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10 of the best science books coming out this month – December 2020

Whether it's smart non-fiction, paperback or hardback, or even some sci-fi backed by hard science, here are our picks of the best popular science books coming out this month.

Do you have an insatiable thirst for knowledge? Are you curious about the world around you? Itching for something new and thrilling to pass the time, or just something to drag you away from Netflix? Either way, we recommend digging your nose into a good science book. But where to begin?

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We read A LOT of popular science books here at BBC Science Focus, so we’ve picked out what we think are the must-read books coming out in December 2020.

And if you’re still searching for great titles to add to your science reading list, sign up to the Science Focus book club newsletter and get free samples of new and popular books, plus reading recommendations and bookish news sent directly to your inbox.

Looking for Christmas gift ideas? Check out our list of the best science and tech gifts.

10 of the best popular science books out in December 2020

The Janus Point: A New Theory of Time

Cover of The Janus Point

Julian Barbour

£20, Bodley Head, 3 December 2020

Why does time flow forwards, not backwards or in a circle? Physicists have long searched for the answer, and many believe that according to the second law of thermodynamics, time is forced in one direction only.

But, in his radical new book, Julian Barbour argues that isn’t the case. Like the Greek God Janus, who is often depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions, Barbour says time flows in not one, but two ways.

Such an argument might seem overly technical, but it’s explained simply and accessibly for all to understand.

On Task: How Our Brain Gets Things Done

Cover of On Task

David Badre

£25, Princeton University Press, 5 December 2020

How billions of neurons come together to turn thought into action is astounding in itself, but cognitive neuroscientist David Badre takes this to new levels in his book.

Multitasking, self-control, the ageing brain and bad habits are just some of the cognitive functions unveiled in On Task, as well as the origins of our cognitive abilities and what it will mean for us looking forward.

Codebreaking: A Practical Guide

Cover of Codebreaking

Elonka Dunin, Klaus Schmeh

£16.99, Robinson, 10 December 2020

For amateur puzzlers and seasoned decipherers alike, this book is more than just an exercise in codebreaking. It is a history of codebreaking, a guide to the most common methods and solutions, and even Agatha Christie-esque in its detailing of real-world, yet-unsolved mysteries.

If you always give a certain family member the gift of a puzzle book at Christmas, this might be a good alternative (or additional!) present.

Dune: The Graphic Novel

Cover of Dune: The Graphic Novel

Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson, illustrated by Raúl Allén, and Patricia Martín 

£17.99, Abrams ComicArts, 10 December 2020

Refresh your memory of this famous story by Frank Herbert ahead of its return to the big screen (again) next year with this new version. Adapted by Herbert’s son, Brian, and science fiction writer Kevin J Anderson, Dune: The Graphic Novel depicts the epic adventure that unfolds on the desert planet Arrakis in stunning illustrations.

Sci-fi fans around the world have loved Herbert’s tale of interstellar politics since 1965, but this book is sure to bring a new audience to Arrakis, too.

We, Robots: Artificial Intelligence in 100 Stories

Cover of We, Robots

Edited by Simon Ings

£30, Head of Zeus, 10 December 2020

Stories from around the world and throughout history are brought together in this collection by writer Simon Ings, with one common theme: they all seek to warn us of (or propel us into) the future of artificial intelligence. Some are told through the eyes of the machine, while others follow their creators. Some are over a century old, revealing our past fears to be unfounded, but all have a place in the conversation around AI.

To find out what AI can really do, take a look at these non-fiction books for understanding computer science, machine learning and intelligent algorithms.

Not Necessarily Rocket Science: A Beginner’s Guide to Life in the Space Age

Cover of Not Necessarily Rocket Science

Kellie Gerardi

£18.95, Mango Media, 14 December 2020

Straight from the pen of a scientist working with commercial spaceflight comes a memoir of getting into the air. Kellie Gerardi has worked with NASA, tested technology that would be sent to the International Space Station, and helped develop programmes for future space exploration.

But, it hasn’t always been glamorous, says Gerardi. “Working my way up as young woman in a predominantly male industry often meant that I was the only woman in the meeting, at the dinner, on the stage, or in one case, at the entire company,” she says on her website. That’s why this book aims to make the space industry accessible to all, and it lands perfectly.

Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old

Cover of Ageless

Andrew Steele

£20, Bloomsbury, 24 December 2020

Why do we grow old? It’s a universally accepted part of the human experience. The fact that we are not immortal drives many of our decisions, whether conscious or not: do you want to spend your life in one country only? Single, or married? Chasing a career, and if so, in what?

But biologists are investigating a different question – why do we age? And, crucially, can we stop it?

In Ageless, computational biologist Andrew Steele reveals the research that is happening around the world, hoping to give us a better understanding of ageing.

The Science of Living: 219 Reasons to Rethink Your Daily Routine

Cover of The Science of Living

Dr Stuart Farrimond

£15.99, DK, 24 December 2020

If you’re making New Year’s resolutions (mind, we’d forgive you if you weren’t putting any more pressure on yourself coming out of the year that was 2020) then why not turn to science?

Dr Stuart Farrimond uses the latest research from psychology, biology, nutrition and more, to offer answers to 219 questions you might ask yourself in a day. Questions like: whether using your phone first thing when you wake up is bad, or what the most attractive qualities are to someone looking for a potential partner.

Games for Your Mind: The History and Future of Logic Puzzles

Cover of Games for Your Mind

Jason Rosenhouse

£25, Princeton University Press, 29 December 2020

Aristotle instigated the study of logic when he published a series of writings on ‘proper reasoning’. That is, how an argument is formed, and the tools one must use in a rebuttal. Since then, philosophers have commented on Aristotle’s definition of logic, some for, some against, but what logic actually is is still under discussion.

In this fascinating book, Jason Rosenhouse makes accessible the study of logic, and reveals how language has been used to create games and puzzles throughout history. Part philosophy, part maths, part activity book; Games for Your Mind is an ingenious thing.

Drink?: The New Science of Alcohol and Your Health

Cover of Drink?

Prof David Nutt

£9.99, Yellow Kite, 31 December 2020

Out this month in paperback is David Nutt’s eye-opening account of alcohol.

As the director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit at Imperial College London, Nutt knows a thing or two about the health effects of this one simple but deadly molecule.

In this definitive explanation of the science surrounding drinking, Nutt dives into subjects such as addiction and dependency, mental health, long-term damage, and the medical and societal impacts of our consumption.

The best books of all time

We reckon this is a fine selection of books to read this month, but there are plenty more that are well worth your time from the annals 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 any of the books on Instagram, and join the Science Focus Book Club for a community of other science book lovers.

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