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70 best science books you need to read in 2021

Our team has hand-picked the very best science books you should read.

A good science book won’t just teach you some interesting facts: it will help you to look at the world around you in a different way. Whether it’s an archaeology book that helps you to re-evaluate humans’ place in the natural world, or a cosmology book that takes you back to how it all began, you’ll come out the other side with a brand new perspective.

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We’ve got plenty of those in this list. But, of course, if you’re looking for something a little more light-hearted, or even a science fiction novel, there are a few of those, too.

To hear about all the latest great non-fiction, join us over at the Science Focus Book Club. You’ll get free samples of new and popular books, plus reading recommendations and bookish news sent directly to your inbox. Just sign up to the Science Focus Book Club Newsletter.

In no particular order, here are some of our very favourite science books.

The best science books to read in 2021

The Science of Can and Can’t: A Physicist’s Journey Through the Land of Counterfactuals

Cover of The Science of Can and Can’t

Chiara Marletto

Most laws of physics tell us what must happen. Throw a ball in the air and it will come back down. But physicist Chiara Marletto, a Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, says that laws like this only tell us part of the story.

The rest, she says, lie in ‘counterfactuals’: things that could be. A notebook could be written in. There is no law of physics that tells us whether it will be – but we can’t describe what it’s for without talking about the possibility.

Marletto believes that counterfactual properties like this could hold the key to solving some of the biggest problems in science, from the biology of life, to artificial intelligence, to climate change.

Project Hail Mary
Cover of Project Hail Mary

Andy Weir

An important memo to all fans of Andy Weir’s debut novel The Martian (and the Hollywood adaptation): read Project Hail Mary. Now.

While the premise of the new story sounds near identical to the author’s earlier work – a lone man is forced to use his scientific cunning after he becomes stranded from Earth – the introduction of a mystery lifeforce, which we won’t spoil here, blasts the plot in an unexpected direction.

Significantly, the protagonist is no Mark Watney, the astronaut played by Matt Damon in The Martian movie, either. The main character is, well, he doesn’t know what he is, waking from a coma next to two corpses, his memory banks empty. And if that’s not enough to draw you in, we don’t know what will.

Foodology: A Food-lover’s Guide to Digestive Health and Happiness

Cover of Foodology

Saliha Mahmood Ahmed

Foodology is part recipe book, part science book, all food. Gastroenterologist and food writer Saliha Mahmood Ahmed takes us on a tour of the digestive system, from the very first bite to… the other end. On the way, she also dives into why food makes us so happy and how a delicious smell can make our mouths water.

On top of all of this, of course, are 50 recipes designed not just to be delicious, but to support your gut health.

Always On: Hope and Fear in the Social Smartphone Era

Cover of Always On

Rory Cellan-Jones

Wake up. Check social media. Send a ‘good morning’ text. Check the weather app. Check the news… From the moment our alarm apps go off in the morning to when we finally log off Instagram at night, our smartphones are always by our sides.

On the one hand, we can connect with more people than ever before and we have unlimited access to information. But on the other, these devices are encroaching on every aspect of our lives, giving tech companies more access to and more control over everything about us.

Either way, the smartphone has arguably changed our lives more than almost any tool ever invented. In Always On, Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s chief technology correspondent, explores whether this is cause for hope or fear.

Handmade: A Scientist’s Search for Meaning through Making

Cover of Handmade

Anna Ploszajski

Scientists tend to think about materials in terms of quantities like their melting point, their density and how much pressure they can withstand. But humanity’s earliest materials scientists didn’t work in a lab measuring how much stress an object could withstand: they worked with their hands and made things.

Anna Ploszajski, herself a materials scientist, goes back to these ancient roots to explore in a hands-on way. She learns from the trial-and-error wisdom of generations of experts in clay, sugar, steel, glass, paper and more.

Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change

Cover of Be Who You Want

Christian Jarrett

The promise of changing your personality to become who you aspire to be might sound like the domain of life coaches and unconvincing self-help books. But it turns out that such a thing is possible, says psychologist Dr Christian Jarrett.

Using genuine science, Jarrett explains how you really can alter your personality to your liking, whether that’s becoming more extroverted or conscientious, or even learning to use the ‘Dark Triad’ – narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy – to your advantage.

