Summer is slipping away fast, but there’s still time to spend a long weekend devouring a book on the beach. And it doesn’t have to be the trashy romance variety: We’ve collected a bunch of great science and tech reads that’ll entertain you while getting your brain in shape for school — or just get you thinking again after a sunny vacation.
Technology and Internet Culture
Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler (Free Press)
The future has been sounding pretty apocalyptic lately, but it doesn’t have to be. Space entrepreneur Peter Diamandis and science journalist Steven Kotler argue that emerging technologies, from artificial intelligence and robotics to digital manufacturing and synthetic biology could soon enable us to provide for every human being on Earth. Says The Christian Science Monitor: “Not only is Abundance a riveting page-turner…but it’s a book that gives us a future worth fighting for. And even more than that, it shows us our place in that fight.”
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance (Harper Collins)
The very first inside glimpse at the life of the most audacious tech entrepreneur of modern times. Musk’s triumphs, blunders and aspirations are all on display in journalist Ashlee Vance’s “exhaustively reported” biography, which The New York Times says “will likely serve as the definitive account of a man whom so far we’ve seen mostly through caricature.” There’s simply no one like Musk, and no place to learn his story like this book.
How We’ll Live on Mars by Stephen Petranek (Ted Books)
Building a colony on Mars is no longer science fiction — it’s something humans can accomplish within a generation. In How We’ll Live on Mars, science journalist Stephen Petranek gives us a tour of the diverse technologies we’ll need to survive on the Red Planet. But more than a technical primer, Petranek’s book is a manifesto. Getting humans to Mars, he argues, is necessary to ensure the long-term survival of our species. Read Gizmodo’s full review here.
The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (W.W. Norton & Company)
Digital technologies have taken the world by storm. But the ongoing transformation of everything from our infrastructure to our relationships is going to be rocky, disrupting entire professions and economies. In this inherently optimistic book, two MIT professors explore how we can prepare the next generation for success in a society transformed on all levels by technology.
The Internet of Garbage by Sarah Jeong (Forbes Media)
From Gamer Gate to Reddit’s recent leadership implosion, the question of whether and how to remove hateful garbage from social networks and content platforms is an ongoing conversation. In The Internet of Garbage, tech journalist Sarah Jeong explores why garbage removal isn’t as simple as just hitting the ‘delete’ button, and how we can cultivate better interactions and discourse through active moderation and community management.
The Coming Swarm: DDOS Actions, Hacktivism, and Civil Disobedience on the Internet by Molly Sauter (Bloomsbury Academic)
The internet has become its own political arena. But beyond petitions, fundraisers, and flash movements, there’s a world of individuals who fight quietly for justice, using new tactics of civil disobedience. In The Coming Swarm, media scholar Molly Sauter takes an in-depth and historical look at one of the main tools of internet activism today: Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS). Read an excerpt over at io9.
Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money by Nathaniel Popper (Harper)
Its arrival was met with doubt and derision, but Bitcoin — the decentralized currency maintained by computer networks around the world — has become a multi-billion dollar economy. In an energetic book that feels more like a tech-thriller, New York Times technology and business reporter Nathaniel Popper chronicles the rise of Bitcoin and the people striving to decentralize some of society’s most basic institutions.
You’re Never Weird On the Internet (Almost): A Memoir by Felicia Day (Touchstone)
When it comes to gaming, Internet celebrity, and online sexism, Felicia Day, best known for her web series The Guild, kinda knows a thing or two. In her new memoir, which Forbes describes as “relentlessly funny and surprisingly inspirational to anyone who grew up a geek and continually doubts themselves to this day,” Day encourages her fellow nerdy women to be bold and undaunted in online world.
Science and Nature
Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Modern World by Mark Miodownik (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Ever wonder what makes elastic stretchy? Where the foam in your sneakers and the concrete in our skyscrapers comes from? In Stuff Matters, materials scientist Mark Miodownik gives readers a sweeping tour of the extraordinary origins of everyday things.
The New York Times gives Stuff Matters a starred review: “Stuff Matters is about hidden wonders, the astonishing properties of materials we think boring, banal, and unworthy of attention...It’s possible this science and these stories have been told elsewhere, but like the best chocolatiers, Miodownik gets the blend right.”
