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10 of the best science books out in September 2020

Here are our picks of the best popular science books released in September 2020.

Want to know what’s hot off the press? Check out our pick of 10 of the best popular science books coming out this month

10 of the best popular science books out in September 2020

A Rainbow Palate: How chemical dyes changed the West’s relationship with food

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Carolyn Cobbold


£32, University of Chicago Press, 22 September 2020

Our food, homes, clothes and bodies are now saturated by chemical dyes, ones that did not even exist before the 1850s, writes Carolyn Cobbold.

Public perceptions of food science, and of the chemists behind the dyes, have not necessarily been positive. Concerns raised over toxicity have led to bans on synthetic dyes in some countries, while others open the market to any and all colourings.

A Rainbow Palate reveals the colourful history of dyestuffs, their chemical compositions, representation in the media, and varying political response. Our trust in science and scientists is irrevocably linked with the dyes on our plate, says Carolyn.

What is life? Understand biology in five steps


Paul Nurse

£9.99, David Fickling Books, 3 September 2020

What does it mean to be alive?

Through his simple explanations of five key ideas in biology, Nobel Prize-winner Paul Nurse reveals how understanding ourselves, at a cellular level, can help us survive some of the biggest threats we face, from climate change to animal extinction.

The Smart Wife: Why Siri, Alexa and other smart home devices need a feminist reboot


Yolande Strengers, Jenny Kennedy

£22.75, The MIT Press, 22 September 2020

The Smart Wife reveals the ways in which gender stereotypes have shaped today’s technologies, pointing out that they are not as harmless as one might like to believe.

Instead of dismissing all digital devices, Professor Yolande Strengers and researcher Jenny Kennedy ask if a better smart home could be built – one where voice assistants, robots and smart devices aren’t simply feminised helpers doing ‘wife work’, but the futuristic technology they were meant to be.

Entangled Life: How fungi make our worlds, change our minds, and shape our futures

Entangled Life high res

Merlin Sheldrake

£20.00, Bodley Head, 3 September 2020

The fungal kingdom is as broad and busy a category as that of animals or plants, but fungi are understudied and under-appreciated, says Merlin Sheldrake. He reveals the true extent of their impact on the history of Earth, and on human life, in a way that is easy and enjoyable to read.

With Merlin’s lyrical and poetic tone, Entangled Life has the allure of nature or travel writing, but his meticulous research into the latest in scientific understanding of fungi makes this is a must-read for popular science lovers, too.

Written in Bone: Hidden stories in what we leave behind


Sue Black

£18.99, Transworld, 3 September 2020

Each of our bones tells a story. Professor Sue Black has spent her career listening to those skeletal stories, and here she recounts them, from head to toe.

Written in Bone is clever, engaging, moving and, at times, stomach-turning. It’s a fascinating story of fighting crime with science from a forensic anthropologist.

I am a book. I am a portal to the Universe.


Stefanie Posavec and Miriam Quick

£14.99, Particular Books, 3 September 2020

This book has 112 pages. It is a square, 20cm high and wide. It weighs 450g. It knows the secrets of the Universe. Open it up, dive into the data, and be prepared to want to share everything you learn with everyone around you.

How Bad Are Bananas? The carbon footprint of everything


Mike Berners-Lee

£9.99, Profile Books, 3 September 2020

In this updated edition of How Bad Are Bananas? Mike Berners-Lee – brother of Tim, the inventor of the World Wide Web – adds Twitter, Bitcoin and e-bikes to the bestselling compendium of carbon footprints. All the figures have been updated to reflect their current environmental impact, helping the reader to make choices based on the latest science.

When We Cease to Understand the World

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Benjamin Labatut

£14.99, Pushkin Press, 3 September 2020

Einstein, Schrödinger and Schwarzchild are among science history’s biggest names, and there are plenty of books focusing on their achievements and the impact they had on science.

In Benjamín Labatut’s new book, scientists take on a new form. One that is moulded by their minds, shaped by the weight of the scientific community that they carry around. Each desiring a complete understanding of the world, but forced to fight the terrible thought that it might never be achievable.

When We Cease to Understand the World blends fact with fiction to make for a reading experience quite unlike any other.

A History of the Universe in 21 Stars (and 3 imposters)


Giles Sparrow

£12.99, Welbeck, 3 September 2020

This accessible, illustrated guide to the cosmos is for both the new and the experienced stargazer.

Writer Giles Sparrow tells the stories of well-known ‘celebrity’ stars such as Proxima Centauri, Betelgeuse and our very own Sun, but also of those holding the sky’s secrets; supernovae, quasars and dark matter. Through these 21 stars (and 3 imposters) he reveals the impact that astronomy has played on science’s understanding of the past, present and future.

The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy: What animals on Earth reveal about aliens and ourselves


Dr Arik Kershenbaum

£18.99, Viking, 24 September 2020

Scientists are increasingly confident that there is life elsewhere in the Universe. But what would that life look like?

Taking the growing body of information about other planets, applying the laws of biology, principles of chemistry, and his knowledge of Earth’s history, Arik presents the possibilities for alien creatures with confidence.

Seven Pillars of Science: The incredible lightness of ice, and other scientific surprises


John Gribbin

£9.99, Icon Books, 24 September 2020

Sometimes, scientists make surprising discoveries. They find rules of the Universe which don’t seem to make sense. Take ice, for instance – why does it float on water, while other solids sink?

Luckily, John Gribbin is able to explain this, and more, in a way that is clear, engaging and even exciting.

The best books of all time

We think this is a fine selection of books to read this month, but there are plenty more that are well worth your time from the annuls of history. If you’re looking for a little inspiration, here are a few more of our book recommendations to mull over:

Are you excited to read any of the books on this list? Let us know what you think of our pick of the best science books out this month by messaging us on Twitter or Facebook, tag us in a picture of you reading the book on Instagram, and join the Science Focus Book Club for a community of other science book lovers.

  • Note: These publication dates might change due to the coronavirus outbreak.