Nature and Science
Heaven on Earth: How Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo Discovered the Modern... by L.S. FauberWhat it's about: four 16th-century astronomers -- Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and Galileo Galilei -- whose work transformed our understanding of the cosmos.
Why you might like it: This engaging collective biography reveals its subjects' feet of clay without shortchanging their scientific achievements.
Want a taste? "[Tycho Brahe] became the dean of astronomers, not by virtue of brilliance, but by hard work, constant reading, independent wealth, and the forced enslavement of a couple hundred peasants."
Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut's Story of Invention by Kathryn D. SullivanWhat it is: an engaging memoir by retired astronaut Kathryn Sullivan.
Why you might like it: Sullivan, the first American woman to perform an EVA (Extravehicular Activity, a.k.a. "spacewalk"), recounts her career at NASA, one inextricably connected to the development, launch, and repair of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Did you know? Unlike most satellites, the Hubble Space Telescope only improves with age, due to its "inherently maintainable design," which allows for periodic repairs and technological upgrades.
Transcendence: How Humans Evolved Through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time by Gaia VinceWhat it does: Examines human evolution through four key "drivers": Fire, Language, Beauty and Time, while arguing that it is collective culture, not individual intelligence, that sets humans apart.
About the author: Journalist Gaia Vince won the Royal Society Insight Investment Prize for her debut, Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made.
For fans of: Diane Ackerman's The Human Age.
SAM: One Robot, a Dozen Engineers, and the Race to Revolutionize the Way We Build by Jonathan WaldmanIntroducing: SAM (short for "semi-automated mason") and the team of engineers who built this innovative brick-laying machine.
Why you might like it: Recounting SAM's journey from rough concept to prototype (after prototype after prototype...), this richly detailed book offers both an illuminating look at the technological aspects of construction and an absorbing account of a family-run start up.
Snow: A Scientific and Cultural Exploration by Giles WhittellWhat it is: a wide-ranging, trivia-rich guide to the white stuff by a self-proclaimed "snow addict."
What you'll learn about: the number of snowflakes that fall each year, the science of avalanches, the history of snow in art, the filming of the opening scene of The Spy Who Loved Me, and the estimated date that climate change will finally put an end to snow.
Reviewers say: This book is "downright giddy with enthusiasm for its subject" (The Boston Globe).
A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. SternbergWhat it's about: CRISPR-Cas9, a genome editing technique that makes possible permanent modifications within an organism's DNA.
Why you might like it: This balanced and accessible book describes the research that led to this groundbreaking discovery and examines the potential applications (and implications) of a revolutionary new technology.
What sets it apart: Written by the scientists who discovered this "molecular machine," A Crack in Creation argues that we shouldn't use it without first addressing the serious bioethical issues involved.
DNA is Not Destiny: the Remarkable, Completely Misunderstood Relationship... by Steven J. HeineWhat it's about: Cultural psychologist Steven Heine discusses the genomics revolution, reflecting on how ill-equipped we are to handle its revelations.
Read it for: the author's insightful discussion of the cognitive biases that make us susceptible to essentialist thinking, the oversimplification of complex concepts, and the lofty promises of direct-to-consumer genetic testing services.
Food for thought: "Yet we persist in this belief that our genes control our lives. We are genetic fatalists."
The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha MukherjeeWhat it's about: Describing the concept of heredity as a form of information transmission, physician and science writer Siddhartha Mukherjee considers the gene, its long and winding road to discovery, and its future as bioengineering becomes more common.
Why you might like it: From Mendel and Darwin to the Human Genome Project, this sweeping, thought-provoking book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Emperor of Maladies artfully explores both the scientific and cultural significance of genes.
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold through Our Genes by Adam Rutherford; foreword by Siddhartha MukherjeeWhat it's about: "Geneticists have suddenly become historians," observes author Adam Rutherford, citing discoveries that have transformed our understanding of human evolution.
Contains: the (roughly) 2 million year history of the Homo genus, an accessible primer on genomics, and a discussion of what DNA can (and can't) tell us about ourselves.
About the author: Geneticist and journalist Adam Rutherford is the author of Humanimal: How Homo Sapiens Became Nature's Most Paradoxical Creature.
She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl ZimmerWhat it is: a comprehensive yet accessible examination of heredity that "masterfully blends exciting storytelling with first-rate science reporting" (Publishers Weekly).
Why it's important: In addition to exploding common myths and misconceptions about the science of biological inheritance, science writer Carl Zimmer also discusses its (often unsavory) cultural history.
Did you know? It wasn't until the 1830s that the word "heredity" acquired its present meaning of a biological inheritance (as opposed to a material one).
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