The Motherhood Complex: The Story of Our Changing Selves

Cover of The Motherhood Complex

Melissa Hogenboom

People often say that becoming a parent is one of the best things someone can do. But we talk a lot less about how pregnancy and giving birth change the body.

Science journalist Melissa Hogenboom takes on this topic in The Motherhood Complex. She describes every aspect of the experience, from the psychological effect of your changing body to how pregnancy affects the brain.

She also looks at the social side of parenting, drawing on her experience as a mother of two to explore how a parent’s sense of self and relationship to the rest of the world are altered after they have a child.

Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Absolutely Everything

Shape

Jordan Ellenberg

Geometry is undoubtedly among most people’s least favourite topics from school. Not only is it complicated, it often seems to have no value for the real world. When am I ever going to need to know how to draw an equilateral triangle using only a ruler and a pair of compasses?

It turns out, though, that geometry really does have real-world uses. As Jordan Ellenberg explains in Shape, not only does geometry have uses in physics and artificial intelligence, it also pops up in finance, US politics and even poetry.

Swearing Is Good For You

Swearing is good for you (Best books)

Emma Byrne

The next time someone tells you off for swearing, give them a copy of this book. Byrne explains all the ways in which swearing is good for us, from pain relief to team bonding, and reveals what cursing chimpanzees can tell us about the origin of dirty words.

Mysteries Of The Quantum Universe

Mysteries of the quantum universe (Best books)

Thibault Damour & Mathieu Burniat

Billed as ‘Tintin meets Brian Cox’, this book performs the tricky task of making quantum physics accessible. Join Bob and his dog Rick on a journey through the world of the very small, talking atoms with Einstein and eating crêpes with Max Planck.

Only Connect: The Official Quiz Book and Only Connect: The Difficult Second Quiz Book

Only Connect: The Official Quiz Book and Only Connect: The Difficult Second Quiz Book, Jack Waley-Cohen and David McGaughey, £14.99, BBC Books

Jack Waley-Cohen and David McGaughey

Train yourself to win an episode of Only Connect, the BBC’s fiendish quiz hosted by Victoria Coren Mitchell. Both books of puzzles get you to find the connections, finish the sequences, defeat the Connecting Walls and decode the phrases with missing vowels.

The puzzles are classics taken from the TV programme, arranged in increasing difficulty. Start with a warm-up from the first heat, and gradually work your way up to questions worthy of the final round.

The Animals Among Us

The animals among us (Best books)

John Bradshaw

Why do we keep pets? Bradshaw argues that it goes beyond cuteness and companionship, and all the way back to an ancient connection in our shared past. Weaving together psychology and evolutionary science, the book will give pet owners a newfound appreciation for their furry friends.

Beyond Infinity

Beyond infinity (Best books)

Eugenia Cheng

It takes a talented writer to bring the concept of infinity to life, but Cheng’s infectious enthusiasm makes maths a delight. Discover why some infinities are bigger than others, and why there’s always room at an infinite hotel, even if it’s full.

Graphic Science: Seven Journeys of Discovery

Graphic science (Best books)

Darryl Cunningham

With his crisp comic art, Cunningham tells the stories of seven scientists who history has rather overlooked. Mary Anning, Alfred Wegener, Fred Hoyle, Jocelyn Bell Burnell… they’re names you may have heard of, but Graphic Science underlines the importance of their work.

Testosterone Rex

Testosterone rex (Best books)

Cordelia Fine

The winner of 2017’s Royal Society books prize, Fine cuts through gender stereotypes with panache, dispelling the myth that testosterone creates a deep-rooted division between the sexes and discussing what this means for the society we live in.

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story

Inferior (Best books)

Angela Saini

Another book on our list tackling gender stereotypes, Saini discusses how centuries of science have painted a distorted picture of sex differences, the impact this has had on women in society, and how we’re finally beginning to redress the balance.

Other Minds

Other minds (Best books)

Peter Godfrey-Smith

The octopus is essentially an alien species right here on Earth – a sentient being whose intelligence has evolved entirely independently from our own. Godfrey-Smith peers into the minds of these cephalopods, revealing what they can tell us about the nature of consciousness itself.

Gastrophysics

Gastrophysics (Best books)

Charles Spence

In this breezy introduction to the new science of gastrophysics, Spence explains why our mealtimes are a truly multisensory experience. It turns out that everything from the background music to the colour and shape of our plates affects the taste of our food.

