It’s a new year, which means a whole bunch of new book releases! There are some amazing science books releasing this winter. Space is my particular passion, so I’m really excited to see some new perspectives on both the modern-day space program as well as important moments in our history. We’ve also got pop culture science (a personal favorite), as well as multiple books that ask “Why are we here, and how did we get here?” I absolutely love when scientists and science communicators tackle that question from a narrow angle, based on their expertise. Hopefully you’ll find a book or two (or five) that pique your interest and inspire you to pick them up.
Michael D. Leinbach & Jonathan H. Ward
February 1st is the fifteenth anniversary of the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia, and this new book takes a look at the accident, its immediate aftermath, and the incredible story of recovering the remains of the orbiter and her crew, which were scattered across multiple states. One of the co-writers, Michael Leinbach, was the Launch Director at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and he was an important figure in the search and recovery. I’ve read this, and it’s not an easy read, as you can imagine, but how we come together after tragedy is an important piece of our space program. It’s important to remember our mistakes and darkest periods, rather than brushing them under the rug.
The Electromagnetic Force That Created the Modern World--and Could Destroy It
If you’re a fan of pop science, then this history of electromagnetism should be right in line with your interests. Electromagentism is one of the fundamental forces of the universe; it’s incredibly powerful, and this examination of the force shows how it’s shaped our history and culture. Not only that, but it delves into what will happen when the magnetic poles switch, and how it will be catastrophic for civilization (goodbye, protection from solar storms and radiation!)
There were many incredible things to come out of the Apollo program, from advances in science and technology to a wide-eyed wonder at the fact that we truly could be an interstellar species. One of those facets was the breathtaking photography of the program; from the famous Earthrise picture to the Blue Marble, seeing our home planet for the first time from space was a powerful moment. Now, Christopher Potter has written a history of the photography of the Apollo program, discussing who took those pictures, when and why, and how they mattered.
Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny BeyondEarth
Michio Kaku’s science books are always well worth the read, and his new one sounds fascinating. The renowned physicist tackles the difficult topic of colonizing space, discussing how exactly that might occur and what would be involved. Kaku examines the current technology that could be further developed and refined to make this possible, as well as what the future might hold.
In this thought-provoking read, Korea’s first paleoanthropologist, Sang-Hee Lee, takes a look at the big picture questions about our evolution and how we got here. He discusses what fossils can tell us about how our early ancestors lived and worked, as well as what the record can tell us about social structure and more. The key here is that Lee examines everything we thought we knew from fresh angles, delivering a new perspective on our early ancestors and the evolutionary process.
As a space journalist, I often reflect on what an exciting time we live in when it comes to what’s going on in the stars. It really feels like we are on the cusp of becoming a spacefaring civilization, and Tim Fernholz (who reports on science and the economy at Quartz) chronicles how two larger-than-life billionaires are affecting and driving the new space race.
Everyone’s heard of quantum mechanics, but what is it, exactly? It turns out that even the most illustrious scientists had trouble agreeing on its meaning. Becker, who is a science communicator with a PhD in astrophysics, takes readers on a deep dive into the battle for the heart of quantum physics. It tells a story that spans history, one of scientists who were brave enough to defy tradition in order to find a new understanding, rather than merely accepting the status quo about the reality underlying quantum mechanics.
Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
This is another science book that examines the big picture questions of where we came from, but instead of taking a look at the fossil record, it analyzes DNA. New techniques and improvements in technology have allowed scientists to actually extract ancient DNA and analyze it. While they aren’t constructing Jurassic Park (at least, let’s hope), they are discovering extraordinary things about our own genome, and what it means to be human.
Alan Lightman is a theoretical physicist who has been able to bridge that gap between science and the humanities; in fact, he was the first MIT professor to be appointed to both disciplines. In his latest book, Lightman takes a close look at the relationship between religion and science, from our quest for facts to our yearning for something greater and immaterial.