Best-Science-Book Lists: A Short List

Our annual A-list of lists featuring the year’s best science books.

Someday soon, genomics will uncover a list-making gene. Until that day comes and someone patents the listing impulse and tries to charge us, we offer here—free of charge—our second annual list of best-science-book lists. This year, it’s a short list.

One of the best and most intriguing annual general book list is The New York Times 100 notable—which always includes a smattering of science titles. But this year was particularly notable in that two of The Times’ top five nonfiction titles on its 10 best list were science-related: On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss and The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, the latter of which is included in a science-, medicine- and technology-rich Washington Post nonfiction 50 notables list and the less science-friendly Library Journal top 10. Biss and Kolbert also made the Publishers Weekly general nonfiction list, along with two others the Bookshelf was pleased to find there: Lives in Ruins, Marilyn Johnson’s love letter to archaeologists, and renowned mind-scientist Steven Pinker’s non-preachy, often amusing and infinitely useful writing guide, The Sense of Style.

The Sixth Extinction led The Guardian‘s list—twice, on its main but brief science-book list and on the GrrlScientist blog (for books in the biosciences; the insatiably erudite GrrlScientist also compiled lists in medicine, physics, nature and even one for the birds). Another science bookworm-blogger, Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, had the guts to rank her selections (top pick: Alan Lightman’s The Accidental Universe).

Other best-of-2014 lists of note: Wired, Science Friday, NBC and Physics World.

Bill Cannon is the editor of Scientists' Bookshelf. His writing has appeared in Nature, Smithsonian, The New York Times Magazine and American Scientist magazine.

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