Women In Science

Women in science (Best books)

Rachel Ignotofsky

Discover (or rediscover) the work of 50 trailblazing women in science in Ignotofsky’s gorgeously illustrated book. Familiar names like Marie Curie and Ada Lovelace sit alongside lesser-known pioneers such as Maria Sibylla Merian, one of the first and more important entomologists.

Ask An Astronaut

Ask an astronaut (Best books)

Tim Peake

Who better to describe life in space than someone who’s walked the (space)walk? Tim pens answers to the public’s burning questions, revealing what space smells like, how he enjoyed a cosmic cuppa, and what it felt like to return to Earth.

Caesar’s Last Breath

Caesar's last breath (Best books)

Sam Kean

Every breath we take tells a story as old as the Earth. Kean’s eye-opening guide to the science and history of our atmosphere takes in everything from radioactive pigs and spontaneous combustion to Julius Caesar’s final moments and some unforgettable performance art at the Moulin Rouge.

Out Of Nothing

Out of nothing (Best books)

Daniel Locke & David Blandy

Combining science fact with dreamlike imagery, Locke and Blandy’s eye-popping graphic novel celebrates the ingenuity of the human mind. We travel across centuries from Gutenberg’s printing press to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, via Picasso, Einstein, Rosalind Franklin and more.

Admissions

Admissions (Best books)

Henry Marsh

Following up 2014’s much-lauded Do No Harm was never going to be easy, but this second part of Henry Marsh’s memoir is an equally honest, human and beautifully written account of the ups and downs of his life as a brain surgeon.

To Be A Machine

To be a machine (Best books)

Mark O’Connell

With shades of Jon Ronson and Louis Theroux, O’Connell explores the world of transhumanism, meeting the cyborgs, utopians and futurists who hope to use technology to improve the human condition. It makes for an engrossing, witty and at times disturbing read.

Anatomy

Anatomy (Best books)

Hélène Druvert & Jean-Claude Druvert

A cutaway book of the human body, Anatomy elicited gasps of delight in the office. Its flaps and delicate lasercuts allow kids to explore the organs, systems and senses that keep us alive, while the accompanying text provides a nice introduction to human biology.

Patient H69

Patient H69 (Best books)

Vanessa Potter

One day, Vanessa Potter started to lose her sight. Within three days, she was completely blind. Patient H69 documents her descent into darkness – and her subsequent recovery as, armed with scientific insight, she began to make sense of her unique condition.

The Angry Chef

The angry chef (Best books)

Anthony Warner

Paleo, GAPS, alkaline, detox… so many diets, but do any of them actually work? With scientific rigour and a generous helping of expletives, Warner takes on the food fads one by one, and asks why we’re so easily taken in by pseudoscience in the first place.

The Lost Words

The lost words (Best books)

Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris

Worried by the way in which natural words (acorn, dandelion, kingfisher, etc) are disappearing from children’s vocabulary, Robert Macfarlane has teamed up with illustrator Jackie Morris to produce this exquisite ‘spell book’, combining acrostic poems with hand-painted artwork.

Nodding Off

Nodding off (Best books)

Alice Gregory

After two decades as a prominent sleep researcher, Prof Alice Gregory is well placed to teach us how to sleep better. In Nodding Off, she explains the science of sleep and what happens if we don’t get enough of it. She also offers important tips on how to improve our shut-eye, to help us feel better in our waking hours.

Notes on a Nervous Planet

Notes on a nervous planet (Best books)

Matt Haig

After experiencing years of anxiety and panic attacks, Matt Haig began to looks for the links between how he was feeling and what was going on around him. Notes On A Nervous Planet is Haig’s look into how to feel happy on a fast and nervous planet, and tells us how we can lead happier, healthier and saner lives.

How to Invent Everything

How to invent everything (Best books)

Ryan North

Picture this: you’ve gone back in time for a casual gander at what cavemen were like, or to have a go at taming a dinosaur, but your time machine broke. And you can’t fix it. But don’t stress, you’ve got Ryan North’s informative manual on how to rebuild civilisation from scratch. Get started with inventing language, and then over 400 pages build your way up to modern computers.

