Grafitti of Einstein

Science Books From 2017 That Will Make You Smarter

You and I, book lover, we might not know everything. We might not understand how gravity behaves in black holes or the genesis of stars or how electricity works. We might not know any of these things.

 

What we do know, though, is how to read. And books are being written by people who know things. Scientific things! We can then read those books and learn some of the things that those people know. This, in the scientific community, is known as a eureka moment. So here are seven books from just the past year that shine a light on the darkest corners of my mind.

 

1. Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by Sam Kean

 

Caesar's Last Breath cover

Image Via Hachette Book Group

 

It’s invisible. It’s ever-present. Without it, you would die in minutes. And it has an epic story to tell. In Caesar’s Last Breath, New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean takes us on a journey through the periodic table, around the globe, and across time to tell the story of the air we breathe, which, it turns out, is also the story of earth and our existence on it. With every breath, you literally inhale the history of the world.

 

On the ides of March, 44 BC, Julius Caesar died of stab wounds on the Senate floor, but the story of his last breath is still unfolding; in fact, you’re probably inhaling some of it now. Of the sextillions of molecules entering or leaving your lungs at this moment, some might well bear traces of Cleopatra’s perfumes, German mustard gas, particles exhaled by dinosaurs or emitted by atomic bombs, even remnants of stardust from the universe’s creation.

 

Tracing the origins and ingredients of our atmosphere, Kean reveals how the alchemy of air reshaped our continents, steered human progress, powered revolutions, and continues to influence everything we do. Along the way, we’ll swim with radioactive pigs, witness the most important chemical reactions humans have discovered, and join the crowd at the Moulin Rouge for some of the crudest performance art of all time. Lively, witty, and filled with the astounding science of ordinary life, Caesar’s Last Breath illuminates the science stories swirling around us every second.

 

Official synopsis courtesy of Hachette Book Group

 

2. Beyond Infinity: An Expedition to the Outer Limits of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng

 

Beyond Infinity

Image Via Hachette Book Group

 

How big is the universe? How many numbers are there? And is infinity + 1 is the same as 1 + infinity? Such questions occur to young children and our greatest minds. And they are all the same question: What is infinity? In Beyond Infinity, Eugenia Cheng takes us on a staggering journey from elemental math to its loftiest abstractions. Along the way, she considers how to use a chessboard to plan a worldwide dinner party, how to make a chicken-sandwich sandwich, and how to create infinite cookies from a finite ball of dough. Beyond Infinity shows how one little symbol holds the biggest idea of all.

 

Official synopsis courtesy of Hachette Book Group

 

3. Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy

 

Code Girls cover

Image Via Hachette Book Group

 

Recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II. While their brothers and boyfriends took up arms, these women moved to Washington and learned the meticulous work of code-breaking. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives, and gave them access to careers previously denied to them. A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history; now, through dazzling research and interviews with surviving code girls, bestselling author Liza Mundy brings to life this riveting and vital story of American courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.

 

Official synopsis courtesy of Hachette Book Group

 

4. Gravity’s Kiss by Harry Collins

 

Gravitys kiss cover

Image Via the MIT Press

 

Scientists have been trying to confirm the existence of gravitational waves for fifty years. Then, in September 2015, came a “very interesting event” (as the cautious subject line in a physicist’s email read) that proved to be the first detection of gravitational waves. In Gravity’s Kiss, Harry Collins—who has been watching the science of gravitational wave detection for forty-three of those fifty years and has written three previous books about it—offers a final, fascinating account, written in real time, of the unfolding of one of the most remarkable scientific discoveries ever made.

 

Official synopsis courtesy of the MIT Press

 

5. Endangered by Tim Flach

 

Endangered cover

Image Via Abrams

 

In Endangered, the result of an extraordinary multiyear project to document the lives of threatened species, acclaimed photographer Tim Flach explores one of the most pressing issues of our time. Traveling around the world—to settings ranging from forest to savannah to the polar seas to the great coral reefs—Flach has constructed a powerful visual record of remarkable animals and ecosystems facing harsh challenges. Among them are primates coping with habitat loss, big cats in a losing battle with human settlements, elephants hunted for their ivory, and numer­ous bird species taken as pets. With eminent zoologist Jonathan Baillie providing insightful commentary on this ambitious project, Endangered unfolds as a series of vivid, interconnected stories that pose gripping moral dilemmas, unforgettably expressed by more than 180 of Flach’s incred­ible images.

 

Official synopsis courtesy of Abrams

 

6. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

 

Astrophysics cover

Image Via W. W. Norton

 

What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? There’s no better guide through these mind-expanding questions than acclaimed astrophysicist and best-selling author Neil deGrasse Tyson.

 

But today, few of us have time to contemplate the cosmos. So Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.

 

While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry will reveal just what you need to be fluent and ready for the next cosmic headlines: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe.

 

Official synopsis courtesy of W. W. Norton

 

7. A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold through Our Genes by Adam Rutherford

 

Brief History cover

Image Via the Experiment

 

In our unique genomes, every one of us carries the story of our species—births, deaths, disease, war, famine, migration, and a lot of sex.

 

But those stories have always been locked away—until now.

 

Who are our ancestors? Where did they come from? Geneticists have suddenly become historians, and the hard evidence in our DNA has blown the lid off what we thought we knew. Acclaimed science writer Adam Rutherford explains exactly how genomics is completely rewriting the human story—from 100,000 years ago to the present.

 

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived will upend your thinking on Neanderthals, evolution, royalty, race, and even redheads. (For example, we now know that at least four human species once roamed the earth.) Plus, here is the remarkable, controversial story of how our genes made their way to the Americas—one that’s still being written, as ever more of us have our DNA sequenced.

 

Official synopsis courtesy of the Experiment

 

Feature Image by Sidney Perry Via Unsplash