Science Books Gift Guide

Woof! Not sure what gift to give the boffin who has everything? Fear not, woof! Rusty Rockets' list of the best science books of 2005 will melt away your gift-giving headaches...

The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe
Roger Penrose
ISBN: 0679454438

The now legendary Penrose, author of The Emperor's New Mind, Shadows of the Mind and The Nature of Space and Time, strips the Universe back to its bare mathematical bones, providing the reader with insights into an otherwise impenetrable world. What makes this book so significant is Penrose's real intention to make mathematics accessible to all. In doing so, Penrose opens the door, if only a notch for some, to a world of mathematical wonder. The Road to Reality is an indispensable tome that could sit comfortably on the shelves of mathematicians, physicists and the general reader alike.

Einstein's Universe: The Layperson's Guide
Nigel Calder
ISBN: 0141020563

A bit sneaky to slip this one into the best books of the year category, but this newly released edition is still one of the best books around for general readers interested in getting to grips with one of the most famous, yet least understood, scientific theories. Calder explains very clearly and in plain language how the universe in which we reside works according to Einstein. An appropriate gift choice in the Year of Einstein.

The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life
Richard Dawkins
ISBN: 061861916X

As with all of Dawkins' work, The Ancestor's Tale is beautifully written. Richard Dawkins takes us on a journey of four billion years into our past to revisit our ancestors. Dawkins uses 39 representative species from discrete periods in human evolution to tell fascinating evolutionary tales. The main premise in Dawkins' book is that whatever arbitrary point we choose to begin the journey and whatever species tells their tale, all evolutionary paths lead back to a single point in the evolutionary chain - the origin of life. Perfect for that special creationist in your life.

Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another
Philip Ball
ISBN: 0374281254

A sincere and well argued attempt that aims to apply physics formulas to human behavior, an approach that may revolutionize the so called "soft sciences." Ball's work stands out from previous attempts that observed humans as lifeless automatons. The formulas used by Ball have been shown to accurately predict group behaviors while still maintaining the integrity of individual choice. Critical Mass won this years Aventis prize for science books.

A Briefer History of Time
Stephen Hawking
ISBN: 0553804367

How did the Universe begin and what is its future? While the questions may be the same, the theories to explain them have evolved, and Hawking has been one of the leading scientific figures during this evolution. When A Brief History of Time hit the shelves 17 years ago it became an instant bestseller, but it also became one of the least read. This latest edition still has all the significance and scientific clout of the first, but Hawking has managed to bridge the original gaps in understanding of the original for the lay reader. Sublime.

A Short History of Nearly Everything
Bill Bryson
ISBN: 0767923227

This book could be called Bill Bryson's Guide to the Galaxy. Using his superbly honed prose style, Bryson sets about the task of literally telling us the history of everything, from quarks to quasars, to when hominids began to spread across the face of the Earth. While Bryson is, admittedly, covering the same territory as many other science writers, he does so in an irresistible manner, transforming what could be dry subject matter into a page-turning literary work of the highest caliber. A truly remarkable book that comes highly recommended.

Matters of Substance: Drugs, and why everyone's a user
Griffith Edwards
ISBN: 031233883X

Matters of Substance questions the attitudes that society has towards drugs, while posing the argument that these attitudes are heavily reliant upon social context, just as equally as the effect of the drugs themselves. Because "everyone is a user", this book is an important work that should be read by researchers, clinicians, policy makers and the general reader alike. Ouch! Makes current drug policy look plain silly.

The Earth: An Intimate History
Richard Fortey
ISBN: 0375406263

What could be more crucial a science topic than the very earth on which we walk? Fortey, senior paleontologist at the Natural History Museum, London, is in his element and way out of standard geological time as he explains lucidly the characteristics of our dynamic Earth. Fortey looks beyond the confines of human history and explains with clarity previous and future movements of the Earth's crust and the landmasses that ostensibly float on its surface. In a brilliant narrative style, Fortey takes us on a sweeping trek over land and sea showing us the immense environmental changes that are occurring constantly beneath our feet. The Earth has received rave reviews and will change your mind about the geological sciences being dull.

Warped Passages: Unravelling the Universe's Hidden Dimensions
Lisa Randall
ISBN: 0060531088

Scientific method has been responsible for informing us of what we don't know about the universe, just as much as it has informed us of what we do. With the gauntlet thrown squarely at the feet of physicists, just about anything and everything is now being explored that might shed some light on the true nature of the universe. Warped Passages is about one such physicist, Lisa Randall, who has taken up this challenge by proposing the possibility of other dimensions. A groundbreaking work that may lead to the most astounding discoveries yet made about the nature of the Universe. Mind-bending.

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality
Brian Greene
ISBN: 0375727205

There is probably no bigger a question that could be posed than "what is reality?" You might think you know what reality is, but it might be a lot different from Brian Greene's version. As you begin to read the mind expanding pages of The Fabric of the Cosmos, you'll come to appreciate why Greene is considered one of the worlds leading physicists. Teleportation, the possibility of time running in all directions, and the promise of reconciling quantum and classical mechanics are all addressed by Greene in cogent and convincing arguments. But don't think that you have to be a physicist to understand the complex ideas proposed in the book, as Greene manages uses explanation through analogy masterfully well. The universe is within your grasp, puny Earthling!

