeting of the Science Council I read up to 1000 pages that I would otherwise always have to carry around with me in paper form. In addition, the documents are confidential, so everything is encrypted and synchronized via a special cloud. Of course I always read everything. That was the case as a student, and it is still the case as the Chair of the Science Council. How you read across is a mystery to me. I dictate my comments. Here my computer and I first had to learn to understand each other, but now it can also spell terms like "capacity regulation". Expressing yourself so precisely in the spoken word that it is understandable when you read it is not that easy - but extremely efficient for preparation.

The agricultural economist Martina Brockmeier, 57, is a professor at the University of Hohenheim. Since 2017 she has been head of the Science Council, the most important science policy advisory body in Germany.

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The original reader

I never read the screen, I just read books. And quite deliberately in the form in which you met your readers one day. It makes a difference whether you have 1200 pages of a new edition in front of you or read four to five volumes in Fraktur.

However, these historical editions are far too valuable to be underlined in them, which is why I excerpt on sheets of paper. And with every new question I reread the work. For example, Goethe's Fist. This book has been with me for 50 years, and I am always fascinated by it. I don't even know how many times I've read it since school - but I know when I last read it: a few months ago, in preparation for a lecture.



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Ernst Osterkamp, ​​68, was Professor of Modern German Literature at the Humboldt University in Berlin from 1992 to 2016. He is President of the German Academy for Language and Poetry.

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The house painter

I like the material, I work with pen and paper. In fact, I only started working with a computer seven years ago. When I accepted a professorship at Columbia University, there was no other way. Before that, I would write everything by hand and my secretary would then type the manuscripts.

When I read, I mark the important places in the books. I only make excerpts on paper for books that I have to discuss or want to process. These excerpts then come in notebooks. The longer my scientific career lasts, the less I paint. As a doctoral student, for example, I always used different colors and index cards for excerpts! In the past, I mainly wrote down key terms and excerpted longer passages. Today I mainly write down the questions I have for a text or its author.

The social philosopher Axel Honneth, 69, is a professor at Columbia University in New York. For many years he was director of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt am Main.

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The digital one

It's a tragedy. I love books the old-fashioned way, their varied covers, the fragile beauty of the old paperback, the dignity in linen. Books all smell very different: wonderfully new or like the cigar smoke of the deceased owner. But: I almost only read scientific texts digitally, because that's so much more sensible. I also digitize sources and can then paint across fields. I always have the whole library with me on Dropbox and with my laptop, and on my tablet I can work with any number of books on the train. In doing so, I never excerpt, but rather tag the texts, which allows me to type less and read more - and above all, which leads to surprising cross-connections and new ideas.

The historian Hedwig Richter, 45, conducts research at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. She completed her habilitation with a thesis on the history of democracy in Prussia and the USA.

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The cannibalizer

I adore my books. Sometimes I downright cannibalize them. I read many books two or three times. This book, Jürgen Osterhammels Transformation of the world for example: What learning! Osterhammel got me into the longue durée It's his fault that my current book has become so long because I realized that it makes sense to go back further than originally planned. As a historian, of course, I also read a lot of sources. Often in other languages. I only learned Russian when I was over 40 years old. It was correspondingly difficult for me, and I have to work through a previously unknown Lenin text correspondingly thoroughly.

Although I read and mark so intensively, I separate reading from writing, that is, I write without constantly processing what has been excerpted. Only the quotes that are still in my head find their way into my books. But then of course checked.

Gerd Koenen, 74, is a historian and publicist. His latest book "The Color of Red - Origins and History of Communism" was on the top non-fiction book list of ZEIT, Deutschlandfunk and ZDF.

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