Nature and Science
The Source: How Rivers Made America and America Remade its Rivers by Martin DoyleWhat it's about: A river scientist makes a convincing case that much of U.S. history and culture is attributable to North America's waterways.
Did you know? The United States boasts more than 250,000 rivers that stretch out over some 3 million miles.
Further reading: David Owen's Where the Water Goes, about the Colorado River; Dan Egan's The Death and Life of the Great Lakes.
Close Encounters with Humankind: A Paleoanthropologist Investigates Our... by Sang-Hee Lee with Shin-Young YoonWhat it's about: Korean paleoanthropologist Sang-Hee Lee discusses a variety of topics pertaining to human evolution in this eye-opening book.
Topics of note: cannibalism, fatherhood, lactose intolerance, and more.
You might also like: For another accessible introduction to paleoanthropology, try Lydia Pyne's Seven Skeletons, which examines human evolution through seven sets of ancient remains.
The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed... by Daniel StoneWhat it is: A biography of 19th-century botanist David Fairchild, who traveled the world in search of unusual plants with commercial potential.
For fans of: the Hass avocado, Egyptian cotton, pistachios, quinoa, or any of the hundreds of plants that Fairchild introduced to the U.S.
You might also like: Jane S. Smith's The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants, about another agricultural pioneer whose work changed the way America eats.
A Magical World: Superstition and Science from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment by Derek K. WilsonWhat it's about: Richly detailed yet briskly paced, A Magical World surveys the profound intellectual and cultural shifts that occurred in Europe between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.
What sets it apart: Historian Derek K. Wilson rejects the notion of humanity's steady progress from barbarism to civilization and views great thinkers as products of their time, not anomalies.
Read it for: a thought-provoking meditation on the complementary roles of science and religion in Western civilization.
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter IsaacsonWhat it is: An engaging biography of Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci, which examines his extraordinary ability to think across disciplines.
About the author: As with his biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs, journalist Walter Isaacson conducts copious research to tell the story of "history's most creative genius."
You might also like: Mike Lankford's Becoming Leonardo, another biography that celebrates da Vinci's intellectual curiosity.
How We Got to Now: Six Innovations that Made the Modern World by Steven JohnsonWhat it's about: This thought-provoking book explores six simple concepts -- glass, refrigeration, sound recordings, sanitation, clocks, and artificial light -- that paved the way for modern life.
About the author: Steven Johnson, author of The Invention of Air and Where Good Ideas Come From, is known for his accessible style and anecdote-rich approach to fascinating, yet overlooked, topics.
You might also like: James Burke's Connections and The Day the Universe Changed, as well as Henry Petroski's technology-focused microhistories.
The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain... by Sam KeanWhat it is: A collection of historical case studies that attempts to answer the question, "Where does the brain stop and the mind start?"
Chapters include: "Cells, Senses, Circuits" (about neurotransmitters and biochemistry); "Beliefs and Delusions" (about brain disorders)
Why you might like it: This witty book by the author of The Disappearing Spoon and The Violinist's Thumb provides a lively and accessible introduction to a complex subject.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women... by Margot Lee ShetterlyWhat it is: An inspiring group biography of NASA's African American female mathematicians, whose work in the 1950s and '60s played a pivotal role in launching American astronauts into orbit.
For fans of: Nathalia Holt's Rise of the Rocket Girls, which also spotlights unseen heroines of the space race.
Media buzz: The 2016 film adaptation of Hidden Figures was a big hit with both audiences and critics.
Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein -- Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists... by Mario LivioWhat it's about: Even geniuses make mistakes. This engaging book examines how so-called "blunders" can lead to scientific breakthroughs.
Contains: Plenty of examples! Charles Darwin, Linus Pauling, and Albert Einstein are just a few of the scientists who made major errors during their careers.
Want a taste? "Even the most impressive minds are not flawless; they merely pave the way for the next level of understanding."
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