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History
John M. Barry
ISBN: 0143034480

Barry provides a detailed history that explores one of the most horrific and frightening periods in human history, and going by recent reports a history that may repeat. Barry's scathing historical interpretation of the great influenza pandemic of 1918 shows how a bad situation was made worse due to ignorance, apathy and some very poor political decisions. A timely and gripping read that should serve as warning to all current governments.

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin
ISBN: 0375412026

Oppenheimer was a man who forever changed the world in which we live, but just what made him tick? Authors Bird, acclaimed Cold War historian, and Sherwin, Professor of English and American History at Tufts University, provide a fascinating account of a complex and misunderstood individual. American Prometheus is a revealing history of a man coveted for his scientific ability but condemned for his political dalliances with the Communist Party. Bird and Sherwin highlight a concerted effort on the part of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to discredit Oppenheimer to avoid him speaking out against the development of the H-bomb. The authors construct Oppenheimer's life as a tense and unsettling drama, and delve deeply into the man's psychological composition in order to try and explain some of his more curious decisions. The book brilliantly depicts a mysterious, persecuted and controversial man.

Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control
Kathleen Taylor
ISBN: 0192804960

Despite the term "brainwashing" having been around for some time now, Kathleen Taylor's book is a substantial and groundbreaking piece of science literature. We've all heard of the various ways in which we can coerce, deceive, and manipulate others. Many of us have probably even read some of the histories that delve into how these methods have been implemented. Taylor's account, however, uses the well-trodden social psychology angle and combines it with neuroscience to bring to the fore some startling discoveries. Using case studies to make her case, Brainwashing gets into the real nitty-gritty of human behavior, how it can be controlled and what the alarming implications might be. Quite scary.

Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown
Michael Shermer
ISBN: 0805077081

Shermer spends most of his time debunking crackpot pseudoscience and mysticism, so he is more than qualified to set the record straight as to what is and isn't science. This book is a timely addition to the debunking oeuvre, as science seems to be increasingly getting a hard time from religion, the public and the press. Some have even suggested that we are headed toward a new Dark Age! Grab this book for your tin-foil hat wearing buddies.

Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness
Daniel C. Dennett
ISBN: 0262042258

Dennett is an influential and revolutionary thinker on matters of human consciousness in an era where the characteristics of consciousness are still so elusive and contested that it is almost considered a taboo subject. This latest book is a collection of essays that represents much of what Dennett has been pondering on in regard to human consciousness for the last five or so years. Not a light read, but rewarding.

Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak
Kenneth S. Deffeyes
ISBN: 0809029561

Deffeyes, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, was one of the first geologists to warn of the oil crisis in which we now currently find ourselves. In fact, while politicians are still deciding on whether to implement strategies that should have been put into action years ago, Deffeyes says that the oil supplies have already peaked. It's not all doom and gloom, however, as Deffeyes provides ways in which to turn a catastrophe into, hopefully, a minor inconvenience for the average householder. Conservation, nuclear power and wind generated power have now all become inevitable options to oil. Deffeyes knows what he's talking about when it comes to energy resources, which makes Beyond Oil an important read.

What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer
John Markoff
ISBN: 0670033820

Just were did the inspiration for the personal computer come from? It seems almost too obvious to state, but it was the drug-crazed 60s that led to ideas of machine integrated humans, that led to much of the design and interface of computing. While they may not have had their wildest cyborg fantasies come true, it goes without saying that computers have become an important if not necessary part of our daily lives. While today's generation would no doubt point to Bill Gates as the granddaddy of computing, the real story is not so cut and dry. Markoff captures the mood of the 1960s San Francisco Bay Area brilliantly when he pits a young and ambitious Gates against the backdrop of the then laidback bohemian computer counter culture. Anyone interested in computing should read this and be amazed.

Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie
Barbara Goldsmith
ISBN: 0393327485

Curie has left an indelible mark on scientific history, and as the first female scientist to receive the Nobel Prize, is arguably the most recognized female scientist of this century. This point is not to be shrugged off lightly considering the male dominated world in which she made her incredible scientific discoveries. In this remarkable biography, Goldsmith brings to life both the public and private lives of Marie Curie, but more noteworthy is how she brings to life the true insight behind Curie's discoveries. While it is well known that Curie managed to produce Radium, the real genius is in her recognition that discovering Radium would lead to the discovery of further elements. A definitive scientific history of an incredible woman whose tenacity, intelligence and insight overcame much prejudice and hardship.

Alan Lawrie
ISBN: 1894959191

This book makes it into the top twenty on the grounds that it shows clearly the engineering marvel that is the Saturn V Rocket in all its detail and glory. Lawrie, a satellite propulsion engineer, closely follows the Saturn V Rocket's construction from the drawing boards of Boeing, North American Aviation, and the Douglas Company to the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. Lawrie painstakingly covers all 45 rocket stages for the Saturn V project together with their dates, times, performance parameters and malfunctions in this truly comprehensive book. Follow up sections of the book include the development of the F1 and J2 rocket engines. As a bonus you get to gawk at some recently released declassified photographs of the Saturn project. Saturn is a great read for engineers, tinkerers and mechanical misfits.

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