He places the gene in a triumvirate of scientific ideas that dominated the twentieth century, alongside the atom and the byte.Mukherjee’s immense knowledge of genetics and formidable fluency in prose shows that there are few people more suited to tackling a subject as complicated, delicate and indeed dangerous – the pseudoscience of genetics and race has often led to catastrophe – as that of the gene. A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford: £20, Weidenfeld & Nicolson One of the most extraordinary things about this book is its sheer breadth.
True to its title, Rutherford’s overview of genetics is brief: at 300 pages it is considerably shorter than Mukherjee’s, meaning that if you’re after just a quick though comprehensive survey of genetics, this is the book for you.Popular science is a protean genre spanning hundreds of topics, and this article tries to reflect that fact – we have books on neuroscience, books on genetics, books that blend neuroscience with memoir, books that blend genetics with memoir, books on the octopus, books on time and books on black holes.These are the best in popular science from the past year – books that will enlighten, entertain, terrify and make you feel bad about how little you remember from school. Black Hole Blues: And Other Songs From Outer Space by Janna Levin: £17.99, The Bodley Head In this book, Janna Levin – like many of the authors on this list, a writer trapped in a scientist’s body – tells the story of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (or Ligo) and the long journey that led to the detection of Einstein’s hitherto theoretical gravitational waves.As Stephen Fry has commented, memorable facts pervade every chapter of this book, whether about the magnitude of our neural networks (two-year-olds have over one hundred trillion synapses, two times as many as an adult) or the power of conversation in warding off Alzheimer’s.If you want to boost your understanding of the brain, read this book. Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed with Time by Simon Garfield: £16.99, Canongate Books Simon Garfield is a prolific writer whose work has traversed disparate subjects such as cartography, war, memoir, AIDs and, now, time – or more specifically, timekeeping.The memoir follows him from his birth through his youth in a desert town (which nourished his scientific curiosity) through medical school, his residency and, finally, through his illness.