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Season's readings ... for grown-ups

Earlier in the week, we talked about children's books on scientific topics - but of course, science isn't just for kids. In fact, there are so many science-oriented volumes out there that it'd be unfair to give you a top-10 list. Instead, we'll start out with seven pairs of recently published books that address topics ranging from climate science to space history to ghost hunting. Then you can chime in with your own favorites for holiday giving (and anyday reading). You might even win a prize.

  • Climate science

"Storm World" by Chris Mooney.
"Apollo's Fire" by Jay Inslee with Bracken Hendricks.

OK, so you've read Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and you now believe that the climate crisis is real. Or do you? "Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics and the Battle Over Global Warming" revisits past debates over the roots of monster storms, and puts some extra perspective on the current climate debate. So what can we do about climate worries and energy woes? "Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy" lays out a vision that echoes the Apollo moon effort of the '60s. (For another perspective, you can also check out Robert Zubrin's "Energy Victory," the subject of a recent Log item.)  

  • Deep history

"Before the Dawn" by Nicholas Wade.
"The Far Traveler" by Nancy Marie Brown

It's always dicey to try to reconstruct the story behind prehistory, but these two books do a slick job of it, even if the purists complain. "Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors" weaves a tale from the gleanings of archaeologists and geneticists, going back to before the dawn of humanity, let alone history. It won a book prize this year from the National Association of Science Writers (with yours truly as one of the judges). Another member of NASW, Nancy Marie Brown, has written a tale titled "The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman." The story of Gudrid, a Viking pioneer who sailed to the New World, may sound like historical fiction - but it's actually based on Icelandic sagas and recent archaeological findings.

  • Ghost hunting

"Memoirs of a Monster Hunter" by Nick Redfern.
"Ghost Hunters" by Deborah Blum.

You'll find a contemporary travel guide to the paranormal in "Memoirs of a Monster Hunter: A Five-Year Journey in Search of the Unknown." But for the classic retelling of the greatest scientific investigation of the spirit world (and how it ultimately fizzled), check out "Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death." I loved the audiobook version and discussed the science of spooks with Blum on Halloween.

  • Medicine

"Cell of Cells" by Cynthia Fox.
"Good Germs, Bad Germs" by Jessica Snyder Sachs.

Stem cells are emerging as one of the biggest stories in medicine nowadays. "Cell of Cells: The Global Race to Capture and Control the Stem Cell" takes the story through the South Korean cloning scandal - but it was written too early to catch the current upswing in cell reprogramming research. Another book that fleshes out the scientific issues behind contemporary medical news is "Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World." Science book reviewer Phillip Manning tells me that "Good Germs, Bad Germs" is on his list of recent favorites.

  • Scientific biography

"Einstein" by Walter Isaacson.
"The Reluctant Mr. Darwin" by David Quammen.

Another one of Manning's favorites is "Einstein: His Life and Universe," the first weighty biography to draw upon a fresh batch of personal correspondence released from the Einstein archives. For a taste, check out my Q&A with author Walter Isaacson. Thinking about Einstein brings to mind another controversial theorist in the scientific pantheon: the title character in "The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution."

  • Scientific memoirs

"Avoid Boring People" by James Watson.
"A Life Decoded" by J. Craig Venter.

James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA's double helix, may be on the outs nowadays - but you could never accuse him of being boring. He recaps his exploits in "Avoid Boring People: Lessons From a Life in Science." He addressed some of those lessons in this Cosmic Log Q&A, which was conducted just before his comments about genetics and race got him in trouble. One of Watson's rivals in the genome game, J. Craig Venter, tells a different side of the scientific story in "A Life Decoded: My Genome, My Life." Stay tuned in the days ahead for my Q&A with Venter.

  • Spaceflight

"Live From Cape Canaveral" by Jay Barbree.
"America in Space: NASA's First 50 Years."

This has been a banner year for books about spaceflight, in large part because of the 50th anniversary of the Space Age's start. NBC News correspondent Jay Barbree retells the Space Age saga with his trademark "aw, shucks" flair in "Live From Cape Canaveral: Covering the Space Race, From Sputnik to Today." If it's cool pictures you're looking for, "America in Space: NASA's First 50 Years" should fill the bill. Writings by several authors, including Neil Armstrong's foreword, add context to the NASA picture project. And if you're interested in the future of spaceflight, you should look into Michael Belfiore's progress report, "Rocketeers: How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers and Pilots Is Boldly Privatizing Space."

Now it's your turn: What science-oriented books hold an honored place on your bookshelf - or on your holiday wish list, for that matter? Feel free to leave your suggestions below, and if your pick becomes a future Cosmic Log Used Book Club selection, I'll send you a DVD of "Flatland: The Movie."