Wonders: Spectacular Moments in Nature Photography

Wonders (Best books)

Rhonda Rubinstein

Wonders features the award-winning images from the BigPicture Natural World Photography competition. Along with stunning photos, this science book explains the scientific phenomena and photography behind each shot.

The Happy Brain

The happy brain (Best books)

Dean Burnett

In our constant quest for happiness, we change jobs, pursue relationships, watch stand-up comedy and take up hobbies, among many, many other things. Neuroscientist Dean Burnett combines cutting-edge research and views from all kinds of experts to explain where happiness comes from, and why we need it so much.

Totally Random: Why Nobody Understands Quantum Mechanics

Totally random (Best books)

Jeffrey Bub, Tanya Bub

In this graphic novel about entanglement, you’ll learn how quantum physics has led to wild theories about cats who are both dead and alive, and you’ll listen in on Niels Bohr’s therapy sessions with Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger. It’s more fun than you ever thought you could have learning about quantum mechanics.

Brief Answers to the Big Questions

Brief answers to the big questions (Best books)

Stephen Hawking

Published posthumously, Stephen Hawking’s last book tackles some of the Universe’s biggest questions. Is time travel possible? Is there other intelligent life in the Universe? How do we shape the future? And unlike A Brief History Of Time, this one is actually intelligible to the average armchair reader.

Inventing Ourselves: The secret life of the teenage brain

Inventing ourselves (Best books)

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Adolescence is a crazy time: there’s a need for intense friendships and extreme risk-taking, and it’s also when many mental illnesses begin to develop. In her book, which won the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2018, neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore draws on cutting-edge research to explain what’s happening in the brains of teenagers, and what it can tell us about how we’ve all developed.

Endure

Endure (Best books)

Alex Hutchinson

The capacity to endure underlies most great athletic performances, but what limits endurance? Against the backdrop of some of the world’s best athletes trying to break the two-hour marathon mark, Alex Hutchinson explores new science around what defines our limits: is it our bodies, food, or pain? Or is it all in our heads?

The Science of Sin

The science of sin (Best books)

Jack Lewis

We all sin to some extent, whether that’s eating more cake than we know is good for us, or carrying out more serious illicit acts. In The Science Of Sin, neurobiologist Jack Lewis talks us through why we do bad things, illuminates the neural battles between temptation and restraint, and helps us understand why we do the things we know we shouldn’t.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 28

Wildlife photographer of the year (Best books)

Rosamund Kidman Cox

The Natural History Museum’s annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition always delivers beautiful wildlife images. Portfolio 28 features the best of 2018’s competition.

Ocean

Ocean (Best books)

Hélène Druvert, Emmanuelle Grundmann

Ocean by Hélène Druvert and Emmanuelle Grundmann explains the most fascinating facets of the sea, including waves, coral reefs and the food chain. With captivating fold-out infographics and stunning laser-cut illustrations, it’s a beautiful, interactive tome that’ll help both kids and adults appreciate our oceans.

Apollo

Apollo (Best books)

Matt Fitch, Chris Baker, Mike Collins

Apollo tells the suspense-filled story of the first Moon landing in graphic novel form. It’s well-researched and includes rich historical detail, tracking not only the mission itself, but the political tension around the programme and the nerve-racking experience shared by the crew’s families.

Dictionary of Dinosaurs

Dictionary of Dinosaurs (Best books)

Matthew G Baron

This beautiful book, illustrated by Dieter Braun, details every dinosaur that’s ever been discovered, from Aardonyx to Zuniceratops. It includes up-to-date facts from dinosaur experts about where these creatures lived, what they ate and when they roamed the planet.

Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut’s Photographs from a Year in Space

Infinite wonder (Best books)

Scott Kelly

Astronaut Scott Kelly had a year that photographers would envy. He circled the Earth 5,400 times, witnessing 10,944 sunrises and sunsets – about 16 per day. From the International Space Station, he viewed our planet in a unique way, and shares his incredible photos with us in Infinite Wonder.

The Weil Conjectures

The weil conjectures (Best books)

Karen Olsson

André and Simone Weil were brother and sister. One a renowned mathematician known for contributions to algebraic geometry and number theory, the other a famous philosopher and political activist. Maths and philosophy become entangled in this fascinating memoir of the two 20th-Century figures.

