10 science books that would make great gifts

Having trouble figuring out what to get the scientifically-inclined in your life? Here are a few books that they might appreciate.

The Climate Book: Created by Greta Thunberg. Penguin.


As big and dense as a bible, which is pretty much what this book is. How Climate Works, How the Planet is Changing; How it affects us…chapters giving impartial scientific advice about climate change, to help prepare the reader to participate in the debate, as well as understand how individuals and institutions can respond. It will also help eliminate denialism and alternative facts. Each chapter starts with a speech or extracts from Thunberg herself, and for people who have only ever seen 15 second sound grabs on TV news, they are surprisingly detailed, but of course forthright and lively.

Image of imperfections

Imperfection: A natural history. Professor Telmo Pievani. MIT Press.

“In the beginning, there was imperfection…” says Pievani, a biological philosopher at University of Padua as he discusses the diversity of life of all animals and creatures dating back to…the dawn of time. He asks why humans invented writing and reading, and not the dinosaurs; sizes up the imperfections of the human body and how hard it is to be bipedal; discusses the “shoddy brain” and describes human sex as ”expensive” (“…evidently the females of our species had to cope with males who were a little overpromiscuous.”).

Converge. Dr Catherine Ball. Major Street.


ANU’s “Dr Cath” likes to demystify emerging technology and believes future businesses will be more about the “Why” and less about the Dollar. This book, subtitled “A futurist’s insight into the potential of our world as technology and humanity collide,” brings together robots, big data, drones, automation, economics. “How do we conserve ecosystem function, apex predators and formerly extinct keystone species while facing the climate emergency and fighting against humanity’s war on diversity? One approach is with economics.”

Black holes

Black Holes. Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. ABC Books

Black holes are the key to understanding the universe, say the authors. They touch on the history, physics and mathematics of black holes and include down to earth observations like: “Our sun is…converting 600 million tonnes of hydrogen into helium every second. Six hundred million tonnes is the mass of a small mountain.” Two thirds of the book explains the existence of black holes, and the final part explains why they matter.

Dr Matt’s Guide to Life in Space. Matt Agnew. Allen and Unwin

Agnew 1

As a guide to this book, let’s read the opening sentence: “How did we get here? We sure didn’t muck around with jumping straight into the big questions, did we?” This is an unashamedly “funky” book exploring space, with “fun bubbles” lots of exclamations and references to pop culture. The chapters include “What makes earth special? The ingredients for life. What’s dark matter? Where are the aliens? And What have we Learned? Dr Karl Kruszelnicki endorses the book as “A great first book for diving into astronomy.”


Books do furnish a life: Reading and Writing Science. Richard Dawkins. Pengiun UK.

Writing about the literature of science by default gives us an insight into the best science writing. Dawkins, himself an acclaimed writer, scientist and thinker, adds value by giving us his views on the skills and work of others, interviews with those who he later worked into his columns and books (eg: Neil deGrasse Tyson from the New York Planetarium) his essays; book reviews; introductions to other books (eg: the 2003 version of Darwin’s “Origin of Species”) and we get to meet and greet Dawkin’s heroes.

Eclipse Chasers. Nick Lomb, Toner Stevenson. CSIRO Publishing.

Eclipse chasers

There will be five total eclipses over Australia between 2023 and 2035, and this book will enable you to discuss, observe, understand, and worry about them. The history of eclipses and the way science prepared and tooled up to observe and measure them is a quick trip back into a time now all but forgotten, but this book reveals the determination of scientists to get the most out of every precious moment.

Thylacine: The History, Ecology and Loss of the Tasmanian Tiger. Editors Branden Holmes and Gareth Linnard. CSIRO Publishing.


CSIRO Publishing books are mostly compilations, as this one is, with numerous scientists contributing to a store of knowledge, delivering relevant alternative opinions, and showcasing their work. This is a book which provides scientific understanding of the thylacine; the data, the history, the evidence, the hunts, the preservation. You need to make up your own mind about the cultural impact.

Machines Behaving Badly: The Morality of AI. Toby Walsh. Latrobe University Press and Black Inc.

Machines behaving badly online

You had me at “Why is it that AI is always trying to kill us?” That popular culture reference is enough to whet the reader’s appetite but it gets a bit more involved with: “Is Alexa Racist?” and “What happens if a self driving car kills someone?” The aim of the book is to get us to think about the unintended consequences of AI, and while lawyers and intellectual property consultants will see this as source material for trial, others will begin to appreciate the legal and moral minefield presented when science gives us tools with a mind of their own.

Cosmos Magazine. Edited by Gail MacCallum. Royal Institution of Australia.

C97 magcoverart

Allow me an indulgence. This edition is a thing of beauty from the shimmering front page to the pictorial essays of space, nature and the Wessel Islands. The cover feature contains articles about Mars, food, transport and how the current crop of virtual reality games on the Red Planet are based on real science. The feature on clinical trials will show you just how close the pandemic came to disaster, if not for the brilliance and desperation of a handful of scientists. A single edition needs to be in everyone’s Kris Kringle, but if you value a world based on facts, not fiction and hyperbole, give a subscription for four editions a year, and change someone’s life.

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