Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World
by Rachel Ignotofsky
Ten Speed Press, 2016 ($16.99)
When bigoted colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, tried to assign ophthalmologist Patricia Bath an office next to the lab animals, she demanded to be moved. She went on to become the first African-American woman to receive a medical patent. Edith Clarke grew up in the 1880s with a learning disability but used an inheritance to pay for college and later invented a new graphical calculator. In 1922 she became the first woman to be hired as an electrical engineer. And Sylvia Earle, a marine biologist and “aquanaut” who lived in a habitat underwater for weeks at a time to do research, broke a depth record for untethered diving in 1979. Author and illustrator Ignotofsky profiles these and 47 other groundbreaking female scientists in this winningly illustrated collection, which combines profiles of the women with quotes, facts and cartoons depicting their lives.
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes within Us and a Grander View of Life
by Ed Yong
Ecco, 2016 ($27.99)
There are more bacteria in the human gut than there are stars in the Milky Way, science writer Yong tells us in this ode to the microbial zoos living inside the human body. Long thought to be irrelevant, or even harmful, scientists are now realizing that the myriad of microbes we host are in fact critical to many vital processes—they help us extract nutrients from food, protect us from disease and can even affect how our genes behave. “Microbes have always ruled the planet but for the first time in history, they are fashionable,” Yong writes, noting that the number of scientific papers on the subject has lately risen exponentially. His book is a lively look into the new science of the microbiome, explaining not just what these tiny life-forms do for us but how they have evolved to play a major role in the life cycle of nearly every animal species on the planet.
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
by Cathy O'Neil
Crown: 2016 ($26)
The rise of Big Data— the slew of statistics readily available about people's lives, jobs, money, health, and more—has brought about an increasing reliance on mathematical models to make sense of it all. Companies now use algorithms to decide who should be hired and fired; banks consult them about who should get loans, and governments rely on them to determine which neighborhoods to police. Some of these models are helpful, but many use sloppy statistics and biased assumptions; these wreak havoc on our society and particularly harm poor and vulnerable populations, argues O'Neil, a data scientist and mathematician. She soured on such algorithms after they helped to lead Wall Street to the financial crisis of 2008 and calls these programs “Weapons of Math Destruction.” “This type of model,” she writes, “is self-perpetuating, highly destructive—and very common.”
The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected: A Natural Philosopher's Quest for Trout and the Meaning of Everything
by Marcelo Gleiser
ForeEdge: 2016 ($22.95)
An accomplished physicist, Gleiser is also a nascent fisher. Here he merges those two passions into a book that is part memoir, part travelogue, part introduction to physics and part meditation on the meaning of life. The book follows his journeys to science conferences in locations that also offer fly-fishing opportunities; he explains both the research being discussed and his efforts to practice fishing, drawing surprising and often illuminating parallels between the two. For example, both are solitary pursuits that require one to take a chance—to cast out for a fish, to pursue a breakthrough—even though the odds are low that any given attempt will pay off. “The thrill is in beating the odds,” he writes, “occasionally landing a big fish or an idea that reveals something new about the world.”