Something Deeply Hidden

Something deeply hidden (Best books)

Sean Carroll

From physicist Sean Carroll comes a history of quantum discoveries, and a guide to a subject that has baffled and blinded with its potential. Tackling huge questions, myths and conundrums about our Universe is no easy task, but Carroll does so elegantly.

Anatomicum

Anatomicum (Best books)

Jennifer Paxton and Katy Wiedemann

This beautiful book explores the human body from underneath the skin as if it were a journey through a museum. Katy Wiedemann’s delicately drawn diagrams accompany Jennifer Paxton’s detailed anatomical information for a learning experience that is quite unlike any other.

Superheavy

Superheavy (Best books)

Kit Chapman

How do scientists make elements that don’t naturally exist? In this engaging book, Kit Chapman opens our eyes to the way superheavy, unstable elements at the far reaches of the periodic table have changed our lives, and predicts what’s next for nuclear science.

Superior

Superior (Best books)

Angela Saini

A timely look at the history of racism and racial bias within the scientific community. Perhaps most shocking is the sign of race science returning to modern conversations around genetics and political power.

The Uninhabitable Earth

The Uninhabitable Earth (Best books)

David Wallace-Wells

What will continued climate change do to our planet? The future is much worse than we think, says David Wallace-Wells, who is deputy editor of New York magazine and a science writer. Sparking debate and conversation across the world, The Uninhabitable Earth is one of 2019’s best books.

The NASA Archives: 60 Years in Space

The NASA archives (Best books)

Piers Bizony, Andrew Chaikin and Roger Launius

A stunning visual journey through the NASA archives, documenting six decades of space exploration. Essays discuss the past, present and future of the American space agency, and with over 400 images, illustrations and photographs, most not widely seen by the general public, this is a coffee table book that is a delight to pick up and peruse.

Invisible Women

Invisible Women (Best books)

Caroline Criado Perez

The winner of 2019’s Royal Society Science Book Prize reveals the shocking way that the world was designed with only one gender in mind. From female participants missing from research studies, to health apps allowing users to track copper intake but not periods, the holes in our knowledge of women – called the ‘gender data gap’ by Criado Perez – has led to a history of discrimination.

Life Changing: How Humans are Altering Life on Earth

life-changing

Helen Pilcher

The book that has stood out for me in 2020 is Helen Pilcher’s Life Changing. It is a fascinating but complicated topic that necessarily involves bring together a lot of tricky ideas and concepts. Helen’s book does exactly that, and in a brilliantly engaging way.

I had the pleasure of doing a festival event online with Helen over the summer and it was a joy to explore some of the many weird, and often not so wonderful, ways we are altering species. – Recommended by Dr Adam Hart

Is Free Speech Racist?

free-speech-racist

Gavan Titley

This is a small but mighty book.

Titley shows how racists have capitalised on free speech arguments to “reanimate racist discourses”, and he soberly, succinctly skewers the claim that the big threat to free speech is from those who challenge racism, or any other kind of prejudice, including transphobia. – Recommended by Angela Saini

Stephen Hawking: A Memoir of Friendship and Physics

stephen-hawking

Leonard Mlodinow

This concise memoir of Stephen Hawking swapped back and forth between light-touch biography and personal recollections of a close friendship between Hawking and the author spanning the last fifteen years of Hawking’s life. We think we know Hawking the great scientist but this book highlights the sheer ordinariness of the many daily routines that made up the unseen part of his life.

The stories, told with humour and fondness, mean that I feel I now know Stephen Hawking a little better. – Recommended by Prof Jim Al-Khalili

Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA

some-assembly-required

Neil Shubin

Neil Shubin’s book is one that completely changed my understanding of evolution. I understood how small changes evolved – gradually changing colour or brains getting bigger. But it wasn’t until I read this book that I could finally get my head around how the really big changes happened, like moving from the ocean to land or learning to fly.

The things I learned from this book stayed with me – I’m still dropping facts into conversation. – Recommended by Sara Rigby

What Have I Done?

what-have-i-done

Laura Dockrill

Laura has tackled an extremely difficult and often taboo subject with searing honesty and humour. As a person struggling with postnatal mental health challenges myself, reading someone else’s difficulties in print made me feel less alone. A scary number of parents suffer with similar issues but it’s rarely spoken about, especially in such an open way.

