The Best Science Books Of 2021 (2023)

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. As the gift-giving season teeters to a close, I’m very much hoping you ended up with some money to spend at your local bookstore. Sure, gift certificates sometimes get a bad rap. Some people feel they’re, what, less thoughtful. But it’s really nice to have that kid-in-a-candy-store sense of possibility by choosing some books for yourself.

And in case you’re having trouble deciding which ones, we have some suggestions for you. My guests have also been doing a lot of reading this year. And today, we’ll share our favorite science books of 2021. So bookworms, grab your shopping list and your library card, and huddle up. Here to talk books with me are my guests, Stephanie Sendaula, Associate Editor with Library Journal. She joins us. And Valerie Thompson, a Senior Editor covering books at Science Magazine.

Hi. Welcome both of you to Science Friday. Welcome back.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Thanks so much, Ira.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Thank you for having us again, Ira.

IRA FLATOW: Nice to have you. And just a reminder that everything we’re talking about will also be on our website. You can check out the full list at sciencefriday.com/books.

OK, let’s go right to my pick. I’m going to go ahead and start with my favorite, OK? Or one of my favorites. We did this interview, just a few weeks ago. And I’m talking about Michael Pollan’s book, This is Your Mind on Plants. It’s the last in his series of books, which I’ve always enjoyed. I love his work. And this book was such a great exploration of the ways various cultures around the world have depended on compounds found in plants, have mind-altering properties, including caffeine and peyote. I’m wondering if any of either one of you have read that book and have a comment about it.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, I have read this book. It’s great. You can’t go wrong with a Michael Pollan book. I mean, it’s you know–

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Right. I agree.

IRA FLATOW: What I liked is that he started out his career and writing books. He started writing about plants that you eat and the nutrition of it. And now, he has switched to not only do the plants affect your body by health, but they affect your mind.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, I feel like that’s a very natural transition. He talks in the book a little bit about his interest kind of came from gardening and, like you said, plants that we eat and then kind of moved into this different arena one thing. I was surprised about, though, I don’t think that he talks much about marijuana or cannabinoids. And that’s a big area of interest right now. Maybe he’s got something else in the works for that. But this book itself is really good.

IRA FLATOW: Well, you know, I remember it. And I mentioned this in the interview when we did it that 20 years ago when he was first on our show, he talked about growing a marijuana plant secretly in his backyard. [LAUGHTER]

VALERIE THOMPSON: Oh, my goodness. Well, I suspect that we’ll probably hear more on that subject then from him in the future.

IRA FLATOW: Once again, that book is This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan. Stephanie, you had a book about plants on your list too, but in this case, it was about trees.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: It was, yes, Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard. And I really like this book because she talks about her family. She’s from a family of loggers, so she has a lot of photographs of her family throughout the years. And in this aspect, she’s trying to find the mysteries of the forests and how we should be concerned for them, especially in the wake of climate change with also beetle infestations.

So for me, I really liked it because you get more an aspect to like the personality of trees, like Douglas fir, spruce, and birch, and how they talk to each other and communicate with each other and also the animals that have a home in these trees– so woodpeckers, birds especially. So this is also a perfect book for bird lovers. So I really like it from that aspect as well.

IRA FLATOW: And the name of the book was?

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Finding the Mother Tree

IRA FLATOW: By Suzanne–

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Simard.

IRA FLATOW: Simard. What is a mother tree? I mean, what does that mean, finding the mother tree?

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, so she talks about how the mother tree is one of the trees that when the it’s older and when it’s dying, it’s passing on its nutrient to these younger trees to help them grow. It’s kind of like a circle of life aspect, which I really liked in that aspect as well because you don’t really think about that. But it is like really a tree family of sorts. It’s really fascinating to learn about.

IRA FLATOW: That is cool. Meanwhile in even deeper histories, you’ll have a book about human evolution, Valerie. That’s your pick. This is a book that contends that we have been wrong about some fundamental assumptions about how human civilizations developed.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, so this is so great. So the book is called The Dawn of Everything, A New History of Humanity. And it’s co-written by two authors, so the late anthropologist and activist, David Graeber, and archaeologist, David Wengrow. And like you said, yeah, it’s kind of encouraging readers to take everything they think they know about ancient societies and throw it out the window.

So we have this idea that we all evolved from these primitive bands of egalitarian hunter gatherers, and they just reacted to things that happened to them, and that’s how human history unfolded. But this book looks back at the historical documents that we have, incorporates some new and emerging archaeological data and shows the ancient people actually had a great deal of intelligence and a great deal of agency in how things played out.

So it’s not just a case where things were happening to them, and that’s how things played out. It’s like they made decisions, and there was a lot more complexity to it than we have initially thought. And I think this is really interesting because it’s provocative. It goes against some of the ideas that we had about human origins. And I think it’s going to stimulate a lot of new research.

IRA FLATOW: You know, that’s really interesting that you picked that book, The Dawn of Everything because my pick, I was about to bring that up, one of my favorite books is called Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz. And it talks exactly about these kinds of mythologies that we have. It’s a deep dive into why ancient cities may have been abandoned. And you truly get to see places like Cahokia near St. Louis and Angkor Wat. And it talks about, hey, these cities were not just abandoned. This was thoughtfully done, the way these people left the cities.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, and I think something that both of these books do that’s really nice and that hasn’t always traditionally been done is they bring in voices and perspectives from Indigenous groups that have a stake in the story. And that’s something that I think is really valuable in both cases.

