Books for General Audiences and Young Adults
Birds of the Serengeti: and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, by Adam Scott Kennedy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton, 2014.
This phenomenal field guide is a must have for any naturalist planning on traveling to the East African Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania. Kennedy brings the birds of the Serengeti to life in his strikingly brilliant photographs. The high quality photographic images are so sharp that text is not needed to assist in identifying birds. The accompanying text is written for the novice ornithologist and compliments the images with descriptive understandable text.
The Chemistry of Alchemy: From Dragon's Blood to Donkey Dung, How Chemistry was Forged, by Cathy Cobb, Cathy, et al. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2014.
Unleash your inner alchemist and brush up on some history with this delightful book which makes it very easy to carry out these experiments in your own kitchen by providing the "Stores and Ores" section, which lists the resources you will need, as well as where to obtain them.
The Compleat Ankh-Morpork, by Terry Pratchett. NY: Doubleday, 2014.
This street directory of the beloved fantasy series Discworld city Ankh-Morpork, complete with a beautifully illustrated pull-out map, should be a surefire hit with Terry Pratchett fans. It covers every district from Unseen University to the Shades, major landmarks like the Patrician's Palace to little-known, nooks like Dwarf Bread Museum in Whirligig Alley. If you think you don’t know any Terry Pratchett fans, ask around. We’d bet there is at least one in every academic department or research team. Probably more than one!
The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities, by Caleb Scharf. NY: Scientific American Books, 2014.
In a fluid, descriptive, and somewhat poetic writing style the author asks us to ponder the complexities of the universe, our solar system and how those vast machinations affect an understanding of the past, an explanation of the present, and a prediction of the future. Clearly, this book is a thorough thought-provoking examination of the universe, our place in it, and the chance for life elsewhere in its vast environs.
The Cosmic View of Albert Einstein: Writings on Art, Science, and Peace, by Albert Einstein. Walt Martin and Magda Ott (Eds.) (Illus.) NY: Sterling, 2013.
This book offers insight into the philosophy of the man behind the mind that changed humankind’s interpretation of the universe. The reader is introduced, through selected writings of Albert Einstein, to his thoughts, philosophy, and religious bent on morality, creativity, and war/peace to name a few. The writing style and many beautiful photographs encourage the reader to interpret the mysticism of the universe through the eyes of Albert Einstein. This book is easy‑to‑read, concisely written, and delivers broad examples of Einstein's writings corroborating and explaining his views of our world and how our world fits into the Cosmos.
The Drunken Monkey: Why We Drink and Abuse Alcohol, by Robert Dudley. Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2014.
In this accessible book, Robert Dudley presents an intriguing evolutionary interpretation to explain the persistence of alcohol-related problems. Dudley traces the link between the fruit-eating behavior of arboreal primates and the evolution of the sensory skills required to identify ripe and fermented fruits that contain sugar and low levels of alcohol. In addition to introducing this new theory of the relationship of humans to alcohol, the book discusses the supporting research, implications of the hypothesis, and the medical and social impacts of alcoholism.
Everyday Calculus: Discovering the Hidden Math All Around Us, by Oscar E. Fernandez. Princeton, NJ: Princeton, 2014.
Everyday Calculus opens with the question: When am I ever going to use calculus? It then goes on to suggest that after reading this book the reader should have a hard time figuring out what it can’t be used for. The book covers in a clear and concise fashion much of the material found in a traditional calculus textbook, but presents it beginning with a real world observation and then developing the mathematics needed to understand the observation.
The Extreme Life of the Sea, by Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony Palumbi. Princeton, NJ: Princeton, 2014.
The authors, a father who is a marine ecologist and molecular geneticist at Stanford, and a son who is a science writer and novelist, have collaborated on an outstanding book that combines cutting edge science with accessible text. The overarching theme is how marine organisms have evolved in and adapted to extreme environments. This is a scientifically rich book that is also a good read and would be appropriate for a wide range of audiences.
Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century, by Kevin Fong. NY: The Penguin Press, 2014.
Fong’s strong narrative voice and his belief that medical discovery is akin to extreme geographical exploration bring the reader fully into a discussion of science, medical practice, and innovation. He offers compelling stories of doctors and patients that include just enough detail to contextualize and educate without overwhelming.
Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics, by Nancy Forbes and Basil Mahon. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2014.
The importance of electricity and magnetism, and our understanding of them, is fundamental to our modern society. These natural phenomena are so evident around us that it is hard to imagine that once they were not known, and then, not understood. It is impossible to overstate the importance of Faraday’s and Maxwell’s monumental leap of insight that led to the concepts of electricity and magnetism. And then to the next leap to grasp that they were related: the electromagnetic field. With an easy narrative style, this book describes in great detail the life, relationships, personal struggles and scientific work of both Faraday and Maxwell.
Feynman's Tips on Physics: Reflections, Advice, Insights, Practice, A Problem‑Solving Supplement to the Feynman Lectures on Physics, by Richard P. Feynman, et al. NY: Basic Books.
This book is a useful and fun companion to the beloved Feynman Lectures on Physics. It tells the history of how a great scientist like Feynman came to teach freshman physics through several interesting (and conflicting!) personal accounts, an interview with Feynman himself, the text and diagrams of the "lost" lectures, and a set of example problems with little explanation. Overall, this book is an excellent companion to the classic Lectures, but also a great introduction to Feynman as a teacher.
The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals, by Thomas Suddendorf. NY: Basic Books, 2013.
