Science! In many ways, we live in a thrilling era of scientific discovery. Some scientists are making breakthroughs in gene-editing and recycling orbital rockets. Others are perilously close to discovering life on other planets. Others have created tiny, talking robots to navigate cars and re-order toilet paper. It’s an exciting time to be alive. It’s also a terrifying time to be alive, as the Earth heats up by deadly degrees and people continually ignore and fear science in favor of absolute nonsense. So if you’re interested to learning all you can about the beautiful, horrifying reality of our own universe, then here are some excellent books about science that just might blow your mind.
Of course, “science” covers a rather wide range of topics. Here you’ll find books about space, diving into the mysteries of the cosmos with facts that feel like they’re right out of science fiction. You’ll also find books about evolution and about drunken plants, and about whether or not an octopus can have a soul. If you haven’t cracked open a textbook since your eleventh grade physics class, never fear: all of these books tackle complex subjects with approachable language and a whole lot of enthusiasm, so check out some fascinating nonfiction about the weird, wonderful world we live in:
Mary Roach is the queen of nonfiction about weird science. She’s written books about death and sex and the science of eating, and now she’s written a book about space. Specifically, humans in space. What happens to a human person when they’re trapped in a little metal tube without fresh air or flowers or gravity? How do they use the bathroom? Just how much space can the human body endure? Pick up Packing for Mars for a funny, savvy take on space exploration and human endurance.
What’s even more strange and horrific than the endless vacuum of space? Probably the jellyfish. That’s right, someone finally took the time to figure out what the heck is going with jellyfish, an ancient organism that is 95% water and 100% weird. Juli Berwald combines scientific exploration with personal memoir on this quest to understand how jellyfish work and why there are more and more of them floating around our oceans.
Sure, humanity has spent thousands of years trying to understand the secrets of the universe so far… and we’ve barely scratched the surface. We don’t even know where to start with what we don’t know. Through a mix of humorous text and delightful cartoons, Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson take us on an inter-dimensional tour of all the mysteries of modern science, from black holes to the weirdness within our own cells.
It doesn’t get much more mind-blowing than the big bang. Especially when we’re talking about recreating the big bang right here on Earth, and birthing our own lil’ baby universe with its own laws of physics and everything. Yeah. Scientists are working on it, and Zeeya Merali is here to explain it to us, complete with all the weirdness and the moral implications of possibly playing god to a whole ‘nother plane of reality.
I wish I could say that mind-blowing science books are always fun and full of cool space facts. Unfortunately for humanity, though, science can also be a bit sobering. The Sixth Extinction is a brilliant exploration of how human beings have irrevocably altered life here on Earth; specifically, how we have already begun the most devastating extinction event since that pesky asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs (and we’re only getting started).
When we think of cool physics, we probably think of dark matter and wormholes and travelling through time. We probably don’t think of teacups. Everyday objects obey the laws of physics too, though, and things get weird when you dig down into it. Storm in a Teacup explores the mind-boggling physics of the ordinary, from how ducks can walk on ice without freezing to why it takes ketchup so dang long to come out of the bottle.
Ah yes, that age old question: does an octopus have a soul? Or rather, what is a soul, anyway? What makes an animal conscious, scientifically speaking? Are we really so different from all the other species out there in the animal kingdom? Sy Montgomery has immersed herself in octopus culture to bring us this lovely, profound look at consciousness itself, with plenty of entertaining anecdotes about her favorite tentacled friends.
We know that alcohol is made from plants. But… how did we get from a potato to a vodka martini? If you’ve ever wondered about the chemistry that goes into your favorite cocktail, this is the book for you. Amy Stewart explores the science behind how plants can us drunk, as well as the wild history that led us from boring old plants to some of the wildest intoxicants in all of nature.
So a big ol’ asteroid crash landed into Earth and killed off the dinosaurs around 66 million years ago. We’re not quite sure where it came from. But what does that have to do with dark matter, the creation of the universe itself, or human beings today? Lisa Randall has the answers in this wide-ranging look at dark matter in our interconnected universe, interwoven with the pop culture and politics of today.
If you’re in the mood for a nonfiction science book that reads more like a Jazz Age murder mystery, then this is the book for you. The Poisoner’s Handbook takes a look at forensic science through the perilous early days of chemical detective work, when poison was frequently the “untraceable” weapon of choice. It’s part gross science, part true crime, and part fascinating look at the power of chemistry.
About 98% of human DNA has been long considered “junk.” But Nessa Carey is here to show us that this trash genetic material can actually contain quite a few treasures: this supposedly useless portion of the human genome can hold the key to sex determination, genetic diseases, and even unlocking the history of human evolution—and scientists are only now beginning to understand how it works.