IRA FLATOW: Stephanie, have you read this book?

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: No. I want to read that because it kind of does tie into one of the books I’m going to talk about later, Islands of Abandonment. And so I really want to read Four Lost Cities because that really is something, a subject I’m thinking about a lot and looking forward to reading more about.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, well, go ahead. Talk about that book now.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Oh, OK, yeah. We’re going to talk about it a little bit later. But so Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn. And this one was really fascinating to me because she’s talking about how nature has taken its course in places where humans have either abandoned it because of economic disaster, or because of natural disaster, or because of war. So she talks about Chernobyl of all places, where it has been abandoned. But also, there’s some really interesting diversity, biodiversity happening in the area.

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She also visits the Marshall Islands, where there’s an abandoned military base, where this underwater ecosystem, which is blossoming. So for me this is really interesting because these are places where you don’t always think about them on a regular basis, but they are seeing this new revitalized life. And to me, that’s just really fascinating to read about. And I think this is a really great read also because it touches on so many different aspects. So it is history. It’s a natural history but also sociology. So this kind of spans a lot of different genres. And people can take it and get a lot out of it from that reason alone as well.

IRA FLATOW: Cool. That sounds very interesting. And just to repeat the book for people who just pulled out their pencil.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Islands of Abandonment– yes, sorry about that. It’s Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn.

IRA FLATOW: That’s really cool. Valerie, we’ve been hearing all fall and winter about supply chain woes, thanks to the pandemic and the other disruptions. And this is affecting book availability too, isn’t it?

VALERIE THOMPSON: You know, it’s funny. I think, yes, it definitely is affecting book availability. But I feel like from my perspective, I’m not the one that has to deal with it, necessarily. The poor people at the presses are the ones that are really scrambling. And I just get these announcements every once in a while that’s like, this date has been pushed back by a month or so. So it’s less of an issue for me.

IRA FLATOW: Are the books being pushed back because they won’t be available in bookstores? Or are the publishers saying, wow, this is just not a good time to release the book?

VALERIE THOMPSON: Gosh, I’m not sure what the ratio of that is. I’m sure that it’s a little bit of both. And I think that sometimes, they’ll explicitly say, we don’t have the printing capacity right now. So but yeah, I’m sure it’s a little bit of both things.

IRA FLATOW: But of course, a lot of books are coming out on PDF, right, or e-books? Could they not– people get download those? Or some people just don’t like to read them that way.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, that’s how I prefer to read books when I’m reading for pleasure. I guess, if I’m reading to review, I’d like to have a hard copy in hand just so I can make little notes and stuff. But I think that’s just a personal preference.

IRA FLATOW: Stephanie, do you do you mind reading books on e-books?

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, I really love the print book, actually. I also really love audio books lately because, for, me, it’s, like a good way to listen and engage with something while I’m just taking the material in a different aspect. So yeah, I really– I don’t know. PDFs, I’m kind of getting tired of looking at my screen all day.

IRA FLATOW: [LAUGHS]

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: So I do need the print book a lot of the times. But I do like audio as well as a nice change of pace.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah.

VALERIE THOMPSON: That’s what I’m hearing a lot from reviewers too. When I send out books for review, they’re like, please, whatever you do, if you can send a print copy, I can’t look at my computer screen anymore. [LAUGHS]

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: I can relate to that so much.

IRA FLATOW: Well, you know, I have the opposite problem because I review a lot of books. I’m very happy to get the e-version of it because I can make notes on the page in my iPad as I put them on there.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: OK, that is a good point.

VALERIE THOMPSON: It’s nice as an editor, too, when you’re working on a book review to be like, oh, this passage that the person is writing about– if I just had a print copy of the book, I’d have to flip through the whole book looking for it. And I can just kind of search it in a PDF. So that makes it a little easier from my perspective.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah. Stephanie and Valerie, let’s go back to one of your shared picks, and that is Fuzz by Mary Roach. I love Mary Roach and her one-word book title. What’s this one about? Valerie, you want to start off?

VALERIE THOMPSON: Sure, yeah. So I’m a huge fan of Mary Roach too. And her latest book, Fuzz, When Nature Breaks the Law, has kind of all the elements that you probably like and I like about her writing, which is these immersive, firsthand investigations and interviews with eccentric experts.

But this one centers on human wildlife conflict. So she’s looking at the, quote/unquote, crimes committed against humans by animals and plants. So she starts by looking at felonies– so deaths caused by bears, and elephants, and poisonous plants, and falling trees. And then she moves on to the lesser offenses– so things like birds interfering with airplanes, and monkeys that harass city dwellers, and deers that are colliding with cars, things like that.

IRA FLATOW: She really has a way of finding offbeat stuff, doesn’t she?

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, yeah, that’s such a fun thing about this book.

IRA FLATOW: Stephanie, you too?

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, that’s why I loved it too because these are the things I didn’t think about the birds interfering with airplanes. I was like, wait, that actually is something, a serious subject, but we don’t think about it that often. So that was really fun to read about.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, she finds fun things to read from poop to the military to other kinds of things.

