Used with permission from "Science Ink" by Carl Zimmer. Sterling Publishing (c) 2011
MRL, a graduate student in molecular biology at Princeton, wears universal truths on his chest, including the structure of a glucose molecule, a symbol from quantum physics, the golden ratio and a carbon atom. The tattoo is one of the featured images in "Science Ink" by Carl Zimmer.
Ready to crack open some inky tales of scientific lore and levity? Check out our holiday science book roundup — and add your own selections to the list.
Big, arty books:
- "Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed" by Carl Zimmer: This is not your typical coffee-table book. First, it's handy enough to sit on a shelf, thanks to its 7-by-10-inch size. But more importantly, it's not just an assemblage of 200 amazing tattoos inspired by scientific symbology. Zimmer tells the tale behind each tattoo ... and the science that inspired it. Think of it as a survey course on the cosmos, written on skin.
- "The Physics Book: From the Big Bang to Quantum Resurrection, 250 Milestones in the History of Physics," by Clifford Pickover. What other book begins 13.7 billion years in the past and ends up more than 100 trillion years in the future? In between the big bang and the coming reign of the Boltzmann brains, Pickover hits the high points in the history of physics, explains scientific concepts ranging from classical mechanics to dark energy and string theory, and offers a glossy illustration for each milestone. Oh, and don't forget "The Math Book."
- "The Space Shuttle: Celebrating 30 Years of NASA's First Space Plane," by Piers Bizony. Are you looking for this year's biggest, shiniest coffee-table book about NASA's recently departed space shuttle fleet? Bizony's book is chock-full of pictures from each of the fleet's 135 missions, although the last one is represented only by a picture of Atlantis and its team during preparations for July's final flight. The text reviews 30 years of highs and lows for the shuttle program.
- "The Big Idea: How Breakthroughs of the Past Shape the Future," foreword by Timothy Ferris. National Geographic's coffee-table book provides a visually spectacular look at 24 cutting-edge innovations, ranging from stem cells and nanomedicine to augmented reality. But that's not all: Each of the "big ideas" is traced back through the scientific discoveries of the past that have laid the foundation for the future. Just the thing for a budding scientist or engineer. Here's what Boing Boing's Maggie Koerth-Baker says about the book: "If you put it on your coffee table, it will make people believe that you are smart. But I think its real value lies in what it can do for a seventh-grader."
- "The Cult of Lego," by John Baichtal and Joe Meno. Not exactly a science book, but if we're talking about inspiring the next generation of engineers, flipping through this book would be one way to do it. You can regard this volume as an introduction to the esoteric world of "vigs" (vignettes), "minifigs" (custom-made mini-figurines), balloon-borne Lego experiments, robo-Legos and grand projects that require millions of those little bricks.
For kids of all ages:
The AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books recognizes high-quality science writing and illustration for young readers, but the "young adult" finalists are worth reading even if you're not so young anymore. My book, "The Case for Pluto," was a finalist last year. Here are this year's top selections:
Young adult science books:
- "Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle," by Thor Hanson. Delves into the evolution of feathers in the dinosaur age, their adaptation in the animal world and in the fashion world, the history of the global feather trade and the future applications of feather science.
- "Feynman," by Jim Ottaviani with illustrations by Leland Myrick. A graphic novel about the bongo-playing, Nobel-winning pioneer of quantum physics? This is a biography of Richard Feynman you have to see to believe. It's been a good year for the late physicist: Fans will want to pick up Lawrence M. Krauss' "Quantum Man" and take a look at Freeman Dyson's essay about both biographies in The New York Review of Books. Really serious fans will be interested in the new paperback edition of "Feynman Lectures on Physics."
- "Plastic: A Toxic Love Story," by Susan Freinkel. Are we in an unhealthy relationship with plastic? Freinkel delves into the history, science and economics surrounding our love affair with synthetics, and suggests a healthier way to live with "the material we love to hate but can't seem to live without."
- "Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch, and What It Takes to Win," by Judy Dutton. The Intel Science and Engineering Fair is one of the premier competitions for whiz kids, offering $4 million in prizes and scholarships. But what's the real story behind the whizzery? Dutton follows a dozen brainy contestants through the thrill of discovery and the agony of defeat.
Children's science picture books:
- "After the Kill," by Darrin Lunde. Illustrator: Catherine Stock.
- "A Butterfly Is Patient," by Dianna Hutts Aston. Illustrator: Sylvia Long.
- "Seabird in the Forest," by Joan Dunning.
- "Seed, Soil, Sun," by Chris Peterson.
Middle-grades science books:
- "Biomimicry: Inventions Inspired by Nature," by Dora Lee. Illustrator: Margot Thompson.
- "The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frog: A Scientific Mystery," by Sandra Markle.
- "Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication," by Ann Downer.
- "World Without Fish," by Mark Kurlansky. Illustrator: Frank Stockton.
These books take the prize. Literally. They're this year's top selections from prestigious science-writing competitions:
- "Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA," by Maryn McKenna. Winner of the National Association of Science Writers' Science in Society book award.
- "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," by Rebecca Skloot. Winner of National Academies' Communication Award for books (and a repeat recommendation from last year's holiday book roundup).
- "The Wave Watcher's Companion," by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. Winner of the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.
- "The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World," by David Deutsch.
- "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined," by Steven Pinker.
- "Cleopatra: A Life," by Stacy Schiff.
- "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer," by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
- "1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created," by Charles C. Mann.
- "The Information: A History. A Theory. A Flood," by James Gleick.
- "Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything," by David Bellos.
- "Here's Looking at Euclid," by Alex Bellos.
- "Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World," by Lisa Randall.
- "Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them," by Donovan Hohn.
- "Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science," by Marjorie Caroline Malley.
More book recommendations:
I've touched upon a fair number of notable books over the past year, including "Incognito," "The Hidden Reality," "The Magic of Reality" and "Physics of the Future." Check out these other recommendations from past Cosmic Log roundups:
- 2011: 10 books for a summer field trip
- 2010: Season's readings in science
- 2010: Tales for summer science odysseys
- 2009: Science by the book
- 2009: Books for an Apollo summer
- 2007: Season's readings for grown-ups
- 2007: Season's readings for kids
- 2007: Escape into summer sci-fi
- 2005: Literary adventures (scroll down)
- Cosmic Log archive on books
- Cosmic Log Used Book Club
Add your own book recommendations as comments below ... and don't forget to send in your Science Geek Gift suggestions for this year's contest. You could win a pile of books, including "Science Ink," "The Cult of Lego," "The Physics Book" and "The Case for Pluto."
Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter or following the Cosmic Log Google+ page. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.