The Best Science Books Of 2018
Now, the time has come for our annual roundup of the books we couldn’t forget. And we’ve been asking you, our listeners, to send us voice memos with your picks for best science book of 2018. Here’s just a few:
Jeff Grant in Batavia, Illinois:“My book recommendation for 2018 is The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte. Dr Brusatte writes in an eloquent way that is easy for everybody to understand and he sheds new light on dinosaur evolution. It is a must read for all of you dino buffs out there.”
Julie G. in Mantua, New Jersey:“Origin Story by David Christian gives you the big history of everything just like it says. It’s really informative and I’m still picking up the pieces of my mind that it blew while reading it. Definitely deserves a second read.”
Steve in Seattle:“I recommend The Promise of the Grand Canyon: John Wesley Powell’s Perilous Journey and His Vision for the American West. In addition to just being an exciting read about Powell’s journey through the Grand Canyon, it also addresses his being way ahead of his time in dealing with issues we’re still addressing today. Land use issues, environmental issues, the government and private industry. I think it’s a great read! Thanks a lot.”
Laura in Boulder, Colorado:“I wanted to recommend Ben Goldfarb’s book The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter. It’ll just completely make you rethink what a natural stream should look like.”
Will Grover in Riverside, California:“My favorite science book of 2018 is Sex on the Kitchen Table, by Norman Ellstrand. This book shares the secret sex lives of our favorite fruits and veggies. For example did you know tomato farmers use special vibrators to help their plants reproduce? And bananas have been bred to not have sex at all. You learn that plants reproduce in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways and how important these different kinds of plant sex are to our food supply.”
We have plenty of picks from from our panel of expert guests: Stephanie Sendaula of Library Journal Reviews, Deborah Blum of MIT’s Knight Science Journalism Program, and Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Research. Check out their top picks below.
Dinosaurs. Who doesn’t love ‘em? And Steve Brusatte’s engrossing book takes us around the world and through time to uncover little-known details about these beloved creatures and the explorers who uncovered their stony remains.
Broad Band does for Silicon Valley what Hidden Figures does for space exploration: reveal the women who were critical to the rise and development of our cyber world.
This book will blow your mind. Poof. Michael Pollan skillfully weaves a tale of how psychedelics, once denigrated as a head-trip of the 1960’s, are now being rediscovered as valuable research and treatment tools for mental illnesses. A must read!
How to you discuss big, hair-hurting ideas in a user friendly way? Make a graphic novel about them. For me, the most original, creative and magical science book of 2017. Yes, it was last year’s book. But I didn’t read it until this year. And I cannot leave it out.
From the coast of Panama to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Pyenson explores remaining questions about whales while also examining evidence for the evolution of the species from land mammals to the sea creatures we are familiar with today.
Proving that rising sea levels are not just a vision of the future, environmental writer Rush visits several states to see the effects of climate change and meet those impacted by rising waters along with researchers documenting it all.
George explores the economic and social injustices surrounding blood; injustices that have a particularly high impact on women. The result is a fascinating work for all curious about blood as commodity in the world economy.
Williams sheds insight into the for-profit fossil trade, highlighting the people who find, prepare, and auction works of prehistory, including large dinosaurs. She skillfully navigates this unique nexus of paleontology and law along with its notorious black markets.
One of the most powerful ways to tell the story of global climate change is to tell it local. And this meticulous, compassionate look at the fishermen and their families, who have for generations made a home on a tiny island in Chesapeake Bay, is a vivid portrait of what we are losing—and why we may fail to stop that loss.
Yes, this is another book about the effects of climate change—perhaps the most important story of our time—but it’s beautiful, bracing, and even heartening. Oakes is a conservation scientist studying the imperiled yellow cedars of Alaska and her research leads her to ponder resilience in profound ways, from natural adaptation to human determination.
The truth is I’m a sucker for this kind of book, a series of case studies from our research past that will remind you that we are never as smart as we think. Morris uses images of old documents, and citations from physicians of the past, in way that makes the book both real, grounded—and a lot of fun.
This is a terrific book for someone like me who is not a physics or astronomy specialist but who wants to just know more about it. These short, gem-like essays are clear, human, and occasionally just lovely. Something like our understanding of the universe.
Keating, a cosmologist who worked on a once-Nobel worthy project, tells the story of its collapse, of the scientific rancor that ensued, and of prize-winning dreams that may, sometimes erroneously, fuel research. It’s a little bitter, a little gossipy, and a lot insightful.
This is clearly Zimmer’s best book. It’s an opus in which he goes through the entire history of genetics and epigenetics, and writes about getting his own genome sequenced too. She Has Her Mother’s Laugh is one of the best books ever written about genetics, along with Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene. They’re the two bookends.
I know the story of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes really well. I’ve met her on a few occasions, from the early days, to the full falling apart of the company. It’s the most extraordinary tale, and John Carreyrou tells it from the inside, as he’s breaking the case. It’s the biggest biotech disaster that we know of and supposedly the biggest fraud since Enron.
As a cardiologist, this is my area, and I’d heard about some of these historic milestones in my studies. I think Sandeep is one of the great physician authors of our era. He tells these historical vignettes in such a captivating way, and he also gets really personal with his family. It was fun to relive the stories I’d read about or heard about through his eyes.
Hanna-Attisha is a doctor and pediatrician in Flint Michigan, and she cracked the case of the Flint lead poisoning–she’s a hero. She started her own testing of the water because of her suspicion and then confronted the local government, which was in a state of denial. This story ought to be made into a movie, sort of like Erin Brockovich, but with a doctor as the star.
Cause and effect is one of the most heavily debated, difficult-to-prove things in science and medicine. This book really gets you thinking about cause and effect as it applies to issues of our time, such as: How come cigarettes were around for years and we never showed they were causing cancer or heart disease? The authors goes through these cases like an interrogation, and it’s just extraordinary.
Science Friday is an Amazon affiliate; when you buy a book from one of the links above, we get a portion of the proceeds from whatever you buy.
Stephanie Sendaula is an associate editor at Library Journal Reviews.
Deborah Blum is the director of the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She’s the author of The Poisoner’s Handbook (Penguin, 2010) and The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Penguin Press, 2018).
Eric Topol is author of The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands (Basic Books, 2015), practicing cardiologist at the Scripps Clinic, and a genomics professor at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.