[LAUGHTER]

VALERIE THOMPSON: It’s fun. Yeah, it’s a fun book. I mean, she talks about all these kind of interventions that we’re trying to do– so like making bear-proof dumpsters, and these remote-control robotic predator birds that are designed to scare away nuisance birds, and there’s even this really interesting chapter on the people that are doing research on humane extermination methods for problem species. So it’s pretty wide-ranging.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, and just again, that’s Fuzz by the incomparable Mary Roach, who is fearless, right? You know, she is. I would have to describe that she’s not afraid to write what she says and how she feels, and we all find it very, very interesting when she does that.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, I would say that my only small criticism was that she misses a chance to discuss the larger problem, which is that these kind of so-called offenses that wildlife are committing aren’t exactly unprovoked. I mean, they’re happening because we’re doing things like encroaching on habitats, and destroying traditional food sources, and introducing invasive species. So we have to take a little bit of the blame there for that one.

IRA FLATOW: Stephanie, you agree?

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STEPHANIE SENDAULA: I agree, yeah. Yeah, I definitely agree with that. Yeah, a lot of the instances like we are encroaching on their natural habitat, especially for the military bases or just places where we probably shouldn’t belong. So yeah, no, I agree with you on that aspect, Valerie.

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday from WNYC Studios. In case you’re just joining us, we’re talking about the best science books of 2021 with Stephanie Sendaula and Valerie Thompson. I’m going to toss my own favorite book in here, and that’s The Joy of Sweat by Sarah Everts. It was such a fun book about the science of perspiration. I mean, who knew? It covers everything– why we do it, how sweating can go wrong.

And Sarah looked at everything from weather sports drinks are actually useful– maybe not– and how museums that display historical clothing have to deal with the destructive nature of sweat to fabric. Who knew? Who thought about that kind of stuff? And I guess, that’s why Sarah wrote the book. And then it even includes the original Apollo spacesuits we talked to her in July, of course, at the height of summer sweating season. But it really was a very fun book.

VALERIE THOMPSON: I was going to ask if this came out of some sort of personal lockdown new commitment to working out or something.

[LAUGHTER]

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, but but on the other hand, there are people who like to sweat. And we were talking about that too, people who go to the saunas, and they go to hot yoga.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Oh, of course, yeah.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, yeah, I want to read that one for that reason because I have tried hot yoga, and it’s a little bit too much sweating for me, to be honest. So I am really interested in reading about the science of why we sweat and why people like to sweat.

IRA FLATOW: Sarah also said that she’s really an intense sweater, and she wants to know why. And she got some answers about why she is such an intense sweater– and I don’t mean to thing made out of wool. But I’m not going to spoil it for anybody who wants to read the book because it’s a lot of fun.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, now, I’m curious.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, I am too.

IRA FLATOW: And it’s called, again, The Joy of Sweat by Sarah Everts. Stephanie, you have another one on your list that we covered on the show this year, The Sounds of the Sea by Cynthia Barnett– all about seashells, our relationship with them through history, and what the future holds for them in acidifying oceans. What struck you most about this book?

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, this is probably one of my favorite books of this year, I think, just because she talks about how we know so much about seashells, the outside of them, but we don’t really know that much about the animals that live inside of them.

And also, I really like the part about how seashells, throughout history, have been used as money, and weapons, and gifts, and even art. Like, the whole seashell craze of the post-war period. So you’re thinking about seashells, all these different types of periods of history and how they’ve each changed, but also people who collect them, which I loved seashells as a kid. And you’re just thinking about, oh, right, these have such a varied history and how they’re kind of adapting in the face of climate change as well.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, it was very– it was fascinating.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: It really was. What did you like about it, Ira?

IRA FLATOW: I think one of my favorite things that I learned was that Shell Oil was started by a family, that originally made their living selling seashells.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, I had no idea.

IRA FLATOW: That’s just crazy.

VALERIE THOMPSON: I would have never made that connection.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, a little bit too on-the-nose, given the connection between fossil fuels and climate change. And now, we’re talking about something naturally occurring in nature.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Right.

IRA FLATOW: And just to repeat for your pencil, The Sounds of the Sea by Cynthia Barnett was the name. We have to take a quick break. When we come back, more science book recommendations for your next trip to the library or gift card spending spree.

VALERIE THOMPSON: So there’s a ton of rah-rah, isn’t science amazing, books out there, and we’ve talked about some of them. But we also owe it to ourselves to confront the parts that aren’t working, and this book does a little bit of both.

IRA FLATOW: Stay with us. This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. We’re talking about the best science books of 2021 with guest book nerds, Valerie Thompson of Science Magazine and Stephanie Sendaula of Library Journal. Stephanie, you had another book about the oceans on your list. And this time, I’m talking about the very deep sea. The book is called The Brilliant Abyss. What’s in this one?

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yes, this is The Brilliant Abyss by Helen Scales. And this is a great companion to The Sound of the Sea. This one is about the deep sea and what we don’t know about it because we don’t know that much about it. But I really like how she brings us aspects of the deep sea that we should be thinking about, like conservationists who are concerned for the future of it because of the impact of deep sea mining and fishing and also pollution affecting the deep sea.

