Throughout the holiday season, we’re gathering books that make the perfect gifts for everyone on your list—from your mother and the teen in your life to your foodie friend and the coworker who loves Harry Potter. Need more ideas? Check out all of our amazing gift guides!
We all have that friend who just loooves Mary Roach. They started out on Bonk, worked their way through Stiff, and spent all of spring break eating up Gulp. You’re certain they’ve read My Planet and Packing for Mars, so what else can you possibly get for the person who loves Mary Roach?
Not another Roach book, obviously. Time to broaden their horizons, because believe it or not, there are other funny science writers out there. Here’s a list to get you through the holiday season while looking like the smartest person in the room:
You could play it safe and get the Mary Roach–curated 2011 version, but you don’t need to. These compilations offer spritely essays on science of all kinds each and every year. The writers are diverse and cover all fields, meaning there’s bound to be an article in there that your friend hasn’t already discovered. Plus the pieces tend to be short, snappy, and packed with interesting nuggets of scientific information.
Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks
Sacks is the grandfather of popular science writing. His books cover all aspects of the brain, including the effects of recreational drug use and neurological responses to music. In his most recent book, Hallucinations, Sacks debunks common ideas about hallucinations and why blind people hallucinate vision and deaf people hallucinate hearing. Sack’s lyrical writing is so vivid you’ll find yourself wondering if you’re synesthetic by the end.
Elephants on Acid, by Alex Boese
Have you ever caught your friend conducting weird science experiments in their basement while wearing oversized lab goggles, a la Dexter’s Laboratory? Then this is the book to buy. Boese has been chronicling weird science since 2002 and knows his stuff. This dark humor–spiked book explores experiments with detached heads and the effects of LSD on the terminally ill. Definitely pick it up if your friend already has an encyclopedic knowledge of World War II–era human experiments.
Shakespeare’s Tremor and Orwell’s Cough, by John J. Ross
A fun book for the pop science lover with a literary edge. Ross counters Orwellian conspiracies about the demise of several legendary writers with precise medical diagnoses. I mean, why is Shakespeare always talking about the “pox”? Is that a clue to his own ailments? Think of Ross as the House M.D. of historical medicine and retrospective diagnostics. Witty and entertaining, this book will surely wow your trivia-minded friend.
Consider the Fork, by Bee Wilson
This is the book for your BFF who is forever holed-up in the kitchen perfecting yet another emulsion (re: mayonnaise). Consider the Fork is a charming history of how man first harnessed fire and why the pan was invented. Wilson shows us that while charring over an open flame seems pretty rad, it’s actually totally impractical. This book covers the science and anthropology of how we eat with fun historical tidbits—like the tale of how, before egg timers, people used to recite the Lord’s Prayer six times to get their eggs cooked right. If your friend is constantly obsessing over the latest culinary gadget, consider this the perfect addition to their kitchen arsenal.
What’s your favorite fun science read?