Staff Picks: 70 Favourite Science & Mathematics Books

By the staff at Powell’s Books, an independent bookseller serving Portland, Oregon, since 1971

Staff Picks: 70 Favourite Science & Mathematics Books

1. Wildcrafted Cocktail Make Your Own Foraged Syrups Bitters Infusions & Garnishes Includes Recipes for 45 One Of A Kind Mixed Drinks by Ellen Zachos

2. Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by Sam Kean

3. Why?: What Makes Us Curious by Mario Livio

What makes us curious? In his new book, astrophysicist Mario Livio deftly explores our deeply-ingrained impulse to question. Packed with interviews, stories, science, and explorations into the minds of such thinkers as Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman, Why? is highly recommended for anyone curious about being curious.

4. Totality: The Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024 by Mark Littmann and Fred Espenak

What an awesome book! It’s a winning combination of really science-y stuff, eclipse folklore, and tips for how and where to see the next two eclipses. This is a must-read for everyone heading to the eclipse track this August. (And remember: NEVER look directly into the sun at any time.)

Recommended by Tracey T.

5. American Eclipse A Nations Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon & Win the Glory of the World by David Baron

6. Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot

7. Field Guide to Whiskey Everything You Need to Know about the New World of Whiskey by Hans Offringa

8. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton

9. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

“True to its title, Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons on Physics offers a septet of introductory teachings into the mysteries of physics. “Written for those who know little or nothing about modern science,” Rovelli offers cursory explanations of relativity (“the most beautiful of theories”), quantum mechanics, the cosmos, elementary particles, quantum gravity, and black holes. While likely well-familiar to anyone with even a passing… ”
Recommended by Jeremy G.

10. The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts by Maja Säfström

11. The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors by David George Haskell

12. Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St Helens by Steve Olson

13. Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education by Michael Pollan

14. Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors

15. Outrun A Memoir by Amy Liptrot

16. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

17. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

“This book is such an empowering tale of what is possible when you don’t give up. Jahren beautifully weaves the story of her success with the story of who she is as a person, resulting in an all-at-once heartbreaking and inspiring tale. Not only did she break through the barrier of being a female in a male dominated field, she did so brilliantly, and she discovered who she was in the process. This book celebrates friendship, hard work, passion,…”
Recommended by Carrie K.

18. Why Does the World Exist An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt

19. The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative by Florence Williams

20. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

“Once man has conquered plague, famine, and war, what will the next quest be? New York Times bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari tackles this question deftly, painting a fascinating, insightful, and frankly downright scary picture of the future of the species that strives to be gods of the earth.”
Recommended by Gigi L.

21. Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward

22. The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel

23. Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli

24. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery

25. The Wood for the Trees: One Mans Long View of Nature by Richard Fortey

26. Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith

“I’m fascinated by octopuses, so I had to pick up this book. What I found inside was much more than a text on animal behavior. Godfrey-Smith is a philosopher of science, and in this eye-opening (and mind-bending) work, he writes elegantly about the evolution of consciousness through his encounters with cephalopods. I was strangely moved by Other Minds and highly recommend it.”
Recommended by Moses M.

27. Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

28. @Natgeo The Most Popular Instagram Photos by National Geographic

29. Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle, Martin Freeman

30. Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker

31. The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America’s Wilderness Trail by Mark Larabee, Barney Scout Mann

32. Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson

33. The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf

34. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben

35. Time Travel by James Gleick

36. Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe

37. Rockhounding Oregon by Lars Johnson

38. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach

39. Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History by Dan Flores

40. Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

“The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies brings us another rich, sweeping medical exploration, this time unfurling all we know about the human genome. Mukherjee gracefully addresses the answers lurking in our very genes, and the philosophical and ethical questions arising from this growing body of knowledge.”
Recommended by Moses M.

41. Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are by Frans De Waal

42. Triumph of Seeds How Grains Nuts Kernels Pulses & Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom & Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson

43. At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bryson, Bill

“Bill Bryson could make paint drying seem utterly fascinating. In his own house, a former parsonage in a tiny village in England, Bryson is perplexed by the attributes (and non-attributes) he finds there. There are no stairs up to the attic, but what is up there is a beautifully finished door to… nowhere. So starts Bryson’s quest to discover all things homey. The original reason people started living in houses, the immensity of London’s…” Recommended by Dianah H.

44. Half-Earth: Our Planets Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson

45. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

“In her Pulitzer Prize–winning book, The Sixth Extinction, New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert confronts what may well be the most compelling, portentous, and defining characteristic of our modernity: the nearly inconceivable and irretrievable loss of earth’s biodiversity at the hands of our own species. Although earth has endured five mass extinctions over the last half-billion years — during which “the planet has…” Recommended by Jeremy G.