But it’s really great how she talks about the people who make a living studying the deep sea, like deep sea biologists who are learning more about it and bringing us interesting facts about it. And also, these really unique ecosystems underwater that host squid and jellyfish and even like all these different types of worms as well. So there’s so much about the deep sea, like these underwater volcanoes and mountain ranges that we just don’t always have access to, but they are really fascinating. And they’re blossoming because they’re just these vibrant, vibrant aspects of ecosystems. So that’s really great as well. So yeah, this is a great companion.

IRA FLATOW: And because we learn so much about how life can live in such hostile environments.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, yeah, definitely.

IRA FLATOW: And that may be this kind of environments are on other planets. And we have to think about where we look for life on other places and how resilient life may be.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, I think resilience is a great part of it because you’re thinking about, how do these animals live in these deep, dark environments that really are so hostile? So this is, yeah, The Brilliant Abyss by Helen Scales, another really great book that would be a really nice companion to The Sound of the Sea.

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IRA FLATOW: Yeah, it is a great book. I love the oceans. I love the trivia that there is about the oceans, for example. All the sand that’s at the bottom of the oceans made from living things.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, I had no idea about any of that either.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, it’s just fascinating. And probably most of the sand on the Earth that we never get to see is at the bottom of the ocean from single-celled animals that died and left their little shells behind.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah.

IRA FLATOW: Stephanie, have you noticed any common themes in your favorite books this year?

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, I think one of the common themes, sadly, is a lot of pollution in the ocean and how we should be really concerned for the future of it and what we can do to help. So also, just climate change is having a big impact, which we already know. But yeah, but pollution is a really– it’s something that we should be aware of and making effort to try to combat if we can.

IRA FLATOW: Has COVID possibly been an influence for these books? Or were these all started before there was COVID, so there really is not a common theme about COVID or climate change, perhaps?

VALERIE THOMPSON: I feel like, for me, a lot of books recently, yes, it’s like you said. Many of the books that we’re talking about now were started maybe before COVID or kind of conceived of at least before COVID. And so there’s not a lot of ties. Although, often in the introduction, which the last part of the book that’s written, there’ll be a mention of it and kind of a tie to that. But I think one of the themes that I was thinking about that connects all the books that I’m talking about today is this idea of questioning assumptions– so questioning assumptions about human nature, or about the practice of science, or about our effects on the Earth and things about what well-communicated science looks like and sounds like.

IRA FLATOW: And you know, that’s an interesting point that you make because that’s basically the basis of science, of what science is, is questioning our assumptions about things that we take for granted.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, I think good science, that’s exactly what it does.

IRA FLATOW: Speaking of questioning assumptions then, Valerie, you had a very timely book for us, Immune by Philip Dettmer.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yes. So this book is great. I don’t know if you’ve been online recently, but there’s been a real uptick in armchair immunologists over the past 18 months or so. So this book is very timely. The immune system’s very complicated, so I’m not trying to imply that we don’t know what we’re talking about when we’re talking about T cells, and herd immunity, and things.

But I think we could all benefit from a little Immunology primer. So this book, Philip Dettmer’s Immune is great for that. If you don’t know, Dettmer runs a super popular science YouTube channel called Kurzgesagt, German for in a nutshell. And just like Kurzgesagt, Immune is filled with these very colorful illustrations that explain what the different cells of the immune system do and how they work. It covers T cells, B cells, macrophages, neutrophils, how vaccines work, autoimmune disease. There’s even a short chapter on COVID.

IRA FLATOW: Wow.

VALERIE THOMPSON: So it’s great for that, yeah.

IRA FLATOW: Do you need to know biology, studying it? Or is it so basic that you learn everything?

VALERIE THOMPSON: No, I think that’s a real attribute of this book. It’s very playful. It’s very irreverent. He talks about receptors being like the noses of your cells. And he compares different categories of T cells to character classes in Dungeons and Dragons. So I’m sure there’s going to be some hardcore immunologists who are like, this isn’t exactly how it works. But I think it’s great because he gets the science right, and he does so while keeping things light and conversational, which is really hard for a topic this complex.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, we could all use a book like this.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, I think so.

IRA FLATOW: And it makes the immune system understandable, and it’s a big year for vaccination, plus, all the talk about COVID-19 variants, whether the immune system will recognize them as well. So yeah, I’m going to pick that book up because you can’t read too much about it, can you?

VALERIE THOMPSON: Right, right. And this is like– I’m a biologist by training. But I’m like, the immune system is really hard to understand. So I think a lot of us could benefit from something like this.

IRA FLATOW: And it’s called Immune by Philip Dettmer, D-E-T-T-M-E-R, correct?

VALERIE THOMPSON: That’s right.

IRA FLATOW: You know, I love this. And another book that fits right into this now is a book about Dr. Fauci as a kid. It’s a kid’s book. It’s called Dr. Fauci, How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor. And the book is by author Kate Messner. And it’s a really delightful read about Anthony Fauci’s childhood, how he got interested in science, started his career in medicine, eventually went on to NIH. And you know, his parents were pharmacists, and he’d go around Brooklyn delivering prescriptions on his bicycle? Did anybody know that?

VALERIE THOMPSON: I had no idea. Was that his impetus for getting interested in science? That’s what it was?

IRA FLATOW: Well, I guess, he grew up with his parents sort of being scientists as they were pharmacists, or they’re medical people. But it also talks about how he was curious about everything. And his curiosity, I think, is what led him into his medical career. And he’s very good at listening to other people. And he always questioned assumptions. And he had this very stick-to-itiveness. He was not going to give up when he didn’t find the answer to what he wanted to know. And it’s a really cute book.

