The best science books of 2013

December 13, 2013 | Carolyn

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Every December I like to spread the word about some of the great popular science books published over the course of the year.

Here are selected titles from lists of the best science books of 2013. I've chosen books on a broad range of subjects available in a variety of formats:


From the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2013:

also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook 

The Cancer Chronicles: unlocking medicine's deepest mystery by George Johnson

This a thoughtful look at the history of cancer and recent developments in research and treatment from a leading science writer. It also describes in moving and compassionate terms the cancer journeys of patients and families - based on his own experiences.




Knocking on Heaven's Door: the path to a better way of deathKnocking on Heaven's Door: the path to a better way of death by Katy Butler

This is a timely book by an award-winning science writer about the end-of-life decisions faced by today's families. The author's experiences helping her own parents in their last years illustrate larger themes about the challenges and rewards of caregiving, the value of life-extending medical interventions and knowing when to let go.



also available as an eBookTo Save Everything, Click Here: the folly of technological solutionism by Evgeny Morozov

Contoversial internet critic Morozov argues that "solutionism" - the idea that all problems have a technological solution - will result in tech companies rather than elected governments setting the public agenda. He discusses how the tech industry is framing and controlling debate and his concerns about how our increasing dependence on the Internet will effect social and political discourse. Get a taste of his arguments in his recent essay in Frankfurter Allgemeine.




From The Christian Science Monitor 15 best non-fiction books of 2013:


  Engineers of Victory: the problem solvers who turned the tide in the Second World War
Engineers of Victory: the problem solvers who turned the tide in the Second World War by Paul Kennedy

This is the story of the technical innovations that, perhaps, were the margin of victory for the Allies in World War II. Yale historian Kennedy shows that the strategies of political and military leaders could not have been implemented without the innovative thinking and technical skill of scientists, engineers and ordinary soldiers.



also available as an eBook, an audiobook and a Talking Book (for print disabled customers)The Telling Room: a tale of love, betrayal, revenge and the world's greatest piece of cheese by Michael Paterniti

Paramo de Guzman is of one of the world's finest, rarest and, thanks to the success of this book, most famous cheeses. The author seeks out the cheese's maker in a picturesque Spanish village, intending to tell his story, and is drawn into the dark side of village life.






From The Globe 100 Guide to the Year's Best Books(The Globe & Mail):


also available in large print, as an audiobook and as a talking book (for print disabled customers)

Gulp: adventures on the alimentary canal by Mary Roach

From the author of Stiff, Spook and Bonk comes this look at the alimentary canal. As usual, Roach seeks out expert answers to the questions we wonder about but are reluctant to ask. Her witty style and humorous anecdotes make this an entertaining as well as an educational read.




also available as an eBook

The Once and Future World by J.B MacKinnon

Canadian writer MacKinnon encourages us to see the world as it was before our relentless reshaping of the landscape, while admitting that our capacity to do so is diminishing as our memories fade and our imaginations fail. Like George Monbiot (Feral: rewilding the land, sea and human life), MacKinnon advocates rewilding to allow ecosystems to return to a natural balance and so that we can experience the wonders of nature before they are lost forever.




 From Booklist's Top 10 Science & Health Books: 2013:


Imperial Dreams: tracking the imperial woodpecker through the wild Sierra MadreImperial Dreams: tracking the Imperial Woodpecker through the Wild Sierra Madre by Tim Gallagher

Cornell ornithologist Gallagher travelled to Mexico's rugged mountain interior in search of the imperial woodpecker, last seen in 1956 and likely extinct. He tracked down people who claimed to remember the bird and searched the areas where it was last seen. He writes with such enthusiasm about the Sierra and the people who helped him with his search that we understand why he persisted despite harrowing encounters with members of the drug underworld. Universally praised as an example of nature writing at its best.


Letters to a Young Scientist

Letters to a Young Scientist by Edward O. Wilson

Eminent biolgist and Pulitzer Prize winner Wilson distills a lifetime in science into this slim volume of letters for young people considering a scientific career. He tells them that passion and diligence are as important as intelligence and calls for a closer relationship between the sciences and humanities to encourage creative solutions to the world's problems. He uses examples from his own life and career to illustrate lessons from which we can all benefit.



Tesla: inventor of the electrical age

Tesla: inventor of the electrical age by W. Bernard Carlson

People continue to be fascinated by the Serbian-born inventor and genius Nikola Tesla, best known for the induction motor, the Tesla coil and as a proponent of AC current. Carson describes Tesla's inventions in the context of the early years of electricity and provides more technical background than previous biographers. Reviewers are calling this the authoritative Tesla biography - scholarly but also an engaging read.




From New Scientist's The Best Science Books of 2013:


Ginkgo: the tree that time forgot

Ginkgo: the tree that time forgot by Peter R. Crane

The gingko is our oldest tree species, often called a living fossil because it is closely related to trees which lived over 200 million years ago. It was saved from extinction only when people began to appreciate its value as a source of food and medicine and as a hardy urban street tree. The author, the former director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, was inspired by their "old lion" gingko which was planted before 1762. Another example of great natural history writing.


The Anatomy of Violence: the biolgical roots of crime

The Anatomy of Violence: the biological roots of crime by Adrian Raine

The controversial theory that criminal behavior is at least partly rooted in biology is re-examined by neurocriminalogist Raine in light of new tools (brain imaging, DNA testing) that have enhanced our ability to study the brain. Here he presents the latest research to support this theory and explains it in reference to some famous criminal cases. He poses questions about the legal and ethical consequences of being able to test individuals for risk factors. If violent behavior is linked to biology, he suggests, then future preventive measures and treatment options may reduce risk.

available as an eBook

Beyond the God Particle by Leon Lederman

This is a follow up to Lederman's 1993 book The God Particle.This time he tells the story of the Higgs boson particle, discovered at CERN in 2012, and discusses the future of particle physics research. Lederman won the Nobel prize for physics in 1988 for his work on neutrinos. This is a book for physics enthusiasts.




Happy holiday reading!