We live in thrilling-and even disturbing-times. New findings of the origins of our species have been published in the past year, geneticists continue to reveal the workings of our constituent DNA, important tests have revised our extensive past observations of life and spacecraft have traveled into many unexplored parts of the solar system. If you’re in a mood for discovering something new and being entertained by riveting stories, look no further than our (non-exhaustive) list of the best science books released this decade.
Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto:
Suggested by an assignment writing service, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will sail past Ultima Thule on the first day of 2019, an icy space rock orbiting at the solar system’s outer reaches. The flyby will mark the most distant planetary encounter in human history and is expected to change our understanding of the Kuiper Belt, a largely unexplored region beyond Neptune, with photographs and science data beamed back to Earth. But New Horizons completed its primary mission nearly four years before the Ultima Thule encounter: the first-ever Pluto rendezvous. Pluto was already considered a planet when the probe was launched in 2006, and the New Horizons flyby completed the initial identification of the solar system. Principal investigator Alan Stern shares the political wars and technological breakthroughs in Chasing New Horizons with the planetary scientist David Grinspoon that brought mankind to Pluto and beyond.
“The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert:
The planet has experienced five distinct mass extinction events over the last 500 million years or so, usually overreaction to some sort of planetary cataclysms, such as an asteroid strike or extreme volcanic activity. In her latest thesis, Elizabeth Kolbert looks at the science behind what she considers to be the “Sixth Extinction” and it’s caused mainly by us. Although accompanying geologists, marine biologists, and botanists on their fieldwork, Kolbert introduces readers to animals that are being wiped out of existence due to our planetary effects.
Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray:
Mathematics, and its immediate implementation in theoretical physics, is always beautiful, elegant and complex to the point that the distinction between mathematics and philosophy blurs. Physicists have long held fast to the notion that natural world explications can be represented in sophisticated equations and universal laws, and that more complicated or conflicting theories are less likely to be right than simple, elegant solutions: E = mc2. Yet in her book Lost in Math, author and theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, who studies the relationships (or lack of them) of quantum mechanics and gravity, argues that this search for mathematical aestheticism has become a dogmatic exercise in delusion. Hossenfelder sheds the math to grapple with the idea that the universe is not a harmonious, orderly system, waiting to be defined by the next elegant epiphany, but rather a world of enigmatic uncertainty, to be approached with objective empirical observation and calculation to discover what is, and not what should be.
First in Fly: Drosophila Research and Biological Discovery:
The main candidate for physiological research is typically the laboratory mouse but a much less probable creature has made a major contribution to our understanding of biology: the common fruit fly. The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, appreciated in science for its short life cycle and ability to reproduce in large numbers, is the ideal organism for studying genetics, cell biology, immunology, and behavior, in many ways. Like humans, flies can learn and maintain the information, begin to degrade with age, and have immune systems to combat disease and infections. Harvard genetics lecturer Stephanie Elizabeth Mohr explains how the fruit fly has been a staple of scientific science for more than a century. The fruit fly is an important organism in laboratories around the world, from cancer and diabetes studies to the study of human genome data.
“Collapse” by Jared Diamond:
Looking at the causes of social and environmental degradation by Jared Diamond is a worthwhile read as we contend on a global scale with similar issues. Diamond uses Easter Island, the Maya, early Viking settlements on Greenland and Iceland and other influential cultures as case studies of how poor political decisions, rapid population growth and unsustainable agricultural practices contribute to calamity. Since the US has a president who refuses to accept climate change, Diamond’s book can provide a valuable lesson for future generations and act as a guide in distance learning.
Infinite Powers, by Steven Strogatz:
It is possibly the only ever written calculus book that can truly be called a page-turner which speaks to the strength of Strogatz as a writer and teacher. The book offers a high-level summary of fundamental principles of calculus and goes into depth about how they are used in everyday life. Strogatz avoids complex formulas in favor of simple graphs and diagrams – not a single one appears in these pages. Although the excessive simplification of incredibly heady mathematics can put off calculus adepts, there’s something in the book for everyone, particularly when he dives into the minds of some of the greatest thinkers in history. This is a must-read for those interested in the history of mathematics and science.