VALERIE THOMPSON: That sounds great. It sounds like lessons, too, that are really great for children to hear about being tenacious, and being curious, and things like that. So that sounds nice.

IRA FLATOW: Stephanie, Stephanie, have you read this?

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, I haven’t read that one, but I’m looking forward to it. I had no idea about his family background either. So it looks like a great pick.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, it’s a great kids’ book. And let me repeat it. It’s called Dr. Fauci, How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor by Kate Messner. Speaking, Stephanie, about the times we live in, you both– you and Valerie both picked Elizabeth Colbert’s under a White Sky as one of yours– all about the ways we’ve tried to fix our own footprint on the environment. We spoke with Elizabeth when this book came out. Stephanie, why did you pick this one?

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, I think I picked it first because her writing is always so accessible. I think that’s why I love The Sixth Extinction as well just because it’s a great book that you can just get into without any background in science. And this one is the same as well. She just draws you into the subject. And you’re not overwhelmed with facts or anything. You just learn so much about it. And she just talks about how it’s not like shaming or guilt or anything, just explaining what our impact is on the environment and what we can do to make changes to fix it. So what did you think, Valerie?

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, yeah, Valerie, what’s your opinion on it?

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VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, no, I totally agree. I mean, it was kind of interesting. She dives deep into these specific subjects, so she’ll talk about everything from controlling invasive species that we’ve been introduced to certain habitats without realizing the destruction they were going to cause to engineering coral that can survive in warmer water– so trying to save coastal lands have been deprived of sediments and undermined by oil and gas drilling.

And it’s really interesting because I feel like she has– there’s this tension throughout the book of, are we going to be able to engineer our way out of a problem that we engineered our way into? But you know, it’s like, we don’t have a choice, is the bottom line of the book. We have to do something, that doing nothing is no longer an option.

IRA FLATOW: Well, was it a hopeful book then, that we could change what we’re doing or possibly engineer some ways around it?

VALERIE THOMPSON: I don’t know. What do you think, Stephanie? I don’t feel super hopeful. [LAUGHS]

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, I kind of thought it was hopeful because it is like Valerie said, we have to take action. We don’t have a choice. So in that aspect for me, I did find it hopeful because this is what we have to do in order to make it better.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah.

VALERIE THOMPSON: I guess, it did instill– I mean, I don’t know if I left feeling hopeful. But I did feel very proud of like what science has accomplished. It’s the people that are coming up with these measures, these sometimes very extreme measures to try to undo some of the damage we’ve done to the Earth. I think it is really– in that regard, it is a really– gives you a lot of hope in what we can do– will be able to do in the future.

IRA FLATOW: And I’m glad we’re ending with my last pick, which sort of fits into this last one that you mentioned. It’s Disasterology by emergency management researcher Samantha Montano. It’s not exactly uplifting. [LAUGHTER]

VALERIE THOMPSON: They can’t all be uplifting, Ira.

IRA FLATOW: No, no, we try. She talks a lot about the science of disasters. And it is a science, she mentions. And how reassuring, and she details how her field can better respond to a future where we’ll definitely see more extreme weather absolutely colliding with human habitation. So I thought it was really interesting. I never knew there was a word called disasterology and you could be a disasterologist.

VALERIE THOMPSON: So is there like a pathway for like how are we going to deal with these things? Or is she just kind of laying out the problem?

IRA FLATOW: She’s laying it out. And one interesting point that she makes– and I thought about this– is that she never uses– doesn’t want us to use the phrase natural disaster ever again.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Oh, interesting. Did she say why?

IRA FLATOW: Well, yeah, because let’s say, there are no people on Earth, and there is no disaster. A disaster only happens when it’s human-made, people living where they shouldn’t be living, or climate change changes the environment. So a disaster has to be connected with extreme weather where people are living– a flood. If you weren’t there, the river would just flood, and nothing would happen.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, that’s a great point.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: That is a great point. Yeah, thanks. I need to read that one as well

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday from WNYC Studios. In case you’re just joining us, we’re talking about the best science books of 2021 with Stephanie Sendaula and Valerie Thompson. Valerie, one last book from you, and it’s not at all least. It’s a book about the field of cosmology and one Black woman’s journey to join it. Tell us about that.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Sure. So this book is called The Disordered Cosmos this is by physicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. So there’s a ton of rah-rah isn’t science amazing books out there. And we’ve talked about some of them. But we also kind of owe it to ourselves to confront the parts that aren’t working. And this does a little bit of both. So it begins with this kind of whirlwind tour of the standard model of particle physics, and general relativity, and cosmology. But that’s just the first four chapters.

So from here, she goes into this examination of the intersections of physics and race. So both, in terms of the actual physics associated with melanin, which is the pigment in skin that determines how dark our skin is, and then in terms of the barriers that are faced by people of color who choose to pursue a career in physics, and then more generally, who gets to decide what we call science?