46. Man Who Loved Books Too Much The True Story of a Thief a Detective & a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett

47. Sex in the Sea: Our Intimate Connection with Kinky Crustaceans, Sex Changing Fish, Romantic Lobsters, and Other Salty Erotica of the Deep by Marah J. Hardt

Surprisingly funny, this thrilling, intelligent, and entertaining odyssey immerses readers into the bizarre and — let’s be honest — fascinating seduction and sexual behaviors of some of ocean life’s kinkier denizens. Nature’s curious and elaborate charms never cease to amaze.
Recommended by Michal D.

48. Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century by Kevin Fong

In Extreme Medicine, Dr. Fong recounts fascinating stories about the limits of human endurance and the dramatic medical procedures that save lives. From the Arctic to outer space, this is an eye-opening look at both the resilience of our bodies and breakthroughs in modern medicine.

49. H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

50. Monkeys Voyage How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life by Alan de Queiroz

51. Human Age The World Shaped by Us by Diane Ackerman

In her sweeping survey of the way humans have fundamentally altered the planet, Ackerman once again dazzles with her luminous prose and boundless curiosity. Far from a book weighed down by doom, The Human Age examines both our mistakes and our triumphs to demonstrate that, while we can’t reverse course, we can forge a new path to sustainability.

52. Ancient Trees Portraits of Time by Beth Moon

53. Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves by James Nestor

54. Spooky Action at a Distance: Why Space and Time Are Doomed and What It Means for Black Holes, the Big Bang, and Theories of Everything by George Musser

55. The Cabaret of Plants: Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination by Richard Mabey

56. How to Be Alive by Colin Beavan

“Whether you aim to change a habit or completely transform your life, use this book as a blueprint for inspiration. More a lifestyle guide than self-help book, How to Be Alive presents research, personal stories, and exercises so you can live the happy life you were meant to.”
Recommended by Jen C.

57. Full Rip 9.0 The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest by Sandi Doughton

“When, not if. It has been over 300 years since the Pacific Northwest last endured a megaquake (in 1700, the region was struck by a temblor considerably more powerful than the one that devastated San Francisco in 1906). With the Cascadia subduction zone (stretching from northern California into British Columbia) (over)due for a magnitude 9 quake or greater, big cities and small towns up and down the Pacific coast are facing a catastrophic threat…”
Recommended by Jeremy G.

58. Countdown Our Last Best Hope for a Future on Earth by Alan Weisman

“We humans, despite our natural aptitude for mathematics, seem to have an arduous time making sense of concepts that involve very large numbers. Unfortunately, however, abstract notions have absolute consequences, whether anticipated or otherwise. Although it took until the early 1800s for global population to reach its first billion, it has doubled twice since the year 1900, giving us now some seven billion people worldwide. Around the year 2050,…”
Recommended by Jeremy G.

59. Here on Earth by Tim Flannery

60. Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Degrasse Tyson, Neil

61. National Parks Americas Best Idea by Duncan, Dayton and Burns, Ken

62. On Mount Hood A Biography of Oregons Perilous Peak by Jon Bell

63. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

“When Katrina devastated New Orleans, what exactly took place at the hospital where conditions went from terrible to unspeakable over the course of five days? In this extraordinary chronicle, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Sheri Fink takes on an extremely difficult subject matter admirably, offering a book that is as piercing as it is provocative.”
Recommended by Renee P.

64. The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet by Justin Peters

“Aaron Swartz was one of the most visible advocates for the Internet free culture movement before his premature death at age 26. In Peters’s engrossing look at Swartz’s life and ideals, the author explores the contentious concept of intellectual property ownership, the history of open access, and the free culture movement in America.”
Recommended by Michal D.

65. First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson

“In her charming way, Wilson sifts through the research on food, genetics, and environment to conclude that nothing innate dooms us to a future of obesity and ill health. Children and adults alike can (re)learn to enjoy a balanced diet, and Wilson provides science-based tips for how to accomplish this.”
Recommended by Rhianna W.

66. Becoming Animal An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram

67. Desert Solitaire by Abbey, Edward

68. Universe from Nothing Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing by Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins

Lawrence Krauss’s new book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, summarizes the continuing developments in the field of cosmology. In addition to championing these new insights in the study of modern physics, Krauss also frames these advances in the appropriate context of their resulting implications for theologians and deists. Adapted from a lecture he delivered at the 2009 Atheist Alliance international…

69. Maphead Charting the Wide Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings

“Ken Jennings’s Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks is an intriguing (dare I say, captivating?) look into the realm of maps, geography, and cartophiles. Jennings writes remarkably well, infusing his engrossing subject with a surprising amount of both wit and humor. Each chapter of Maphead offers insight into a different aspect of map lore, from the historical to the hypermodern. Collectors, cartographers,…“ 
Recommended by Jeremy G.

70. Wave by Susan Casey


Categories: Literature & Fiction

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