The Best Science Books of Summer 2017


Cover detail from Improbable Destinies by Jonathan B. Losos, courtesy of Penguin Random House

It’s hard to believe that 2017 is more than half over, yet here I am, ready to tell you about the science books you need to keep an eye out for in the third quarter of this year. There are plenty of topics to entertain you (and even teach you a little something), from two books on the search for alien life to trying to figure out what exactly it is like to be a dog. If you’re interested in reading about science, check out this roundup of some of the most interesting and engaging books that are releasing in July, August, and September of 2017.

MakingContactMaking Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence 
by Sarah Scoles
(Pegasus Books, July 4)

Have you seen the movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster? If so, then you’re already familiar with astronomer Jill Tarter; she’s the person the character Ellie Arroway was based on. Tarter fought through school at a time women weren’t taken seriously as scientists. She was the driving force behind SETI — the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — and now she has a long-overdue (and excellent) biography from a former editor of Astronomy magazine.

WoollyWoolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures
by Ben Mezrich
(Atria Books, July 4)

Ben Mezrich is well-known for his pop-culture history books (he wrote The Accidental Billionaires, which was adapted into the movie The Social Network), and his latest tackles the quest to bring back the woolly mammoth. It’s the story of a genetics team that’s sequencing and splicing the DNA of this beast, and the ethics of such an endeavor, but it’s also a story of climate change, global warming, and how humans have affected the world we live in. Mezrich has a knack for writing engaging narrative nonfiction, so it’s likely this is an entertaining and informative read.

WhyWhy?: What Makes Us Curious
by Mario Livio
(Simon & Schuster, July 11)

Humans are naturally curious beings. But why is that? Where does our curiosity come from? That’s what astrophysicist Mario Livio looks at in this book. He takes a multidisciplinary approach to the topic, interviewing scientists but also taking a look at notoriously curious figures throughout history. Livio also talks to people who are endlessly curious — who are incredibly accomplished and have multiple degrees, yet they keep going back for more. What drives them? What innate part of us is responsible for our boundless curiosity?

RipplesInSpacetimeRipples in Spacetime: Einstein, Gravitational Waves, and the Future of Astronomy
by Govert Schilling
(Belknap Press, July 31)

You may be familiar with the hunt for gravitational waves; the third set ever was detected earlier this year. These occur when two black holes collide and were first predicted by Einstein. Govert Schilling, an astronomy journalist, takes readers through the history of this discovery, how much time and effort went into it, and what it means for the future of astronomy and space science. We’re on the cusp of an entirely new period of space science, where we hope to learn a lot more about the origins of our universe.

ZappedZapped: From Infrared to X-Rays, the Curious History of Invisible Light
by Bob Berman
(Little, Brown and Company, August 8)

We can’t see the majority of light around us. When we look out into space, we learn a lot more about the cosmos from the light we can’t see with the naked eye than what we can. But how did we discover these forms of invisible light? That’s what Bob Berman, an astronomy writer, seeks to explain in this book. He traces their discovery forward through to the modern day, discussing how these different forms of light have changed the way we live from day to day.

ImprobableDestiniesImprobable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution
by Jonathan B. Losos
(Riverhead Books, August 8)

We think we know how evolution works (we won’t talk about the people who insist on that Creationism is fact), but in fact we’re refining our knowledge about Darwin’s seminal work every day. Harvard University professor Jonathan B. Losos examines these new ideas in his book Improbable Destinies. There are breakthroughs happening every day in the field of evolutionary biology; Losos’ goal is to chronicle what’s happening in the field that he himself is an expert in.

WhatItsLikeToBeADogWhat It’s Like to Be a Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience
by Gregory Berns
(Basic Books, September 5)

Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking? If so, you’re not alone, and it’s a question that neuroscientist Gregory Berns seeks to answer with this new book. What, exactly, is it like to be a dog (or another animal)? To answer, Berns and his team taught dogs to enter an MRI scanner while awake. It was the beginning of understanding how exactly a dog thinks; and they didn’t limit themselves to canines. This illuminating book promises to make us all rethink the animals we encounter and how they affect us and our world.

StrangeGlowStrange Glow: The Story of Radiation
by Timothy J. Jorgenson
(Princeton University Press, September 5)

We think of radiation as extremely dangerous, yet we encounter it every day. From x-rays to airport security scans, we’re exposed to a lot of radiation in our daily lives. In this book, now in paperback, Georgetown associate professor Timothy Jorgensen takes the reader through a history of radiation. How was it discovered? How has radiation shaped our lives and important events in world history? The author also discusses the practical considerations of radiation in our everyday lives.

CatchingBreathCatching Breath: The Making and Unmaking of Tuberculosis
by Kathryn Lougheed
(Bloomsbury Sigma, September 5)

Tuberculosis has been around since we were a hunter-gatherer series, and it’s still infecting people to this day. It’s evolved into a disease that’s incredibly difficult to eradicate; estimates are that around two billion people carry this disease in its latent state. While many think of TB as a disease of the past (it was called “consumption”), it’s very present in our current world. Tuberculosis researcher Kathryn Lougheed presents the history of this disease in her book, studying how it’s grown and changed over the centuries. Lougheed also examines how doctors are currently fighting the disease, and what hopes there are for new treatments in the future.

ClockworkFuturesClockwork Futures: The Science of Steampunk and the Reinvention of the Modern World
by Brandy Schillace
(Pegasus Books, September 5)

Are you a fan of steampunk? If you aren’t familiar with it, steampunk is science fiction that takes our history and turns it instead into one powered by steam (rather than electricity). While Victorian steampunk might seem like fanciful fiction, much of this technology actually existed. Culture and medicine writer Brandy Schillace examines the history and science behind steampunk in her book, discussing what was real, how it worked, and why technology actually evolved in the manner it did.

PlanetHuntersPlanet Hunters: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life
by Lucas Ellerbroek
(Reaktion Books, September 15)

It seems as though we’re discovering new exoplanets regularly, but one thing we haven’t found yet is life on them (let’s be real: That is probably going to take a very long time). But that doesn’t mean we’re not looking. Astronomer Lucas Ellerbroek takes readers on a journey through the history of looking through telescopes and searching for exoplanets, discussing the discovery of the first in 1995. It’s the history of exoplanets and a search for alien life, speaking with some of the people at the frontiers of this field.