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?
We read A LOT of popular science books here at BBC Science Focus (seriously, we could build walls with the many volumes on our desks), so we’ve picked out what we think are the best new books coming out this month.
Whether it’s new non-fiction, a beautiful reissue of a classic or even a spot of sci-fi, these are all good books, well worth a read. Don’t just take our word for it though, to give you a flavour of what’s inside we often have extracts, interviews and features written by the authors and scientists alongside our recommendation.
10 of the best popular science books coming in April 2020
Everything You Know About Animals Is Wrong
£9.99, Batsford, 02 April 2020
‘Blind as a bat’; ‘bury your head in the sand’: some animal facts are so well-known that they’ve even made their way into our language. But ‘well-known’ is not the same as ‘true’. Bats aren’t blind at all, and ostriches don’t try to hide their enormous bodies by burying their heads.
Matt Brown takes on these misconceptions and more in Everything You Know About Animals Is Wrong, myth-busting all the common animal ‘facts’ we’ve heard so often since we were children that we just accept them to be true. Get ready to question everything you thought you knew.
Read more by Matt Brown:
How To Predict Everything: The Formula Transforming What We Know About Life And The Universe
£9.99 [paperback], Oneworld, 02 April 2020
It might feel like the end of days at the moment, but can we really predict the end of the world? Those people waving ‘The End is Nigh!’ placards are probably completely wrong about an imminent doomsday… Probably.
There is a formula that has circulated for the last 50 years that suggests we can pinpoint the end of something with a reasonable amount of certainty. It has been used to predict any number of things, including successful stock market investments, the run of Broadway shows and even how many Harry Potter books go missing from local libraries.
But since the 1990s, it has sparked considerable debate among theorists about when humanity as we know it will come to an end. William Poundstone’s book explains the history of this enigmatic equation, how long we have left as a species on this planet, whether we can shift the odds in our favour, and how we can predict, well, pretty much everything else.
Hinton – a novel
£16.99, Granta, 2 April 2020
Charles Howard Hinton was a Victorian scientist, inventor and novelist, and an explorer of unmapped realms of the mind. As a young man in the 1880s, Hinton was seized by an idea that had escaped from speculative geometry and been taken up by excitable spiritualists: what if space were actually four-dimensional, and not limited to length, breadth and height? What if there were another extension, inaccessible to our senses but open to our minds, if only we could train them?
Just as his work was gaining readers, scandal struck: he was discovered to have committed bigamy. Hinton was convicted, jailed, and unable to find work on his release, fled England for Japan and eventually America.
This novel recreates the life of Charles Hinton, inviting the reader to become historical detectives solving long-forgotten mysteries and discovering archival crimes.
Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias
£16.99, Bloomsbury Sigma, 2 April 2020
No matter how open-minded we consider ourselves to be, all of us hold biases towards other people. In Sway, behavioural scientist Dr Pragya Agarwal reveals the science behind where these biases come from and why it’s important for us to recognise and unlearn them to help make the world a better, fairer place.
Dr Agarwal says that Sway emerged out of her own academic research, her interest in how bias and uncertainty gets built into data technology, but also her personal experience as a woman growing up in India and in the UK, in a predominantly white male environment of technology and STEM.
It is a fascinating, sometimes challenging, read, for fans of Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women and Angela Saini’s Superior.
£23.95, Harvard University Press, 04 April 2020
If the end of the world really is imminent, perhaps we should start looking for another one. The obvious choices are the Moon or Mars, but there are lots of other places in the Solar System we could try, each with their own problems and opportunities. We could try floating above Venus in balloon cities, or living in caves inside our very own asteroid.
Wanjek discusses the practicalities of moving away from the planet where we evolved. How might we cope with microgravity, or the lack of air pressure? And if we could terraform another planet… why not just stay on Earth?
Becoming Wild: How Animals Learn to be Animals
£18.99, Oneworld, 9 Apr 2020
Throughout the animal kingdom, the genetic tapestry is overlain with more learned culture than humans have realised. But it’s subtle.
Becoming Wild shows that ‘natural’ doesn’t always come naturally. Many animals learn from elders almost everything; getting answers to questions of how to live where one lives; learning skills, dangers, group-identity, communication dialects, and survival traditions that define their existence.
Culture stores information in pools of knowledge that pass through generations like a torch. Culture adapts more flexibly and rapidly than can gene pools. An individual receives genes only from parents, but can receive culture from everyone in their group. And because culture improves survival, culture can lead where genes must follow.
The stories of sperm whales, macaws, and chimpanzees in Becoming Wild represent three major themes of culture: identity, the preference for beauty, and how social living creates tensions that culture must soothe. The species in these pages widen our appreciation of being alive in the world.
Conversations with Newton
£9.99, Watkins, 14 April 2020
Isaac Newton changed the world. He developed calculus, discovered gravity, and invented a reflecting telescope. But how much do you know really about him? Did you know, for example, that he was an MP and Master of the Royal Mint? And did you know that, on top of his ground-breaking science, he also dabbled in alchemy and the occult?
Unfortunately for his fans, he died in 1727, so we can’t just log on to Twitter to hear his inner thoughts. That’s where Conversations with Isaac Newton comes in. Based on Newton’s own speech, writings and views, Michael White imagines the conversation you might have if you sat down for coffee with the great scientist.
This book is part of a series, so look out for further conversations with Einstein, Freud and Galileo.
Notes from an Apocalypse
£14.99, Granta, 16 April 2020
You might not want to read about the end of the world right now. You’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t too far away. But on the other hand, if the world is going to end, we might as well prepare for it. For Notes on the Apocalypse, Mark O’Connell spoke to people around the world who are doing just that, visiting places from survival bunkers in South Dakota to a billionaires’ retreat in New Zealand.
What drives people to plan for the end of days? And how can we live when the end seems imminent?
Rivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our World
Laurence C Smith
£20.00, Allen Lane, 21 April 2020
Hiding in plain sight, a powerful force is coursing through the neighbourhoods of two-thirds of the world’s population. While the practical benefits of these waterways are obvious, the depth of their hold over us is not.
Rivers define and transcend international borders, forcing cooperation between nations. Wars, politics, and urban demographics are jolted by their floods. The territorial claims of nations, their cultural and economic ties to one another, and the migrations of peoples trace back to rivers, river valleys, and the topographic divides they carve upon the world.
And as rising water demand, climate change, and disruptive new information technologies transform our relationship with rivers once again, new opportunities are arising to protect the waters and cities that sustain us.
Rivers of Power reveals the timeless yet vastly underappreciated relationship between rivers and human civilization, from the Pharaohs to modern artificial intelligence era.
Flights of Passage: An Illustrated Natural History of Bird Migration
Mike Unwin and David Tipling
£30, Yale University Press, 28 April 2020
Every year, millions of birds make incredible journeys across the planet, spanning continents and flying for months on end. We’re used to birds migrating over winter to head towards warmer climes, but we don’t often stop to think about how remarkable this really is. How does the arctic tern travel from its arctic breeding grounds to its summer home in the Antarctic? And how does the swift stay in the air for ten months at a time?
Writer Mike Unwin and wildlife photographer David Tipling explore this fascinating subject in Flight of Passage, looking into the science behind this bizarre behaviour, accompanied by photos of 67 different species.