Other than watching movies with her friends and going running, Olive Smith spends all her time in Stanford’s biology lab. A third year Ph.D. student, Olive wants her friend Anh to date her ex-boyfriend Jeremy. To convince Anh that she’s completely over Jeremy, Olive impulsively kisses hot and grumpy professor Adam Carlsen, then convinces him to fake-date her. Olive is Canadian, and has no remaining family other than her grad-student friends. A fear of public speaking has her questioning if she can make a career in academia. Adam, who also enjoys running, is known for his blunt evaluations of his students, and has a reputation for rudeness. He is nothing but kind to Olive, and is happy to fake-date her for his own reasons, usually on weekly coffee dates, though he can’t stand the smell of pumpkin spice lattes. They are in different departments, so dating is allowed. When forced to share a room at a conference in Boston, things heat up, and Olive struggles with how to handle another professor’s harassment. Witty, snarky banter enlivens this engaging romantic comedy written by a female neuroscientist. Hazelwood’s Love on the Brain is the top Library Reads pick for August, and another book is scheduled for January. Readalike authors include Talia Hibbert, Denise Williams, Jen DeLuca, and Suzanne Park.
I just finished reading First Steps: How Walking Upright Made Us Human by Jeremy DeSilva, and I was reflecting on how much I enjoy reading popular science books. I may only read a few each year, and I read them much more slowly than fiction, but I like learning about something new to me and appreciate the fine writing by a scientist or journalist who has really delved into a topic and is enthusiastic to share some of what they’ve learned with non-scientists. Other books I read this year include Kindred by Rebecca Wragg Sykes and The Arbornaut by Meg Lowman. Here is a list of recent popular science books in the library’s collection, along with a few about to be published. The variety of topics covered is remarkable, and I hope to enjoy more of these titles soon. Happy reading!
Recent Popular Science Books
Biberdorf, Kate. It’s Elemental: The Hidden Chemistry in Everything
Black, Riley. The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World
Bryson, Bill. The Body: A Guide for Occupants
DeSilva, Jeremy. First Steps: How Upright Walking Made Us Human
Dettmer, Philipp. Immune: A Journey into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive
Ellenberg, Jordan. Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else
Everts, Sarah. The Joy of Sweat: The Strange Science of Perspiration
Frank, Adam. Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth
Kaku, Michio. The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything
Knoll, Andrew. A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters
Kolbert, Elizabeth. Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future
Levesque, Emily. The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers
Lowman, Margaret. The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us
Macfarlane, Robert. Underland: A Deep Time Journey
Nestor, James. Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art
Panciroli, Elsa. Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution
Phoenix, Jess. Ms. Adventure: My Wild Explorations in Science, Lava, and Life
Prescod-Weinstein, Chanda. The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime and Dreams Deferred
Raff, Jennifer. Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas
Raven, Catherine. Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship
Roach, Mary: Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law
Scales, Helen. The Brilliant Abyss: Exploring the Majest Hidden Life of the Deep Ocean and the Looming Threat That Imperils It
Seager, Sara. The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir
Sheldrake, Merlin. Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures
Simard, Suzanne. Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest
Widder, Edith. Below the Edge of Darkness: A Memoir of Exploring Light and Life in the Deep Sea
Wohlleben, Peter. The Heartbeat of Trees: Embracing Our Ancient Bond with Forests and Nature
Wragg Sykes, Rebecca. Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art
Zimmer, Carl. Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive
Ms. Adventure: My Wild Explorations in Science, Lava, and Life by Jess Phoenix
Full of adventure on land and sea, Jess Phoenix describes her education and adventures in becoming a geologist and volcanologist, from Hawaii to Ecuador. She’s a member of the Explorers Club in Manhattan, and has run for Congress. Some of her most compelling stories including research on an underwater volcano, and in parts of Mexico where the danger comes from clashes between drug cartels and the police. She has also had her share of misadventures and injuries, not necessarily work related, and struggled to show real science during filming a Discovery television show. Her ultimate goal is to make science more inclusive and share her love of science. Readers of real life adventure or popular science will enjoy Jess’s story, which will be published March 2.
Retired NASA astronaut Terry Virts offers an entertaining and informative look at what it’s like to be an astronaut. Colonel Virts first flew to the International Space Station on the shuttle Endeavor, helping install the cupola module. Later he spent 200 days on the space station in 2014 and 2015, launching on a Soyuz spacecraft with Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and Italian astronaut Samantha Christoforetti. Humorous anecdotes abound, including the difficulties of getting his extra-large head into a helmet, and learning to cut Christoforetti’s hair. The failure of three cargo ships to reach the space station postponed their return date, but Virts still gives a thumbs up for the quality of food they ate. He slept better in zero gravity than on Earth; verified by one of the many science experiments he worked on. Three spacewalks and filming an IMAX documentary were highlights. If you’ve ever wondered what life in space is like, Virts covers everything I could think of, from adapting to zero gravity to what he missed most on Earth. The most sobering chapter is when he served as family support for the crew of Columbia, and was with the family members when the shuttle exploded. An Air Force Academy graduate, Colonel Virts was a test and fighter pilot with the Air Force before he joined NASA. Virts thoroughly prepared for his spacewalks in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (a huge pool) before his spaceflights. What if scenarios are also described, as well as the wonder of being in space and looking back at Earth. This memoir is a great read for space buffs. Virts is also the author and photographer of View From Above : An Astronaut Photographs the World. Brenda
Another enjoyable popular science book that is part memoir. Planetary scientist Sarah Stewart Johnson describes human interest in Mars, from just seeing a bright spot in the sky to Lowell imagining canals and civilizations to William Pickering reporting the weather on Mars from Jamaica, with incredible descriptions. Then disappointments, with failed missions and bleak, lifeless images interspersed with joys, such as finding that there is water on Mars, and not all of it is acidic.