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, no, that’s what I liked about it too just because as a Black woman, I didn’t really know that much about how Black women in physics, the barriers they face. So I know there is racism in STEM fields, but I just didn’t know the pervasiveness of it. I like how she just explains that we need to do better. And she explains her personal story and why the issue is that she is faced throughout her career. And this is a really great read also because she makes it really accessible. So anyone can just jump in. And it’s a good read for people who don’t know that much about science but are looking for a good place to start.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, and I think it’s nice too because, like I said, her love for the field is there. I mean, she doesn’t sugarcoat her critiques of the state of modern physics. But you can hear her passion for physics in there. And so it’s a nice blending of the two.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, I agree.

IRA FLATOW: Cool, cool, cool book to leave, very, very timely read right now, leaving 2021 learning some cool new things but also thinking hard about how the scientific enterprise itself has to do better. That book, The Disordered Cosmos by Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein.

One last question for you both before we go, can we get ahead of ourselves a little bit? Are there any new books you’ve got sitting on your desk waiting to read and looking forward to in 2022?

VALERIE THOMPSON: So for me on my list, there’s a new book coming out in March by Maya Weinstock. And this is a book called Carbon Queen and it’s a biography of Mildred Dresselhaus, who was kind of a pioneer in nanoscience, which is– this is a person and a field that I don’t know very much about. So I’m really looking forward to reading that one.

IRA FLATOW: Great pick. We also interviewed Mildred years ago on Science Friday. So if you want to go look that up on our website, you can find that interview. Yeah, she was iconic in her field.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, yeah. I can’t I can’t wait to listen to that interview.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: And I can jump in too. So I’m looking forward to The Tree Line by Ben Rollins, which is coming out in January– so very soon. And he talks about the shifting tree line that’s happening in the northern regions of the world– so Canada, Siberia, Greenland, and Alaska– and the issues that animals in the region, like reindeer are facing as the tree is kind of shift in the wake of climate change. So this isn’t an optimistic book, per se, but it is an important one.

IRA FLATOW: Well, I’m glad we have rounded up all these books and the important ones. And I want to thank you both and for taking time to be with us today and wishing you a happy holiday.

STEPHANIE SENDAULA: Yeah, thank you, Ira. It’s been great to be here again.

VALERIE THOMPSON: Yeah, it’s great to be back. Thanks so much.

IRA FLATOW: You’re Welcome. Stephanie Sendaula, Associate Editor with Library Journal, Valerie Thompson, Senior Editor covering books at Science Magazine. And of course, if you weren’t fast enough with your pencil, you can check out our full list of books on our website, sciencefriday.com/books.

(Video) Book reviews | Three popular science books you should read (and one you shouldn't)

Copyright © 2021 Science Friday Initiative. All rights reserved. Science Friday transcripts are produced on a tight deadline by 3Play Media. Fidelity to the original aired/published audio or video file might vary, and text might be updated or amended in the future. For the authoritative record of Science Friday’s programming, please visit the original aired/published recording. For terms of use and more information, visit our policies pages athttp://www.sciencefriday.com/about/policies/

FAQs

Which books should I read in 2021? ›

The Best Books to Read in 2021
  • Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (January)
  • Nora by Nuala O'Connor (January)
  • Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu.
  • Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion (January)
  • Milk Fed by Melissa Broder (February)
  • My Year Abroad by Chang Rae Lee (February)
  • Gay Bar by Jeremy Atherton Lin (February)
28 Nov 2021

What are good science books reading? ›

The Best Science Books of All Time
  • The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee. ...
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. ...
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. ...
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuvol Noah Harari.
17 May 2019

Which is the No 1 book in the world? ›

Top 100 best selling books of all time
RankTitleAuthor
1Da Vinci Code,TheBrown, Dan
2Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsRowling, J.K.
3Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneRowling, J.K.
4Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixRowling, J.K.
45 more rows

What is the most bought book 2022? ›

Top 10 Selling Books, 2022 Year-to-Date
RankTitleAuthor
1It Ends With UsColleen Hoover
2Where the Crawdads SingDelia Owens
3VerityColleen Hoover
4Ugly LoveColleen Hoover
6 more rows

What is the best selling science book? ›

These 20 Best Selling Science Books Are Truly Fascinating
The GeneSiddhartha Mukherjee
The Wright BrothersDavid McCullough
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at WarMary Roach
The Power of HabitCharles Duhigg
Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindYuval Noah Harari
16 more rows
18 Jul 2016

Which study is best for science? ›

10 Best Bachelor of Science Degrees
  • Computer Science. Computer science degrees focus on things like programming and web development. ...
  • Finance. ...
  • Information Technology. ...
  • Biology. ...
  • Mechanical Engineering. ...
  • Electrical Engineering. ...
  • Chemistry. ...
  • Mathematics.

Which science is best for future? ›

5. Robotics engineering
  • Artificial intelligence.
  • Mechanical engineering.
  • Electrical engineering.
  • Computer science.
  • Mathematics.
  • Psychology.
  • Physics.
16 Aug 2022

What is the third most read book in the world 2021? ›

The Third most read book is Quotation from the works of Mao Tse –tung. The above book recorded sales, were about 820 million copies in the last 50 years. It is shortly known as “The Little Red Book, it is also most known book of all time.

What is the most selling book? ›

Tolkien, that lack comprehensive sales figures. According to Guinness World Records as of 1995, the Bible is the best-selling book of all time with an estimated 5 billion copies sold and distributed.

What is the most printed book in the world 2021? ›

The best-selling book of all time is the Christian Bible.