How I killed Pluto and Why It Had it Coming by Mike Brown (Spiegel & Grau)
As Plutomania swept the internet this summer, many of us remembered the sadness we felt when the tiny world was stripped of its planethood in 2006. In an eloquent memoir, Caltech astronomer Mike Brown — the man who “killed” Pluto — traces the profound astronomical discoveries that led to Pluto’s reclassification. Says Publisher’s Weekly: “Deftly pulling readers along on his journey of discovery and destruction, Brown sets the record straight and strongly defends his science with a conversational, rational, and calm voice that may change the public’s opinion of scientists as poor communicators.”
The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson (Rodale)
Thousands of years of agricultural abuse have depleted one of Earth’s most precious resources — the soil. Science journalist Kristin Ohlson argues that the best way to heal the land and improve our planet’s resilience is to start paying attention to the ground beneath our feet. According to the Los Angeles Review of Books: “The Soil Will Save Us is an important book and a pleasure to read. Ohlson, who has traveled the world to meet with innovative farmers, soil scientists, and environmental activists, writes her adventures while foregrounding her own vibrant personality.”
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (Metropolitan Books)
There’s little doubt that modern medicine has transformed society for the better. Still, toward the end of a person’s life, the goals of medicine can sometimes run counter to our needs as human beings. Being Mortal traces surgeon Atul Gawande’s transformation from a young, confident med student — for whom mortality wasn’t part of the equation — to a doctor who embraces the value of the end-of-life care medicine can’t provide.
The Water Book by Alok Jha (Headline Publishing Group)
Water. It’s all around us, and we couldn’t live without it. But in many ways, water is a mysterious substance. We don’t, for instance, know how our planet came to be a water world, why water makes us feel calmer, or what sorts of ecosystems lie at the bottom of the ocean. “Jha sets out to give this extraordinary subject [water] a proper biography,” The Guardian writes. The Water Book, The Guardian says, is at times an overly long biography, but “it holds wonders enough that you can swim through the flaws, and into its deeps.”
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (Henry Holt and Company)
Our planet is in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, and unlike the previous five, this one’s our doing. “In lucid prose,” The New York Times writes, “[Kolbert] examines the role of man-made climate change in causing what biologists call the sixth mass extinction — the current spasm of plant and animal loss that threatens to eliminate 20 to 50 percent of all living species on earth within this century....She makes an irrefutable case that what we are doing to cause a sixth mass extinction is clearly wrong. And she makes it clear that doing what is right means accelerating our transition to a more sustainable world.”
Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia by Anthony Townsend (W.W. Norton & Company)
As urban regions swell into mega-cities, technology is becoming an important tool for tackling problems of governance and resource access. Urbanist Anthony Townsend takes a historical look at the use of information technologies in urban planning and design, from the 19th century telegraph to the vast cellular networks and cloud computing resources of modern cities.
Who’s Your City? How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life by Richard Florida (Basic Books)
In the age of globalization, it’s often said that location doesn’t really matter anymore. Not so, according to journalist Richard Florida. In fact, it matters more than ever. Place influences the jobs and careers we have access to, the people we meet, and our our ability to lead happy and fulfilled lives. Who’s Your City? “provides the first-ever rankings of cities by life stage, rating the best places for singles, young families and empty-nesters,” Times Union writes. “The book shows readers how to choose where to live, and what those choices mean for their lives, happiness and communities.”
Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis by Mark Binelli (Metropolitan Books)
After decades of decay, Motor City is experiencing a surprising revival. Detroit-area native and Rolling Stone writer Mark Binelli chronicles how and why Detroit is becoming a hub for radical urban planners and utopian environmentalists, and a laboratory for the future.
Sidewalk City: Remapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City by Annette Miae Kim (University of Chicago Press)
The term “public space” typically evokes sprawling swaths of green in the center of a city. But there’s another type of public space that may be even more important from a social and economic perspective: The sidewalk. “Sidewalks are also a kind of urban nervous system, wiring connective paths from one corner of the city to another,” Next City writes. “But this sort of public space also bumps up against property rights. Who ultimately has power over this public-private space? The beautifully designed Sidewalk City examines how this tension is negotiated day to day in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City.”
Zinester’s Guide to NYC: The Last Wholly Analog Guide to NYC by Ayun Halliday (People’s Guide)
In the age of digital everything, one might rightly wonder if there’s still a place for a completely analog city guide. Apparently, there is. Brain Pickings calls the Zinester’s Guide to NYC “a remarkable achievement of urban curiosity, beautifully illustrated with original artwork, spanning everything from architecture to art to culinary curiosity and beyond.” Stephen Colbert’s review is more to the point: “It kicks ass.”
Contact the author at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.