The Best Science Books for Holiday Gifting

Looking for science-themed gifts this holiday season? Consider giving one of these wonderful new nonfiction books as a present. Whether the recipient is an aspiring young scientist or the head of their own lab, these books are sure to captivate and inspire. Perhaps one will even end up on your own wish list this year!

This list is organized by the suggested gift recipient, and there’s something here for everyone. But keep in mind, good science writing often transcends the reader’s interests or passions. Don’t be afraid to try giving someone something new – you might just inspire them to start a new passion.

Remember to shop local this year to support independent bookstores!


The Best Books to Give This Holiday Season

For the fossil collector or paleontology enthusiast:

The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Earth’s Ultimate Trophy Quest (Sept 2018) is a beautiful piece of narrative journalism by New Yorker writer Paige Williams. It follows the adventurous story of Eric Prokopi, who in 2012 tried to sell “a super Tyrannosaurus skeleton” from Mongolia. This book is all about the risky business of fossil collecting and smuggling. A riveting story about fossils.

For the climate change warrior:

This is the Way the World Ends: How Droughts and Die-offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes Are Converging on America (Sept 2018) by environmental expert Jeff Nesbit persuades its reader to consider the consequences of climate change: how, if we continue on our current path, we will lose our home here on Earth. A powerful new look at climate change.

For the one interested in artificial intelligence and data:

Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms (Sept 2018) by mathematics lecturer  and computer scientist Hannah Fry is a fascinating – and at times, startling – book about the presence of algorithms in our everyday lives: how they make (and influence our own) decisions. Wonderful introductory explanation of data science (including how our online data is used), artificial intelligence, and the use and function of algorithms. Very introductory approach to complex subjects.

For those who love whales and their history:

Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures (June 2018) by paleobiologist Nick Pyenson is a fascinating look at the natural history of the whale. Pyenson, curator of the Smithsonian’s fossil whale collection, indulges readers with the details of life as a scientist in the field – discovering, digging up, and preserving fossils. Throughout the narrative, he shares the evolutionary history of whales – and makes predictions about what their future may entail. Wonderful and easy to read.

For the advocate (or skeptic) of gender equality in science:

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story (March 2018) by science journalist Angela Saini is a captivating, in-depth look at why women have been viewed as inferior for centuries. Through careful examinations of the pseudoscience fueling misconceptions and sexist stereotypes – set alongside recent research illustrating Saini’s points – she makes a persuasive argument we should give up the whole notion of women being inferior, biologically or otherwise. Firm, touching, and earnest read you could give to your best friend or your worst enemy. Buy yourself a copy while you’re at it – and if you’re feeling particularly generous, make a donation to this GoFundMe and get Saini’s book put in schools and the hands of young woman across the world.

For those raising a teenager:

Inventing Ourselves: the Secret Life of the Teenage Brain (May 2018) by neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is this year’s recipient of the Royal Society’s Science Book Prize. This book is particularly fascinating because Blakemore focuses on her own research, which specializes adolescents. This beautiful book educates the reader on how we form our identities and our selves throughout adolescence – and how we could be doing better at raising young adults. This is somewhat of a dense book, but full of interesting content and anecdotes from the author herself. Perfect for the educated and interested parent or curious adult individual. 

For the one who’s always saying, “Did you know…?”:

Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets to Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live (Nov 2018) by biologist and bestselling author Rob Dunn is best summarized as “A natural history of the wilderness in our homes, from the microbes in our showers to the crickets in our basements.” This captivating and educational book is sure to provide countless facts and figures to entertain and inform the know-it-all in your life. Great one to buy for yourself, too!

For the aspiring psychologist or lucid dreamer:

Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey (Nov 2018) by science journalist Alice Robb takes a look at the fascinating things happening in our brain while we dream. Her book explores the concept of lucid dreaming and its likely purpose according to neuroscience. An interesting and friendly introduction to neuropsychology and the science of sleep. 

For those interested in the science of psychedelics:

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (May 2018) by bestselling author and journalist Michael Pollan is a “brave adventure into the medical and scientific revolution taking place around psychedelic drugs”. This daring book is the perfect gift for an adventurous soul interested in challenging conventional thought and fascinated by the edge of science. 


That’s it for this year! If you feel a book deserves to be on this list, please leave a comment below sharing your recommendation and who you think it would make a great gift for. Help others find good science books!

Please note: All of these books were selected by myself independent of publisher influence or sponsorship. I received no compensation from the authors or their publishing houses for suggesting these titles. You know, just in case that might affect your gift-giving decisions somehow.

Journalist Rachel Nuwer Takes Readers Into the World of Illegal Wildlife Trafficking

I am thrilled to share today’s guest review of Poached (Sept 2018) by Rachel Love Nuwer. Our reviewer Kimberly Riskas brings us a fascinating look into the world of wildlife trafficking through Nuwer’s book. I think you will enjoy reading her thoughts as much as I did.

