Science & Technology

10 Fascinating Science Books for Gifting in 2018

Fiction is great, but if you ask us, there's nothing more jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, or downright terrifying than reality itself. In honor of that, we've rounded up 10 of our favorite books about the real world, from the history of philosophical thought to the processes that put food on your table to the parasites that turn their hosts into zombies. Whatever your loved ones are into, you're sure to find a book to give them this holiday.

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1. The Story of Swearing: "What the F" by Benjamin K. Bergen

Did you know that swearing reduces pain? And that kids today have a different definition of what makes a word "bad" than their parents do? In the surprisingly clean book, "What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves," Benjamin K. Bergen delves into the history, neuroscience, and cultural importance of naughty language. Plus, the cover will definitely get you some raised eyebrows on your commute.

2. Discern Your Dinner: "Big Chicken" by Maryn McKenna

Here's something weird: At the turn of the 20th century, we only raised chickens for their eggs, not their meat. It wasn't until farmers figured out a way to make these lean birds bigger and meatier that using them for meat was even worth it. Unfortunately, that way was through antibiotics, a decision that has left a superbug crisis in its wake. It sounds depressing, but "Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats" by the brilliant Maryn McKenna won't just teach you how agriculture turned small chickens into hulking monsters while hanging human health out to dry — it has a light at the end of the tunnel.

3. It's Interesting, We Swear: "The World in a Grain" by Vince Beiser

Look, we know you didn't wake up this morning planning to read a book about sand. You might even be amazed there's enough about it to fill an entire book. But we promise you, "The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization" by Vince Beiser will make you a believer in the importance of this (endangered!) resource. Our interview with the author on the Curiosity Daily podcast was a listener favorite, and for good reason.

4. Meet Your Microbiome: "I Contain Multitudes" by Ed Yong

You're probably familiar with the fact that you have gut bacteria, and possibly that those bacteria have something to do with the way you digest food. But the truth is so much bigger than that. In "I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life" by Ed Yong, you learn how the bugs that live inside you are more numerous, more diverse, and more essential to your survival than you ever realized. If you're like us, it'll also leave you even more skeptical of probiotics.

5. Lord of the Rings, But for Quantum Physics: "Atom Land" by Jon Butterworth

We have never seen such a charming a book about such a dense subject. Jon Butterworth's "Atom Land: A Guided Tour Through the Strange (and Impossibly Small) World of Particle Physics" takes a page out of the best fantasy novels and guides you through the particles of the Standard Model toward the theoretical substances that make up our universe. He does it all with adventurous metaphors and old-fashioned maps of fantastical places, like the Isle of Leptons, the land of Bosonia, and the highway of Electromagnetism.

6. IRL Zombies: "Plight of the Living Dead" by Matt Simon

Zombies are very real — they're just usually the size of an insect. In "Plight of the Living Dead: What Real-Life Zombies Reveal About Our World — and Ourselves" by Matt Simon, you'll learn about the terrifying parasites that have evolved to control their hosts' brains and lead them toward a gruesome end. When they talked to the author on the Curiosity Daily podcast, Cody and Ashley just sat with their jaws agape. Zombification is very scary — and humans aren't immune.

7. Go the Distance: "Endure" by Alex Hutchinson

Our managing editor picked up this book because she's an endurance athlete, but it inspired her because she's a human. "Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance" by Alex Hutchinson explores just how far the body can go when everything is at stake. It turns out that your brain puts the brakes on your abilities way before you reach your physical limit, and everyone from marathon runners to deep-sea divers have exploited this loophole to achieve things no one thought possible. For a preview, check out our full-length interview with Alex Hutchinson on the Curiosity Podcast.

8. The Little Organ that Could: "Heart: a History" by Sandeep Jauhar

If you're going to learn about the heart, you might as well learn about it from a heart surgeon. That's why Sandeep Jauhar writes "Heart: a History" with such deftness. Have you ever wondered why we refer to this organ when talking about love, bravery, or deep emotion? Can you imagine the risks involved when surgeons first operated on the heart? Jauhar's engaging book delves into all of this and more.

9. Philosophy Disguised as Fiction: "Sophie's World" by Jostein Gaarder

If you're like some science fans, you may think philosophy is just ancient history that has no bearing on the modern world. The problem is that without philosophy, there would be no science — that's why an understanding of philosophy is so important. But because there are so many different branches of philosophy, it can be hard to get started with an easy, basic overview. That's why "Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy" by Jostein Gaarder is so brilliant: it takes the reader through the entire history of philosophical thought, but wraps it up in a pleasant story about a young girl and her magical pen pal. It's become an international bestseller since it was published back in 2007, and when you read it, you'll understand why.

10. A Taste of What's Ahead: "What Future 2018"

The only thing better than hearing about science and technology from an expert is hearing about it from multiple experts. "What Future 2018: The Year's Best Writing on What's Next for People, Technology & the Planet," edited by Meehan Crist and Rose Eveleth, is a collection of long-form essays from and about scientists, philosophers, and journalists who are thinking about what the world might look like in the future. They touch on issues from climate change and human migration to artificial intelligence to gender politics. If you've ever wondered what the future holds, this book will illuminate a few mysteries.

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Written by Curiosity Staff December 7, 2018

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