Five Science Books for the Second Half of 2019

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 29: British writer Gareth Williams attends a photocall at Edinburgh International Book Festival at Charlotte Square Gardens on August 29, 2016 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images)

The year 2019 has given us a solid flow of science books that are riveting and ecstatic. For the second half of this year, I’ll be profiling five science books that you should get and that show a promising read for those interested in the science world. This is not a definite list, as I’m biased towards the life sciences so those who love their math or their physics will find this list dull.

Science Books for the Second Half of 2019 

How to Grow a Human: Adventures in Who We Are and How We Are Made by Philip Ball (William Collins)

Phillip Ball is a passionate writer out of the United Kingdom who has written dozens of science books. His latest science book, How To Grow A Human: Adventures in Who We Are and How We Are Made, will make you evaluate what it means to be human on a planet where gene editing is progressing and the prospects of it could make humans outlive their average life spans. In Nature, Natalie Kofler writes:

“How to Grow a Human examines how scientific advances from genomics to assisted reproduction influence human identity. Ball starts by introducing us to his “mini-brain;” a collection of signaling neurons grown from his own reprogrammed skin cells by researchers at University College London. His observation of “part of himself” in a Petri dish begins a journey that spans centuries, giving context to a not-so-distant future in which organs are grown to order and gene editing steers human evolution. Faced with technologies that cheat death and circumvent reproduction, Ball forces us to reassess what being human actually means.” 

The Nocturnal Brain: Tales of Nightmares and Neuroscience by Guy Leschziner (Simon & Schuster)

There are several great books on the science of sleep. Matthew Walker‘s Why We Sleep and William C. Dement‘s The Promise of Sleep are stables reading on the science of what goes on at night when we close our eyes. What makes unique Guys Leschziner‘s new book, The Nocturnal Brain, is that it concentrates on disorders related to sleep. From nightmares, insomnias, and narcolepsy, to rare diseases like fatal familial insomnia. This is a must-have book for those interested in the afflictions of sleep disorders.

Unraveling the Double Helix: The Lost Heroes of DNA by Gareth Williams (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

The story of the race to discover the structure of the double helix has been a high profile tale. The story was first focused on James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins, the three of which the Nobel Prize was awarded. But, then came the crude and popular account by Watson in his acclaimed book, The Double Helix, in which he depicted a disgraceful picture of the researcher and pioneer Rosalind Franklin.

Franklin, who died from cancer before the publication of such book, became a feminist icon because of how unfairly Watson has undermined her role on the discovery of the double helix – Franklin’s X-Ray technique and data was key for the discovery. Later science books, documentaries, and tales were published to help paint a bigger picture of the historical race and how Franklin deserved better.

But still, other scientists have been left out and myths have surrounded the discovery of the double helix. It is because of this that Gareth Williams‘ book will be a refreshing drop of historical knowledge to this scientific tale. In Unraveling the Double Helix: The Lost Heroes of DNAWilliams will profile the scientists that precluded the key findings so that a concept of the DNA Double Helix could be achieved while debunking some myths that have risen recently. Nature already reviewed this book claiming that “Unravelling the Double Helix looks beyond giants to the many researchers, now half-forgotten, whose contributions paved the way for an icon of science.”

The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness Is Widespread but Can’t Be Computed by Christof Koch

Neuroscientist, Christof Koch, is arguably one of the most recognizable faces in the study of consciousness. He, alongside Nobel laureate and one of the discoverers of the DNA Double Helix structure, Francis Crick, set out in the late twentieth century to find the biological roots of the mysterious phenomenon known as consciousness. An early flash of their studies where published by Koch in the early 2000s with his book The Quest for Consciousness. Then in 2012, he delivered an honest memoir/description on consciousness titled Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist. Koch explains:

“I describe my sixteen years of close collaboration and friendship with Francis Crick and the gradual emergence of consciousness (once considered a “fringy” subject) as a legitimate topic for scientific investigation.”

Now, Koch is set to bring back his long-loved project in the midst of the still confusing field that is the study of consciousness. The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness Is Widespread but Can’t Be Computed will be Koch’s second book with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Press. In it, he will offer “a straightforward definition of consciousness as any subjective experience, from the most mundane to the most exalted—the feeling of being alive.” The topic of consciousness has allowed people with fringe believes describe the phenomenon since everyone has it and know what it feels like to have it. You get from neuroscience to quantum mechanics to even new age spiritual nonsense when searching on the topic. Koch will surely deliver sober writing on consciousness with his vast 30 years of experience.

And How Are You, Dr. Sacks? A Biographical Memoir of Oliver Sacks by Lawrence Weschler (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

This book was previously highlighted in an article about two biographies on the wonderful life of Oliver Sacks. Still, is worth noting how important this book will be. Sacks is out of writings after the publication of his highly acclaimed collections of essays Everything in Its Place. It is because of this that this biography by long-time friend of the great neurologist and former writer of The New Yorker, Lawrence Weschler, will be a refreshing reading on who was Sacks.

Readers have only a glimpse at Sacks’ life through his memoir On the Move, in which he recounted his journey from London to the United States, his life as a passionate writer and doctor and even confessing his love for his partner Bill Hayes – in the process acknowledging his previously undisclosed sex preference. His later books, A River of Consciousness and Everything in Its Place, highlighted his love for the sciences and his thoughts. While Bill Hayes own memoir, Insomniac City, painted a life around Oliver Sacks and his last dying days.

Weschler’s account And How Are You, Dr. Sacks? A Biographical Memoir of Oliver Sacks, promises to take us back when he and Sacks met – in the 1980s. Moreover, what it was like being around Sacks when he had the attention of his patients, with his always curious mind annotating his thoughts and his unique lifestyle. As Publisher Weekly puts it: 

“The book is indeed largely about how the mercurial, neurotic, larger-than-life Sacks was on any given day. It unfolds in visits, outings, and restaurant meals as he veers between ebullient enthusiasms and depression and as the conversation meanders from his motorcycle speeding tickets to his weight-lifting championship, long-distance swimming exploits around the Bronx, his readings of the philosophers Hume and Leibniz, his writer’s block, the lifestyles of octopuses, and his childhood Sabbath rituals.” 

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