I’m so sorry about what Laura went through, but am very grateful to her for sharing her story as it gives me, and I’m sure others, hope, that we can get through it. – Recommended by Roma Agrawal

Horizon

horizon

Barry Lopez

I’ve been dying to read Barry Lopez’s Horizon, the long-awaited full-length follow up to his 1986 Arctic Dreams, but for various reasons I saved it until the paperback release in 2020, and I’m so glad I did.

This was the perfect 2020 book. With Lopez as my guide, I escaped on six long, inspiring journeys — from the Kenyan desert to Antarctica — that made me gasp, cry, smile and think very differently about the world. My copy is full of notes and scribbles and I know I’ll be returning to Lopez’s magnificent prose and challenging ideas for years to come. – Recommended by Dr Helen Scales

Spoon-Fed: Why Almost Everything We’ve Been Told about Food is Wrong

spoon-fed-large

Tim Spector

Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry. That’s really the only rule I have when it comes to food. But, as I get older, my body is telling me I might need to make a few changes. The trouble is, it seems the more we understand about how food affects our health and mood, the more complicated it is to decide what we ought to put in our bodies.

Prof Tim Spector’s book is an easy-to-digest guide to all the controversies in the world of diet and nutrition right now. Do diets ever work? Should we all be eating less salt? Are carbs the devil’s work?

Without ever shying away from the complicated science, Spector’s book satisfyingly arrives at some simple advice that would probably improve most diets. In short: listen to your body and eat diversely. It’s a breezy read, and I’ll be honest, probably the first book about food I’ve read cover-to-cover that that didn’t have a recipe in it. – Recommended by Daniel Bennett

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art

kindred

Rebecca Wragg Sykes

Kindred by Rebecca Wragg Sykes is a sensitive, beautiful and very human view of our ancient relatives, the Neanderthals. Her writing is lyrical, insightful and poignant, and her enthusiasm is infectious. Highly recommended. – Recommended by Dr Helen Pilcher

The Gynae Geek: Your No-Nonsense Guide to ‘Down-There’ Healthcare

gynae-geek

Dr Anita Mitra

I’ve followed Dr Anita Mitra, aka The Gynae Geek, on Instagram for a while and always loved her accessible approach to female health. This year, I decided to treat myself to a copy of her paperback book. I have a science-based education and work at BBC Science Focus, so like to think that I have a pretty good grasp of anatomy and biology, but like many people of my age, my school sex education was abysmal.

This book not only gave no-nonsense, non-judgmental advice about ‘down there’ but also left me absolutely gob-smacked by some facts about the female reproductive system. Did you know, for example, that the Fallopian tubes are mobile, and one tube can pick up an egg from the opposite ovary? Nope, neither did I!

It’s also a wonderful form of support for anyone who is worried about pregnancy, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis or other gynaecological concerns, and can either put your mind to rest or help you decide if you need to reach out to a healthcare professional. – Recommended by Alice Lipscombe-Southwell

A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears)

a-liberatarian-a-bear

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

While it’s not strictly an official ‘science’ book, it is nonetheless an alarming, eyebrow-raising and often hilarious true life tale of what happens when a fringe political ideology clashes with the real world, in ways which incorporate economics, conservation, zoology, parasitology, environmentalism, various types of psychology and animal behaviour studies, and more. – Recommended by Dean Burnett

A Perfect Planet: Our One in a Billion World Revealed

perfect-planet

Huw Cordey

Published to accompany Sir David Attenborough’s latest five-part series due to air on BBC One in the New Year, this is a book brimming with spectacular photography and great behind-the-scenes details. Each chapter covers a major topic; the Sun, weather, the oceans, volcanoes and humans, and tells the story of how the combination of these five ingredients somehow coalesced to form our perfect planet.

It has all the major bases covered, too. Crocodiles trying to catch birds? Check. Crazy scientist standing next to an erupting volcano? Check. Cryogenic frogs that freeze their blood and later come back to life? Check!

A short review like this (especially in the hands of an untrained picture editor) can’t really do a book justice, but if you love wildlife and appreciate great photography then this is the book you want. James Cutmore

Cosmic Clouds 3-D: Where Stars Are Born

Cover of Cosmic Clouds 3D

David Eicher and Brian May

Legendary Queen guitarist Brian May brings us the first book to show cosmic clouds of gas and dust – nebulae – in 3D.

