From the true nature of time to the world's most extraordinary brains to why you should ditch social media, Culture picks the best books to give this year As Seen in NewScientist
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The Order of Time Carlo Rovelli
Allen Lane CARLO ROVELLI is the man who can spin hard physics into pure gold. The Order of Time is his third book. Like the first (Seven Brief Lessons on Physics), it has been an instant bestseller. In this state-of-the-art survey of what physicists thought and now think about the nature of time, Rovelli is both unsettling (time does not exist) and philosophical (the study of time “does nothing but return us to ourselves”). BEST FOR: precocious kids; lovers of lit-science; time fanatics
The Beautiful Cure: Harnessing your body's natural defences
Daniel M. Davis Bodley Head IT MAY not be a classic Christmas whodunnit, but The Beautiful Cure is a page-turner. Author Daniel Davis explains who did what in the immune system story (poor Ralph Steinman’s co-discovery of dendritic cells won him a Nobel, but he died before he found out). As an immunology professor, Davis has the right cred to claim that we now know enough to start curing diseases such as cancer. BEST FOR: detective story nuts; medics; hypochondriacs The Mind is Flat: The illlusion of mental depth and the improvised mind Nick Chater Allen Lane THE feeling that we have an inner life, that our minds have, well, depth is pretty ubiquitous. Brace yourselves then: Nick Chater says this is just plain wrong. There is nothing under the hood, he writes in The Mind Is Flat : “Our flow of momentary conscious experience is not the sparkling surface of a vast sea of thought – it is all there is.” Find out why this isn’t the end of your world. BEST FOR: Buddhists; fans of neuroscience or neurophysiology
Beyond weird Philip Ball Bodley Head QUANTUM mechanics is less a theory about particles and waves, uncertainty and fuzziness, than one about what can be known and how. In this, his 23rd book, human whirlwind Philip Ball tracks quantum mechanics from its roots as a rather desperate piece of hand-waving about objects too small to behave to a disturbing, fully worked-out theory about the world. BEST FOR: quantum mechanics phobics; lovers of history of ideas The Feather Thief: Beauty, obsession, and the natural history heist of the century Kirk Wallace Johnson Viking IN JUNE 2009, Edwin Rist, an American flautist studying at London’s Royal Academy of Music, smashed a window at an outpost of the Natural History Museum to steal the skins of 299 tropical birds, including some collected by Alfred Russel Wallace. This tale of greed, deception, sabotage and trade in rare feathers ranks among the most bizarre crimes ever. BEST FOR: birdwatchers; true-crime fans; fly-fishing enthusiasts Life on Earth (2nd edition) David Attenborough Harper Collins FIRST published in 1978, this natural history masterpiece was written by David Attenborough to accompany his iconic TV series. It has received a timely makeover, with new pictures and updated text, much of it by zoologist Matthew Cobb. Life On Earth offers a spectacular snapshot of a once-wild planet, where new species are still being discovered. BEST FOR: all kids from 1978; all kids in 2018; Attenborough fans She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The powers, perversions, and potential of heredity Carl Zimmer Pan Macmilan WHO knew that cells from the fetus can also pass to the mother, and even on to subsequent siblings? Carl Zimmer did. He explains all in a deeply researched book about the complex and rarely less than controversial field of heredity that will arm you with more than enough high-quality information to hold your own at dinner parties or pub quizzes. BEST FOR: gene watchers; students of ethics; most of us Hello World: How to be human in the age of the machine Hannah Fry Doubleday MACHINES rule, making important decisions in transport, finance, security and healthcare, even deciding who goes to jail. This is the world we live in right now, a place of wonders ravaged by multiple data-driven disasters. Hannah Fry tours the algorithms surrounding us and wonders what happened to the human values supposedly encoded in this runaway maths. BEST FOR: Luddites; technophiles; everyone in between Superhuman: Life at the extremes of mental and physical ability Rowan Hooper Little, Brown NEW SCIENTIST‘S Rowan Hooper sought out some of the world’s highest achievers in fields as diverse as novel writing, running and opera singing to get an unusually accurate idea of whether genius is born or made. No one likes the idea their genes control destiny. Then again, no one ever did badly by playing to their strengths. “Accept the evidence,” says Hooper, “and be empowered.” BEST FOR: high achievers; the rest of us to see where we went wrong Eye of the Shoal: A fishwatcher's guide to life, the ocean and everything Helen Scales Bloomsbury Sigma THE marvellously monikered Helen Scales is out to convince us that the most interesting life is in the sea. Her cast list includes giants that live for centuries and thumb-sized tiddlers that survive weeks. Some shout with colour, others hide in plain sight. Along with citing surprising examples of fish ecology and physiology, Scales asks such complex questions as whether fish feel pain. BEST FOR: beachcombers; vegans looking for offbeat ammunition The Strange Order of Things: Life, feeling, and the making of cultures Antonio Damasio Penguin Random House THE toughest intellectual question is how do our brains not only produce images of the sights, sounds and smells around us, but also accompany them with private feelings and a sense of us “being there”. Pioneering neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has spent years on the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness. Find out what he thinks in his brilliantly clear book. BEST FOR: consciousness freaks; anyone who likes thinking hard Mars: From 4.5 billion years ago to the present - Owners' workshop manual David M. Harland Haynes Publishing AFTER the news of a massive lake of water beneath Mars’s south pole and now NASA’s InSight lander, the planet is definitely in the spotlight this year. Sealing the deal, Haynes Publishing has added Mars to its Earth and moon manuals. The guides are a must-have for all who lust after deep details of how, for example, the Viking lander’s biology lab actually worked. BEST FOR: space geeks; Mars Society members; makers Ten Argument for Deleting Your Social Media Account Right Now Jaron Lanier Allen Lane SOCIAL media’s fall from grace continues to sell, er, books. The great thing about Jaron Lanier’s offering is that he has a plan to outfox the companies selling your life back to you. Delete all your accounts, reconnect to others in person, seek out nuance and real context. This is strong self-help from a Silicon Valley insider and VR guru. BEST FOR: everyone on the planet; Lanier’s cult following Unthinkable: An extraordinary journey through the world's strange brains Helen Thomson John Murray THINKING you are a tiger, being perpetually lost in your own house, remembering every day of your life, or literally feeling someone else’s pain. We knew other people’s brains were strange, but how strange is the subject of Helen Thomson’s Unthinkable. She meets the real people whose brains create these odd experiences. Gripping stuff. BEST FOR: fans of neuroscience; lovers of human oddness This article appeared in print under the headline “The gift of reading”
14 great science and tech books to give as presents this Christmas
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December: science & technology