At the heart of this excellent book is the age‑old question, what makes us human. Suddendorf meticulously examines the issue, drawing comparisons with other organisms, with special attention paid to our closest relatives, the Great Apes, along several lines of investigation and determining that we stand largely apart in terms of sophistication of development, including the generation of language, the ability to abstract representational information (including symbols) and communicate it, the capacity to imitate, to use tools, to deceive, and to discover and remember solutions, among others.
Leonardo's Foot: How 10 Toes, 52 Bones, and 66 Muscles Shaped the Human World, by Carol Ann Rinzler. New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2013.
Our reviewer declared that this book represents some of the best writing about science for the non‑scientist that he has encountered in recent years. The focus, of course, is the foot and the author provides an impressive array of facts, figures and stories about it, along with a great deal of history, etymology and cultural perspective.
Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes, by Svante Paabo. NY: Basic Books, 2014.
This book tells the story of one of the most magnificent aspects of science: how simple curiosity can lead to the biggest discoveries through the lens of Svante Paabo, a pioneer of paleogenetics. The author finds the way to convey difficult theories, techniques and concepts in a friendly but accurate manner. This story is highly recommended and the casual reader will find it very enjoyable. Do not miss the opportunity to learn how big science is done.
Newton's Football: The Science Behind America's Game, by Allen St. John and Ainissa G. Ramirez. NY: Ballantine, 2013.
This highly readable volume about ideas in football (not just science and a game) that can interest a football groupie and a science minded fan at the same time is a fun read. Included is a good deal of history of the game of football. The authors are an award winning journalist and a scientist dedicated to making science fun for all. The bottom line is that football is a “complex, dynamic system.” And to Yogi Berra “90% of the game is half mental.”
Odd Couples: Extraordinary Differences Between the Sexes in the Animal Kingdom, by Daphne J. Fairbairn. Princeton, NJ: Princeton, 2013.
Daphne Fairbairn (University of California, Riverside) has written an engaging and fascinating book that explores the great size differences between the sexes that exist among many species in the animal world. The well‑written text flows nicely. Lay readers will enjoy natural history descriptions; discussions of fitness and Darwinian selection will escape them but appeal to professional biologists for whom this book is an excellent model of clear scientific writing.
The Science of Interstellar, by Kip Thorne, with a foreword by Christopher Nolan. NY: Norton, 2014.
Anyone who saw Interstellar and was left confused by the science (or simply wants to know more) will welcome this companion book by Kip Thorne, the celebrated physicist who advised filmmaker Nolan on the scientific aspects of the film. Thorne carefully explains the process of his working relationship with the Nolan and how all the scientific elements of the film were grounded in plausible, theoretical science, even if at times it was highly speculative.
The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass, 2nd ed., by Jamie Goode. Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2014.
The Science of Wine explains how science influences modern winemaking at all levels from boutique to industrial wine production. Goode notes that science "brings an understanding of the true complexity of natural systems." Using examples from winemaking, he explains how scientific research is conducted, e.g., the importance of a ‘control group' to determine the effectiveness of a particular treatment, the necessity of proper statistical treatment of data, and how "peer review" validates scientific conclusions.
Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art, and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Origins, by John Gurche. New Haven, CT: Yale.
Nothing better describes the scope of this amazing work than these words of the author, renowned paleoartist John Gurche: "Two very different processes arrive at the same endpoint: a human shape. One is guided by a sense of aesthetics. The other is blind. The two modes are sculpture and organic evolution, the processes explored in this book." They are indeed, in the context of a series of sculptures created by the author for the Smithsonian Institution to illustrate how we primates became human. Anyone interested in human evolution will enjoy this book.
Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead, by David Casarett. NY: Current/Penguin Random House, 2014.
Casarett recounts his exploration of the science of resuscitation and shows how far the science has come. His coverage of the history of resuscitation goes back to the 18th century, when early attempts at resuscitation involved public displays of barrel rolling, a form of horseback riding, and blowing tobacco smoke into the patient’s various orifices. The colorful history of resuscitation is a topic that is sure to be a fascinating one for young adult readers.
The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, by Simon Singh. NY: Bloomsbury, 2013.
In the mid‑1990’s several mathematicians (Burns, Cohen, Jean, Keeler, Westbrook, and Reiss et al.) joined the writing staff for The Simpsons, and, sharing their predictable attraction to unusual, elegant or obscure aspects of math and physics, began to insert references to some of them in the show’s episodes. This book concentrates on the efforts of five of them, some of whom helped create the Futurama series as well.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert. NY: Henry Holt, 2014.
Award winning journalist and author Kolbert blends field reporting with natural and intellectual history to reveal the mass extinction that is already taking place on our planet. Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept.
The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery, by Sam Kean. NY: Hachette/Little, Brown and Company, 2014.
Beginning in the 16th century with Henri II in France, and concluding with the 19th century life of Phineas Gage, Kean traces the history of neurosurgery through a series of biographical sketches covering individuals who have advanced our knowledge of the brain and how it works. Kean ties each to a development in neuroscience that leads to modern theories about the workings of the brain.
Undiluted Hocus‑Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner, by Martin Gardner. Princeton, NJ: Princeton, 2013.
Martin Gardner's completely fascinating "Mathematical Games" columns in Scientific American magazine from the 1950s to the 1980s were treasured by a very wide range of readers and were almost always the most popular component of that revered publication. At the age of 95 he wrote this equally charming and informative autobiography covering an incredibly prolific and productive life that should inspire anyone who encounters it.