Which is the scientific holy book? ›

The Holy Qur'an is the book of God that was revealed to His Prophet (Muhammad), 1450 years ago.It has many miracles.. Main of the most important of these miracles: the verses in which scientific references were only known in the last two centuries, and science has proven their authenticity.

Who is the best author of science? ›

10 Best Scientific Authors You Need to Read
  • From Cosmos To Conservation: Top Ten Scientific Authors Of All Time.
  • Carl Sagan.
  • Stephen Hawking.
  • Roger Penrose.
  • Philip Plait.
  • Richard Dawkins.
  • Matt Ridley.
  • David Attenborough.

Which science book is best for competitive exams? ›

Books for General Science for Competitive Exams
  • Lucent's General Science. ...
  • General Science for competitive Exams (Objective & Subjective) by BK Editorial Board. ...
  • Magbook General Science 2021by Arihant. ...
  • General Science for RRB Junior Engineer, NTPC, ALP & Group D Exams by Disha Experts.

What is the number 1 most sold book? ›

The Bible. The Bible is the best-selling book of all time, having sold around 5 billion copies to date. The book had several authors and can be roughly divided into two parts: The Old Testament and the New Testament.

What is the highest rated book on Goodreads 2022? ›

The 22 best books of 2022 so far, according to Goodreads:
  • "Reminders of Him" by Colleen Hoover. ...
  • "The Paris Apartment" by Lucy Foley. ...
  • "The Maid" by Nita Prose. ...
  • "Book Lovers" by Emily Henry. ...
  • "House of Sky and Breath" by Sarah J. ...
  • "A Flicker in the Dark" by Stacy Willingham. ...
  • "Hook, Line, and Sinker" by Tessa Bailey.
11 May 2022

What books are currently on the New York Times bestseller list? ›

Hardcover Fiction
  • 3 weeks on the list. THE BOYS FROM BILOXI. by John Grisham. ...
  • New this week. GOING ROGUE. by Janet Evanovich. ...
  • 2 weeks on the list. NO PLAN B. ...
  • New this week. TRIPLE CROSS. ...
  • 9 weeks on the list. FAIRY TALE. ...
  • 7 weeks on the list. DREAMLAND. ...
  • 3 weeks on the list. DEMON COPPERHEAD. ...
  • 4 weeks on the list. LONG SHADOWS.

What is the most special book in the world? ›

The Bible.

This sacred text brought Christianity to the world and has continued to serve as a source of inspiration for millions of people. It is the most translated and the most frequently purchased book in the world.

What are the 3 books that inspire you the most about sales? ›

Best Books on Sales: 27 Reads to Inspire Salespeople and Sales Managers
  • How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling. ...
  • Fanatical Prospecting: The Ultimate Guide to Opening Sales Conversations and Filling the Pipeline by Leveraging Social Selling, Telephone, Email, Text, and Cold Calling. ...
  • Endless Referrals.
7 Jan 2016

Which subject is the hardest in science? ›

Chemistry. Chemistry is famous for being one of the hardest subjects ever, so it's no surprise that a Chemistry degree is fiercely challenging. Just one topic in Chemistry (for example, organic chemistry) is incredibly complex.

Which science is the easiest? ›

Psychology is commonly thought of as the easiest of the science majors thanks to its relative lack of complex math, although psych majors can still expect to do a fair amount of statistical analysis on their way to a degree.

Which science should I study first? ›

The most logical sequence is physics, then chemistry, and then biology. This takes you up the hierarchy from the the most basic to the most complex. Much of chemistry is applied physics (physical chemistry), and much of modern biology is biochemistry/molecular biology.

What is the best thing to study in 2022? ›

This list details some of the most popular and lucrative college majors in demand in 2022.
  • Nursing. ...
  • Hospitality. ...
  • Education. ...
  • Computer Science. ...
  • Architecture. ...
  • Pharmaceutical Sciences. ...
  • Information Technology. ...
  • Construction Management.

Who is the best scientist in 2022? ›

Peter Reich, director of the Institute for Global Change Biology at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability, has been ranked the No. 1 ecology and evolution scientist in the world and in the United States by Research.com, a prominent academic platform for scientists.

Which science is most in demand? ›

Top science fields in demand
  • Biomedical engineer and technology.
  • Chemistry.
  • Computer and software engineering.
  • Geology and petroleum technology.
  • Medical sciences.
  • Nuclear engineering and technology.
  • Psychology.
  • Research and development.

What is considered the greatest book ever written? ›

The Greatest Books of All Time
  1. 1 . In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. ...
  2. 2 . Ulysses by James Joyce. ...
  3. 3 . Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. ...
  4. 4 . One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. ...
  5. 5 . The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. ...
  6. 6 . Moby Dick by Herman Melville. ...
  7. 7 . War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. ...
  8. 8 .

What is the most read book in history? ›

The most read book in the world is the Bible. Writer James Chapman created a list of the most read books in the world based on the number of copies each book sold over the last 50 years. He found that the Bible far outsold any other book, with a whopping 3.9 billion copies sold over the last 50 years.

