Pushing the Limits is a science café and book club hybrid led by Millis Public Library Director Alex Lent and Science Communicator Robert Michelson. Each event is organized around a different theme – nature, survival, connection, and knowledge. The themes thread through moderated discussions during the events, which are based on recommended reading of popular fiction or historical nonfiction, and on the viewing of two short videos produced specifically for the project. The themes are basic and fundamental concepts that touch all of our lives, and STEM ideas and achievements are a part of them. The books and videos amplify the overarching theme that the story of humankind is a story of people pushing their own limits every day, and they highlight the ways in which science is a part of that effort.

10 copies of each book will be available at the Library the month before the discussion. A discussion will be held each month in September, October, November, and December.

Space is limited, so you do need to pre-register for this event.

Click here to sign up.


September: Pushing the Limits of Nature

What does it mean for something to be “natural,” in the environment or in ourselves? If the environment changes, or we change, when is that change no longer part of what is natural? Is there such a thing as human nature, and can we escape it, or even shape it?

Discussion Date: September 18, 7-8pm

Book: When the Killing’s Done, by T. C. Boyle

Boyle’s book fictionalizes the true story of an effort to eradicate a colony of rats that had overtaken the Catalina Islands off the coast of California. The rats were not originally part of the island wildlife, but made it to the island by virtue of a shipwreck. There are all sorts of odd ways that species acquire new habitats. What is the difference between rats coming via shipwreck, versus larvae immigrating in the mud attached to a seagull’s feet? Is a human effort to eradicate a species different from one species removing another according to their predator-prey relationship? Does one seem less natural than the other? If so, why? What about habitat destruction? Is that or isn’t that natural? Why or why not?

October: Pushing the Limits of Connection

How do we connect with one another and with our past? How do we build bridges so that we can continue to connect in the future? What are the common threads of family connection and societal connection? How have our human interactions changed over time as a result of our ever-expanding ability to remain connected? Why is remaining connected across time and across place so important to us as humans?

Discussion Date: October 9, 7-8pm

Book: Thunderstruck, by Erik Larson

Erik Larson, author of the widely acclaimed Devil in the White City, combines painstaking research about the history of technology with compelling characterizations and murderous twists. His novel Thunderstruck brings to life Guglielmo Marconi’s struggle to generate enough electricity for a reliable trans-Atlantic transmission, which also parallels the true-life search for one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers. Marconi’s technology eventually allows people on both sides of the ocean to listen in as Scotland Yard tracks and captures the villain. This book explores the ways in which broadcast radio enabled large-scale social connection that transcended geography and class.

November: Pushing the Limits of Survival

This program theme explores the fundamental urge to survive and how it has manifested in society in the past, compared to today. What are we willing to do in a life and death situation? What about saving our family’s way of life? What drives us to compete in a sport and survive as the winner? Survival of the planet, the family, and the individual is considered along with the ways that science comes into play.

Discussion Date: November 6, 7-8pm

Book: Arctic Drift, by Clive Cussler

Clive Cussler’s attention to the scientific detail of cutting-edge marine technologies, woven seamlessly into speculative fiction, keeps readers transfixed all the way to the triumphant end of this tale of adventure. The book’s heroes focus on staying alive, while keeping life-changing technology out of the hands of the bad guys. The consequences of their actions have implications for the very survival of humankind!

December: Pushing the Limits of Knowledge

What is knowledge and is it the same as information? Is learning the same as knowing? Or are there multiple ways to know things? What makes different types of knowledge important over time?

Discussion Date: December 4, 7-8pm

Book: Land of the Painted Caves, by Jean Auel

Author of the best-seller Earth’s Children series, including the most recent Land of the Painted Caves, Jean Auel’s long-time interest has been the intersection of the Neanderthal and the Cro-Magnon during the Paleolithic era. Her works build from more than thirty years of consultation with experts around the world, visits to numerous archeological sites, and her own research. In her speculative worlds, genetic memory and experiential knowledge are combined to question which of the branches on the human tree will survive.