About the Reviewer:

Kimberly Riskas is a freelance science writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She is passionate about the environment and has spent most of the last decade working on field-based marine conservation projects. Her PhD on illegal fishing took her to Southeast Asia and piqued her interest in wildlife trafficking. She has written for The Conversation, Cosmos Magazine, Sciworthy and others. Follow her on Twitter at @KimberlyRiskas.


It’s an uncomfortable fact: humans are hunting, trading, collecting, and eating Earth’s wildlife out of existence. Trade in animals and their parts is now a global, multi-billion-dollar enterprise, satiating consumer demand for wildlife-derived luxury items, traditional medicine, and pets. But much of this trade is illegal, and demand shows no immediate signs of dying off. With the fate of so many species tied to humankind’s dubious moral compass, what does the future hold? How did things get this bad? And, more importantly, what should we do next?

Conservation ecologist-turned-journalist Rachel Love Nuwer mounts a globe-trotting investigation to answer these questions in her new book, Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Trafficking. The result is an absorbing and powerful book that lays bare the forces driving the global wildlife trade. Part travelogue, part meticulous exposé, Poached is an unflinching, first-hand account that is at once confronting, engrossing, and—unexpectedly—full of hope.

To delve into the subject of wildlife trafficking is to open a Pandora’s box of complexity, but Nuwer guides her narrative with a masterful hand. In the book’s first pages, we meet a Vietnamese hunter haunted by nightmares of the animals he has killed. When we learn that he started hunting to finance treatment for his young son’s illness, we begin to see that this dark world may not be so black and white after all.

Later, in Hanoi, we meet a young Vietnamese architect who, defying Nuwer’s expectations of an educated millennial, uses tiger bone paste, bear bile, and rhino horn for medicinal purposes under direction of his trusted family doctor. While there is an understandable (if Western) tendency to villainize poachers and users, Nuwer has a remarkable ability to highlight their humanity. In a South African prison, she finds herself feeling sorry for a homesick Thai man jailed for his involvement with a barely-legal rhino hunting scheme. Though clearly an animal lover, she refrains from making outright value judgments on these people; as we are shown throughout the book, culture and circumstance are powerful motivations, and changing either is a slow process.

Besides, players in the global wildlife trade are as diverse as the animals they exploit. Those actually doing the poaching—like the Vietnamese hunter—are at the bottom of the hierarchy, often trapped in a cycle of poverty that encourages further killing. Further up are the fences, middlemen, dealers, and distributors, who may or may not operate within organised crime syndicates. Add to this list the corrupt police officers, customs agents, airline employees, and politicians turning a blind eye, and the sheer magnitude of the trade stands out with devastating clarity.

There is an international law against wildlife trafficking, but its implementation is not perfect—as Nuwer discovers when she attends a meeting of its signatories. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (or CITES, for short) is plagued by infighting and last-minute deal brokering. Getting everyone to agree to protect a species can be a slow task. Even when positive decisions are made, Nuwer’s former colleague Daniel Wilcox points out that “it’s then up to countries to actually follow through, which is something entirely different.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with despair at this point, you are not alone. Nuwer herself gives voice to this anguish in a tragicomedic aside: “Oh god, I thought. The animals are all gonna die.” But the antidote to this pessimism comes in the form of the people working tirelessly on the ground. We are introduced to a pantheon of passionate men and women dedicating their lives to stopping the slaughter. We are also reminded of the steep cost paid by those trying to protect animals—exemplified the story of Esnart Paundi, a ranger who was hacked to death by machete-wielding elephant poachers in Zambia.

Despite the gravity of the topic, Poached also includes some beautifully poignant moments. At Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Nuwer meets Sudan, the last male northern white rhino on Earth. Unsure of how to react during her photo-op with the doomed beast, she becomes reflective:

“Beneath Sudan’s bark-like skin, I could feel the slow heaves of his breath. 
I turned and smiled awkwardly at Tim, who had volunteered to be my photographer, unsure of whether I should look somber or happy. It was hard not to think of the finality of extinction in the presence of this deceptively placid animal, who stood so very close to the black hole of oblivion.

“‘Bye Sudan,’ I quietly said instead. ‘Thanks.’” 

Whether you are a die-hard conservationist or a complete newcomer to the field, Poached is a compelling read. Nuwer’s narration is fact laden but well-paced, with gory details used carefully to preserve their impact. The autobiographical glimpses she provides paint a picture of an impressive but endearingly relatable human (jet-lagged, she yearns to sneak a car nap in between interviews at a South African rhino farm). If empathy for others is the way to save the world’s remaining wildlife, then Poached should be required reading by anyone with skin in the game—which is to say, all of us.


Guest reviewers bring new perspectives and important voices to Read More Science. I am always looking for reviewers. Please let me know you are interested and which book you might like to review by sending an email to Sarah at sciencebookreviews@gmail.com.