Who is the most successful author 2021? ›

  • J.K. Rowling. Net worth: $1 billion.
  • James Patterson. Net worth: $750 million.
  • Candy Spelling. Net worth: $600 million.
  • Paulo Coelho. Net worth: $500 million.
  • Danielle Steel. Net worth: $385 million.
  • Nora Roberts. Net worth: $370 million.
  • Pleasant Rowland. Net worth: $310 million.
  • Barbara Taylor Bradford. Net worth: $300 million.

What is the longest book in the world 2021 in words? ›

If only he can make the woman remember him… “Marienbad My Love” is the world's longest novel, a multi-million-word, multiple-volume work meticulously assembled through calculation and chance from fragments of pre-existing texts both written and appropriated by Mark Leach over the course of 30 years – “the movie,” as ...

Which country reads the most books 2021? ›

The country that reads the most books is India! They led every country on the map with an average of 10 hours and 42 minutes. That is a good average amount for a country as a whole.

What are the 3 holy books? ›

The three Holy Books and the Holy Land geographically
  • Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) The Tanakh is the Bible that is used in Judaism, also known as the Hebrew Bible. ...
  • The New Testament. ...
  • The Quran.

Which are the 4 holy books? ›

Belief in the Books of God: Muslims believe that God revealed holy books or scriptures to a number of God's messengers. These include the Quran (given to Muhammad), the Torah (given to Moses), the Gospel (given to Jesus), the Psalms (given to David), and the Scrolls (given to Abraham).

What are the 7 holy books? ›

Table of Contents
  • Gita:
  • Ramayana:
  • Vedas:
  • Guru Granth Sahib:
  • Buddhism:
  • Bible:
  • Quran:

Who is No 1 scientist ever? ›

Albert Einstein is one of the most famous scientists in the world. He used to be an eccentric person who was perhaps the only scientist in the world who has become such a household name. His theories of relativity, gravitation and his understanding of molecules have defined new approaches in science.

Who is the father of all science? ›

Science as a whole
FieldPerson/s considered "father" or "mother"
Science (modern)Galileo Galilei (1564–1642)
Science (ancient)Thales (c. 624/623 – c. 548/545 BC)

Who is the Kings of science? ›

Physics is the King of Science ..

Which is toughest book for physics? ›

Problems in General Physics by IE Irodov

This book isn't meant for beginners and must be done only after a complete practice of some standard JEE book or coaching material. Irodov contains questions only and there is no theory along with them. The questions are long and tough.

Which is better NCERT or arihant? ›

Both are good books and having good solutions it totally depends on student which book he/she prefer. Some students prefer Arihant and some students prefer MTG. If you want you can initially go for Arihant and after that you can go for MTG.

Which is best MTG or Oswaal? ›

You just compare number of questions included chapterwise in both the books -OSWAL and MTG. You will realise that MTG is far better.

What is the most bought book in the world 2021? ›

These are the bestselling books of 2021.
  • Bill Martin Jr., Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? ( ...
  • Jeff Kinney, The Deep End (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #15) (543,624 copies sold)
  • Laura Dave, The Last Thing He Told Me (531,404 copies sold)
  • John Grisham, The Judge's List (517,436 copies sold)
10 Jan 2022

Which book has been read the most? ›

The most read book in the world is the Bible. Writer James Chapman created a list of the most read books in the world based on the number of copies each book sold over the last 50 years.

Is the Bible the best-selling book of all time 2021? ›

The Bible. The Bible is the best-selling book of all time, having sold around 5 billion copies to date.

What is the most sold book ever? ›

25 Best-Selling Books of All-Time
  • #1 – Don Quixote (500 million copies sold) ...
  • #2 – A Tale of Two Cities (200 million copies sold) ...
  • #3 – The Lord of the Rings (150 million copies sold) ...
  • #4 – The Little Prince (142 million copies sold) ...
  • #5 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (107 million copies sold)

What sold the most in 2021? ›

21 Best Selling Products Online in 2021
  • Beard oil.
  • Massage guns.
  • Microphones.
  • Mattresses.
  • Rugs.
  • Resistance bands.
  • Dog beds.
  • Blankets.
10 Feb 2021

What books should I buy for 2022? ›

The Best Books of 2022 So Far
  • The Naked Don't Fear the Water, Matthieu Aikins.
  • In Love, Amy Bloom.
  • The School for Good Mothers, Jessamine Chan.
  • The Candy House, Jennifer Egan.
  • Olga Dies Dreaming, Xochitl Gonzalez.
  • Fiona and Jane, Jean Chen Ho.
  • Constructing A Nervous System, Margo Jefferson.
  • Vladimir, Julia May Jonas.
2 Jun 2022

What are CEOS reading in 2022? ›

Top 10 CEO Book Recommendations
  • The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger.
  • It's the Manager: Moving From Boss to Coach by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter.
  • Invent and Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos by Jeff Bezos and Walter Isaacson.

Which is the best-selling book of all time answer? ›

Guinness World Records estimates that over five billion copies of the Bible have been sold, making it the best-selling book of all time.

Who Wrote the Bible? ›

Even after nearly 2,000 years of its existence, and centuries of investigation by biblical scholars, we still don't know with certainty who wrote its various texts, when they were written or under what circumstances. READ MORE: The Bible Says Jesus Was Real.

What books will be valuable in the future? ›

7 rare books that could be worth a fortune
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling. ...
  • Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding. ...
  • The Great Gatsby by F. ...
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. ...
  • Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. ...
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell. ...
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
2 May 2020

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