Here on the blog, it’s one of my goals to help you find new and interesting things to read. And now that it’s officially summer, I know many of you will be looking for great books to take with you on vacation–whether it’s to the beach, the mountains, or anywhere in between.
Last year, I wrote about great nonfiction books to take with you on vacation, and this year I’m also writing about nonfiction. More specifically, this year I’m recommending some awesome, science-inspired books. Many of these are actually audiobooks, which means you can totally read your fun fiction book on the beach and listen to a nonfiction book in the car on the way there! I personally love to listen to books about science because I can absorb whatever information sticks and let the rest of it just sort of wash over me. It’s also really cool to learn about the world we live in. The last official science class I took was in 2010, but I’ve learned so much just from reading and listening to the books I’ve mentioned below.
Five Sure-Fire Science Superstars:
So let’s get started with five science books that I can recommend without hesitation:
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson is probably the most readable, comprehensive science book you can find. I just finished listening to this one a few days ago, and it’s jumped up there on my list of nonfiction favorites. Bryson really does cover just about everything, from the origin of the expression “on cloud nine,” to the Yellowstone super volcano (especially pertinent, since I’m headed out West next week), to geology, chemistry, physics, biology–all of it! If you’ve ever wanted a layman’s introduction to Einstein’s theory of relativity or an overview of plate tectonics, this is the book for you.
I was very impressed with how Bryson organizes the book so that all of the disciplines flow smoothly together without feeling disjointed. He does talk quite a bit about evolution at the beginning and the end of the book, but I found even those sections interesting. Bryson uses words like “fate,” “providence,” and “destiny” in conjunction with “luck,” “chance,” and “randomness,” to explain all of the theories and things we know and don’t know about the origins of life. Sometimes it did feel like he was trying to justify a miracle–like when he explains that one amoeba contains 400 million bits of genetic information in its DNA, which is enough to fill 80 books of 500 pages. That’s an incredible fact, but according to Bryson, “life just wants to be” and therefore it is. This is, in my opinion, a sad way of looking at things. All in all, though, I’d highly recommend Bryson’s book. He does a good job of explaining things using simple examples and funny anecdotes.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer is an inspiring story about a young boy who brought electricity to his village in Africa. This book shows how technological advances can help people in the poorest parts of the world.
What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions is the most fun book on this list. It’s also an awesome book to listen on Audible. It’s narrated by Will Wheaton, it’s funny, and it’s just plain weird. I do sort of wish I had a hard copy of this one, though, because there are comics and illustrations throughout that you miss out on if you only listen to the book. If you’ve ever wanted to know what would actually happen if all the people in the world stood in one spot and jumped, this is the book for you.
How We Got To Now: Six Innovations that made the Modern World is the first book I ever purchased on Audible, and it was so interesting that I couldn’t press pause. This book is about six seemingly small innovations–glass, cold, sound, and others–that completely changed the world. There’s a companion PBS documentary series that goes along with it, if you’re interested.
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is a book I just finished, and I’ve written all about it in this post. Just like The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this book combines science with a human interest story. It reads like a novel, and it was a good audiobook option as well.
If none of those strike your fancy, here are some others that I’ve read and would recommend:
- Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (Okay, I never finished this one, but if you’re into hard core books about neurology, this would be a great one!)
- Outliers by Malcom Gladwell (I wouldn’t call this 100% science, but it’s definitely social science, which counts, right?)
Science Books on My Waiting List:
Now that we’ve talked about recommendations, here are a few science-inspired books that I’ve got waiting in the wings:
I’ve already started The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, and while some of the neurology is a little over my head, the clinical stories are interesting. I know that I’m behind the times with Hidden Figures and Thunderstruck, but they’re also on the “To Be Read” pile. Maybe I’ll get through them this summer!
Other Tempting Prospects:
I’m always wandering through bookstores and browsing on Amazon, so I’ve seen a lot of science-inspired books out there that I’d like to read if I ever have the chance. These are just a few of them. I’ve linked to their Amazon pages for easy reference, and I think any of these would also be great Audible options!
- The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
- The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
- The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
- The Naming of the Shrew: A Curious History of Latin Names by John Wright
- The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
- The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
- The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester
- Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel
- Sextant: A Young Man’s Daring Sea Voyage and the Men Who Mapped the World’s Oceans by David Barrie
Wow, who knew that there would be this many science books grabbing my eye at the bookstore? I hope this post was helpful if you’re looking for ways to fill out the “Book about Science” category on your 2017 Reading Challenge. Even if you’re not participating in the challenge, one thing I’ve learned is that nonfiction books don’t have to be boring, so what’s stopping you? Let me know which of these you’ll be checking out this summer!