Science News’ favorite books of 2016

Once again, Science News writers and editors have reviewed the stacks of science books published this year to pick their favorites. Most of the books listed here have been reviewed previously in the magazine. Read those reviews at the links below or in our Editor’s pick: Favorite books of 2016.

Lab Girl
Hope Jahren

In this engrossing memoir, a geomicrobiologist hopscotches through the exploits of her life as a scientist while revealing the hidden world of her favorite research subject: plants (SN: 7/9/16, p. 26). Knopf, $26.95

The Glass Universe
Dava Sobel

More than just “human computers,” the women working at the Harvard Observatory in the late 19th and early 20th centuries contributed fundamental knowledge to astronomy, a science writer shows (SN: 12/10/16, p. 28). Viking, $30

The Gene
Siddhartha Mukherjee

Drawing on centuries of scientific research and thinking, plus his own personal family history, a physician and Pulitzer Prize–winning author traces how scientists came to understand the basic unit of heredity. Simon & Schuster, $32

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
Frans de Waal

A primatologist reviews research on a range of diverse creatures, from wasps to whales, to make the case that animals possess greater intelligence than most people give them credit for.W.W. Norton & Co., $27.95

Steve Olson

The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens was a natural disaster exacerbated by social and economic forces. A science writer explores the dynamics and offers survivors’ accounts (SN: 3/5/16, p. 28). W.W. Norton & Co., $27.95


Seven Skeletons
Lydia Pyne

Filled with fascinating anecdotes, this historical look at how some of the most illustrious hominid fossils achieved worldwide fame also traces the development of the field of paleoanthropology (SN: 9/3/16, p. 27). Viking, $28

What the F
Benjamin K. Bergen

Profanity should not be a taboo subject among cognitive scientists, this book argues. Research on swearing offers insights into language and how the human mind works (SN: 9/17/16, p. 28). Basic Books, $27.99

Silent Sparks
Sara Lewis

In a book that’s sure to rekindle a reader’s childhood fascination with fireflies, a biologist shares the secrets of these beetles’ glow and explains the utility of lightning bugs to industry (SN: 6/25/16, p. 27). As a bonus, the book includes a firefly field guide. Princeton Univ., $29.95

Book awards in 2016

Science book awards this year honored best sellers as well as overlooked gems. One thing these works have in common — they’re all must-reads:

National Academies Communication Award

The Narrow Edge
Deborah Cramer

Described by the judges as a “beautifully written natural history,” this book follows the epic migration of the tiny sandpiper known as the red knot and examines the big environmental threats facing this small bird. Yale Univ., $28, 2015

Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 

The Invention of Nature
Andrea Wulf

“A thrilling adventure story,” as one prize judge called it, this biography of Alexander von Humboldt chronicles the German scientist and polymath’s achievements and considers his lasting influence on scientists’ understanding of the natural world. Knopf, $30, 2015

National Association of Science Writers’ Science in Society Journalism Award

Slick Water
Andrew Nikiforuk

In this “page-turner,” as the judges called it, a Canadian woman’s battle against a corporation that secretly fracked gas wells near her home is the central story in a broader look at fracking and its potential environmental effects. Greystone Books, $26.95, 2015

Reviews on the Science News website include links that generate funds for Society for Science & the Public programs.


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