Looking for something to fill in your Book Bingo “Science” square? Something that will stretch your brain? How about a fascinating page-turner that somehow makes complex topics easy to grasp? Here are some titles that bear no resemblance to a dusty chemistry textbook:
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes by Adam Rutherford
The first complete sequencing of the human genome in 2003 (as part of The Human Genome Project) opened the floodgates to voluminous scientific data which are changing our understanding of the human species. Rutherford, a British geneticist and science writer, explains how recent genetic research upends much of what we thought we knew about evolution, migration, race and more. He writes in an engaging and at times humorous style. According to the New York Times Book Review, this book is “Nothing less than a tour de force–a heady amalgam of science, history, a little bit of anthropology and plenty of nuanced, captivating storytelling.”
Other recent books on this fascinating topic include The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen and Who We Are and How We Got Here by David Reich (full disclosure: I skimmed through some of the more number-heavy paragraphs in Reich’s book in order to get to the more interesting – to me – conclusions). For even more titles, see our Catalog listing of books under the subjects Human Genome or Human Genetics or Genomics or DNA.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Shetterly, founder of The Human Computer Project, is dedicated to bringing to light the story of the pioneering African-American women who provided raw computing power to NACA (the precursor to NASA) from the 1940s – 1960s, enabling the U.S. to develop its space program. During World War II, labor shortages (and pressure from labor leaders and civil rights activists) led to the hiring of women and minorities in fields previously closed to them. A cadre of Black women – top graduates with math degrees from Black universities – were hired on by NACA. Due to Jim Crow laws, these Black mathematicians were relegated to a segregated wing on the NACA campus. Nevertheless, they made significant and crucial contributions to the U.S. Space Program. Shetterly provides an essential service by illuminating their accomplishments in this carefully researched and compelling narrative.
The Glass Universe: How The Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel
Published in the same year (2016) as Shetterly’s book above, Sobel’s book also highlights the overlooked contributions of female scientists. Sobel’s account draws on letters, diaries and memoirs to explore the hidden history of the women who worked for the Harvard College Observatory in the late 19th century. Initially hired to perform calculations based on the telescope stellar observations made by their male counterparts, the women eventually made significant discoveries and contributions to the emerging field of astronomy. Award-winning science journalist Sobel has written a slew of additional science books, all of which bring to light fascinating stories of science history in elegant prose.
What the Future Looks Like edited by Jim Al-Khalili
For a thought-provoking book that you can easily dip into, consider this collection of essays by leading scientists in a variety of fields including biology, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and transportation. Each essay discusses how swiftly changing technologies are impacting human life in the near future, in ways that are both favorable and frightening.
The Weather Detective by Peter Wohlleben
German ecologist Wohlleben (author of The Hidden Life of Trees) incorporates both new scientific discoveries and ancient lore to help us understand the significance of the natural world around us. He explores a variety of phenomena ranging from weather prediction to invasive plants to climate change, focusing on fascinating details we can observe. His easy-going storytelling style makes this thin volume an easy but informative read.
The Sakura Obsession: The Incredible Story of the Plant Hunter Who Saved Japan’s Cherry Blossoms by Naoko Abe
Abe, a Japanese journalist, tells the intriguing tale of how an eccentric English ornithologist used cuttings taken from Japan’s cherry trees (during his honeymoon in 1907) both to save Japan’s trees when they were on the brink of extinction, and to spread the lovely blossoms around the world. This beautifully written account is sprinkled with intriguing bits of information about botany as well as Japanese history and culture.
Still looking for more science reading suggestions? Here are some good book lists to explore:
- Seattle Picks: Science – Thought-provoking reads on a wide variety of science topics, selected by a librarian from The Seattle Public Library.
- New Titles: Science – Science books recently acquired by The Seattle Public Library.
- Best Science Books of 2018 – A writer and web editor for Smithsonian Magazine recommends 10 books that explore significant scientific discoveries both historical and contemporary on a range of topics including dinosaurs, food safety, space travel, and the evolution of our species.
- Favorite Science Books of 2018 – Writers and editors from Science News (magazine of the nonprofit Society for Science and the Public) choose their “must reads” of the year.
~ posted by Paige C.
For more ideas for books to meet your Summer Book Bingo challenge, follow our Shelf Talk #BookBingoNW2019 series or check the hashtag #BookBingoNW2019 on social media. Need a Book Bingo card? Print one out here or pick one up at your Library. Book bingo is presented in partnership with Seattle Arts & Lectures.