Recommendations for recent science books, please
December 9, 2015 7:55 AM   Subscribe

My dad is an elderly retired scientist (psych and biomechanical engineering) who likes to read a lot. In the past I've gotten him books like Neil Shubin's "Your Inner Fish," and XKCD's "What If?" and they have been big hits. Would love recommendations for recent, similar books that have a modicum of fun and that involve real science. Thank you so much!
posted by jfwlucy to Shopping (12 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Randall Munroe of XKCD has a new book out: Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words which are all things explained using simple words (see this XKCD comic)
posted by Captain_Science at 8:26 AM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Did he like the Shubin book? I thought it was a bit thin and oddly written, to be honest, which is a shame because the material is so good. A lot of popular science books can end up sounding stilted, and that can be very off-putting to people with scientific backgrounds (like a scientist trying to jazz up their writing to sound hip or affected or... something like that).

Titles I've enjoyed recently, even if they weren't written recently:

Bad Pharma, Bed Goldacre
Consciousness: A User's Guide, Adam Zeman
On The Move: A Life, Oliver Sacks
A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:35 AM on December 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't call either fun, but I thoroughly enjoyed "The Sixth Extinction" by Elizabeth Kolbert and "Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic" by David Quammen.
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:10 AM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Rust by Jonathan Waldman

How does he feel about history of science? Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson, The Alchemy of Air by Thomas Hager and The Demon Under the Microscope by Thomas Hager are all great.
posted by Hactar at 9:42 AM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Malcom Gladwell is often on the 'soft science' side, looking at economics, social issues, why there's only one kind of ketchup, and such, but he writes with wit and grace that I adore, often on super surprising topics that make you think. I love everything I've seen so far.
posted by Jacen at 10:00 AM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Knowledge is Beautiful..its all sorts of odd things in infographics. The
posted by Ftsqg at 10:00 AM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Three I adored:

The 13th Element: the Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus. A very interesting recount of all the ways phosphorus has changed history. There's some basic chem in the first two chapters that helps one to understand the rest of the book - I don't think it will throw your dad too much.

Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc. Basic overview of all the elements, when and how they were discovered, and what they are used for. Engaging writing style.

The Rhino with Glue On Shoes: and Other Surprising True Stories of Zoo Vets and Their Patients. Your Dad might find some of these stories interesting, like the moray eel who was donated to a public aquarium, who wouldn't eat until his old owner came to visit.
posted by RogueTech at 11:32 AM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed The World Without Us which talks about what would happen to structures and other things (bridges, houses, roads, etc) if the human population suddenly disappeared. I've heard from people who seriously study related things that it is a bit on the light side with its science, but as an exploration of a thought experiment it is still pretty nifty.
posted by sciencegeek at 12:55 PM on December 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Does he have/enjoy any of Edward Tufte's books? Those are nice coffee table books as well as fun to look at.
posted by St. Hubbins at 1:59 PM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Martian is fiction but my science-reading dad loved it.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:51 PM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

For someone interested in psychology and bio stuff, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain would be pretty perfect, though it's not new.
posted by softlord at 4:45 PM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love you ask Metafilter!! I realize this isn't answering the poster - but it helped me out! To add to the answers Lisa Randall published a new book this fall... Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs....
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 5:51 PM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

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