I often think the beauty of the night sky is epic enough to rival the revered art that hangs in major galleries around the world. Now this gorgeous book allows us to see them like never before. – Recommended by Colin Stuart

Drugs Without the Hot Air: Making Sense of Legal and Illegal Drugs

drugs

David Nutt

Anyone wanting a clear-headed primer on the science of what drugs are, how they work, and why people take them need look no further than David Nutt’s landmark work.

The second edition was published in early 2020 and includes the latest developments in the science as well as the addition of several up-to-date case studies. There’s a lifetime’s worth of knowledge and research to dig into here but thanks to Nutt’s direct, no nonsense writing style the book also serves as a masterclass in science communication. – Recommended by Jason Goodyer

Diary of an Apprentice Astronaut

diary-apprentice-astronaut

Samantha Cristoforetti

Lately, I have become as fascinated by the way that humans relate to science and the natural world, as I am to the scientific breakthroughs themselves. I’ve also, for the first time, realised just how momentous it is to be sending people into space. Having never known a time when this hasn’t happened, it’s taken me a while to get it into perspective!

So, this diary of what it is like to go through astronaut training for a 200-day mission to the International Space Station crossed my desk at exactly the right time. ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti writes with honesty. Her prose is simple and down to Earth, which increased my empathy for her story. – Dr Stuart Clark

The Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings

ash-and-elm

Neil Price

This spectacular book is more than traditional history, as many of its surprising – often strange – revelations about Viking life come not from texts, but archaeology.

Price guides us through their vast world, studding his grand narrative with extraordinary details: isotopic identification of Scandinavian skeletons in Russia, silk caps from York and Lincoln probably from the same Byzantine bale, and a candle burning until the air inside a burial chamber ran out. – Recommended by Dr Rebecca Wragg Sykes

How to Argue with a Racist

argue-with-racists

Adam Rutherford

Given the renewed examination of race relations sparked by the tragic death of George Floyd, How to Argue with a Racist is doubtlessly one of the most important reads of 2020. But it’s arguably the most interesting too: debunking racial pseudoscience, geneticist and author Adam Rutherford expertly explains how all humans (including white supremacists) share African and Chinese ancestors – and how, biologically, race is near impossible to define.

As a bonus, it also demonstrates the many flaws of your ancestry DNA test results, and why most Brits are related to Edward III. Engaging and thought-provoking throughout. – Recommended by Thomas Ling

The Little Book of Cosmology

little-book-cosmology

Lyman Page

Lyman Page is a professor of astronomy at the Princeton University in New Jersey and his principal area of research has for decades been the heat afterglow of the Big Bang. Incredibly, it is still around us today, greatly cooled by cosmic expansion in the past 13.82 billion years and accounting for a whopping 99.9 per cent of the photons, or particles of light, in the Universe.

I thought this would be just another book by an academic jumping on the popular science bandwagon and short-changing the public with something pretty ordinary. But nothing could be further from the truth.

This ranks alongside Steven Weinberg’s The First Three Minutes as the best book on cosmology I have read. A compact treasure-trove of cosmic insights to be read, mulled over, and read again. – Recommended by Marcus Chown

Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret

waste_final

Catherine Colman Flowers

The introduction of the sewage system was one of the revolutionary inventions that changed the world.

This book is a reminder that basic waste sanitation is vital for public health, and is a wake-up call that climate change and rising sea levels will inevitably hit the underprivileged hardest. – Recommended by Jheni Osman

Explaining Humans: What Science Can Teach Us about Life, Love and Relationships

Explaining Humans

Dr Camilla Pang

If you want to understand how light refracts, or how proteins in the body work, read this book. If you want to make better decisions, or understand how to form fruitful friendship groups, read this book.

It came as no shock to me when Explaining Humans was chosen as The Royal Society’s science book of the year in 2020. This book changed my life in many ways. It brought to light aspects of society that I didn’t even know I hadn’t understood, until now. It enabled me to begin unpicking my reasons for doing things a certain way, to start questioning my own routines and ‘rules’ for life. – Recommended by Amy Barrett

Science book reading lists

We reckon this is a fine selection of books to read, 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:

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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.