The summer after her freshman year in college, Sarah got to travel to the Mojave Desert to help test early versions of Mars rovers. She grew up in Kentucky, where her father was interested in astronomy and geology. In the book, Sarah describes a trip to Arizona with her father where she got to look through medium range telescopes, and it made a more personal connection with the solar system than with huge telescopes where she views images on a computer screen.
Sarah has worked on Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers, looking for the signatures of chemical compounds that might indicate life or the possibility of life, in the past or present. Her writing is accessible, enthusiastic, and lyrical. Clearly, including the Perseverance rover due to land on Mars next February, there are many more observations to make, and more discoveries to come. The author dreams of finding microscopic signs of life on Mars, or on the moons of Jupiter or Saturn, including Titan, Enceladus, and Europa.
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This memoir is a really enjoyable read for anyone interested in popular science. Levesque combines her own experiences with recent history and trends in astronomy. Interviewing numerous colleagues for this book, Levesque entertains with stories of viewing the sky at huge telescopes on remote mountains, complete with jet lagged drives on gravel mountain roads, encounters with tarantulas, scorpions, and close calls with lightning strikes and volcanic eruptions. Carefully planned observing time in places as remote as Chile’s Atacama Desert, scheduled far in advance, can be disrupted by bad weather or mechanical difficulties. Advances in astronomy, her own research, sexism and racism in the field, and controversy over building new telescopes are described, along with her excitement at viewing the 2017 solar eclipse, and the disorientation of remote viewing far away from some modern telescopes. Readalikes include Lab Girl by Hope Jahrens and The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seaver. The Great Courses video lectures A Field Guide to the Planets narrated by Sabine Stanley may also appeal.
This compelling memoir of an astrophysicist who searches for exoplanets is one of the best, most memorable books I’ve read this year. Sara is an accomplished, pioneering scientist whose career achievements alone could easily fill a book, However, it’s her remarkable personal story that has reviewers describing this book as luminous, insightful, and extraordinary. As a girl in Ontario, Sarah fell in love with the stars. She earned college degrees from the University of Toronto and Harvard, kayaked with her future husband Michael, and started a family, then began a journey through grief after her husband died of cancer. Sara reinvents herself with the help of the Widows of Concord, juggling work, single parenting, traveling, and dating, and learns that she is autistic. The Smallest Lights in the Universe will be published on August 18. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a good readalike.
For a remarkable reading adventure, join Robert Macfarlane as he explores the hidden worlds underground, from Slovenia to England to Greenland. This is a book to savor, lyrically written, for readers of adventure, travel, nature, and history, except for the claustrophobic. Moving below ground, he often travels backwards in time, to see red pictographs in Norwegian sea caves, the catacombs deep beneath Paris, and the fungal network linking trees in Epping Forest. There are ancient barrows, a physics lab in a Yorkshire mine, a glacier in Greenland, and caves built to receive nuclear waste in Finland. In China there’s a cave system with its own weather system, and a river deep underground connects Slovenia and northern Italy. Receding glaciers and melting permafrost show that nothing is permanent. Awe and brief moments of terror in locations ordinary and sublime make for a fascinating look at unimagined worlds. Readalikes include Into the Planet, The Hidden Life of Trees, Frozen in Time, In the Kingdom of Ice, and Deep Down Dark. Macfarlane’s other books include The Old Ways, Landmarks, and The Wild Places.
Conventional wisdom is turned upside down in Epstein’s appealing look at generalists and how they may be more successful than specialists. Generalists, who may have experience in several different fields or a wide variety of interests, may be better at problem solving, inventing, creativity and even science or sports. A variety of colorful anecdotes from generalists in business, science, technology, sports, and music make for an entertaining, thought-provoking read. Intriguing if not always practical, this book is sure to be popular, and is a good readalike for books by Malcolm Gladwell, Charles Duhigg, and The Optimist’s Telescope by Bina Venkataraman, along with Grit by Angela Duckworth, who reaches a different conclusion.
Seismologist Lucy Jones describes a wide variety of natural disasters and ways communities can prepare for the future. I started reading this book after the recent 7.1 magnitude earthquake in eastern California, the day after a 6.4 magnitude quake, both of which she discussed at news conferences and at multiple television stations. As well as being a noted scientist, Dr. Jones is also an excellent storyteller, making the science behind volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and floods accessible to readers.
Two points she made repeatedly stand out for me: humans dislike randomness, look for patterns, and sometimes demand prediction even though many natural disasters are very hard to predict. In addition, we tend to forget events that happened more than three generations ago, even major natural disasters. Many Japanese coastal villages have stone tsunami markers, which saved some villages in 2011 but went unheeded in others. I had never heard about the megafloods in California and other western states in the winter of 1861-2. Huge lakes covered telegraph poles over an area larger than the state of Connecticut. Villages and farms were wiped out, and cities like Sacramento were completely regraded on a higher level. But a similar flood today would be even more devastating.
Jones writes about Pompeii, modern Italy, Lisbon, Iceland, Hurricanes Katrina and Maria, and much more. She also talks about working with Los Angeles to make the city more resilient to a future quake, and stresses the importance of planning for events that are very likely to happen, even though we don’t know exactly when or where. Suggested for readers interested in science, history, or natural disasters.