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Weekend Picks: light reading for STEM majors

Reading time 4 min
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The weekend is upon us, and so is the paralysis that comes with having nothing to do. Fear not, our editorial team picked 9 books on science and tech worth picking up on a cold winter day. You’ll learn about the history of space exploration, join a physicist on a surprisingly science-appropriate hike, and more.

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Science and tech

Quantum Computing since Democritus

by Scott Aaronson

The book explores the history of key ideas in the realms of mathematics, computer science and physics. It is loosely based on one of the post-grad courses taught by the author, a professor of computer science at the University of Texas in Austin. From Democritus’ atomic theory to modern quantum cryptography to the discussions surrounding time travel, professor Aaronson rehashes the world’s Biggest and Boldest ideas and explains their relation to one another. The book was written with a wide STEM-educated audience in mind — not just physicists, but anyone with an interest in thought experiments and the history of science.

Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and / or Ruin Everything

by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith

«The best science book of 2017», according to the Wall Street Journal and the Popular Science magazine. Kelly Weinersmith, the voice of the «Science… sort of» podcast, joins her husband Zach — the cartoonist behind Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal — to explore ten futuristic technologies coming soon(ish) to a city near you. An entertaining glimpse into the future we might just live to see, this book combines insightful interviews, Dr. Weinersmith’s own research, and hilarious comics about the age of food printers, smart robots and microchip implants. The end result is an easily digestible, self-aware exploration of today’s most innovative technologies, the challenges they face, and the changes they can bring.

Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon

On July 14th 2015 the New Horizons interplanetary space probe successfully reached the orbit of Pluto. It sampled the planet’s atmosphere and took a bunch of pictures before continuing on its journey to the edges of the Solar System. To an ignorant reader this might sound boring — after all, sending robots into space is hardly a new thing. But successes like these cannot be taken for granted. In «Chasing New Horizons», Alan Stern and David Grinspoon of NASA recall the 15 years of labour that led to that fateful moment.

You’ll learn about the inner workings of the space agency, relive the accidents that almost doomed the project, and get a good picture of what it’s like to work with no margin for error.

Soft skills and self-improvement

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World

by Hans, Anna and Ola Rosling

An overwhelming majority of people sincerely believe that our society is going to the dogs. Yet, that is objectively untrue — humans are richer, healthier and safer than ever before. Swedish statistician Hans Rosling teamed up with his son and daughter-in-law to examine the source of our collective pessimism. According to the authors, our incorrect assessment of the situation has to do with our inability to properly process information. And the only way to fix this is by challenging the way we make sense of data. Since its publication in 2018, “Factfulness” was endorsed by the likes of Bill Gates and Barack Obama.

Moonshot: What Landing a Man on the Moon Teaches Us About Collaboration

by Richard Weisman

Psychologist Richard Wiseman of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry talks collaboration and productivity. Having had the privilege to interview the team behind the launch of Apollo 11, he compiled a list of eight factors, which, he believes, were crucial to the mission’s success. You’ll learn how to apply the lessons of Apollo 11 in your own life, and hear countless stories that will shine a new light on the historic mission.

The Second Kind of Impossible: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter

by Paul J. Steinhardt

Paul Steinhardt, a professor of Science at Princeton University, is best known for his efforts in advancing the fields of evolutionary theory and cosmology. But he’s already written a book about that back in 2007 — so, this time around, he tackled a different problem. From 1983 onwards Paul was occupied with the search for organic quasicrystals — solid substances that differ from crystals on a structural level. The scientific community, new to the concept, was not convinced that the material could be encountered outside the lab. So, for years he travelled the world, until a fateful encounter in the Russian Far East. A book about looking for invisible particles might not sound fun — but it was fun enough to be shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize.

Marc-Olivier Jodoin / Unsplash.com

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems

by Randall Munroe

The third book of Randall Munroe, a famous NASA engineer-turned-cartoonist, contains equal parts science and his signature xkcd humour. It invites the readers to unleash their scientific creativity — and devise solutions that work, despite making little sense. Even though nobody is going to fill a pool with condensed vapor, that is not the point: because once you understand how it could technically work, you become a better engineer.

The hyperboles help illustrate the inner workings of popular tech.


The Fifth Science

by Exurb1a

Popular science YouTuber exurb1a ventures into speculative fiction. 12 loosely connected short stories explore the rise and fall of a human space empire — built and destroyed with the help of science. At the heart of the book are tough questions about progress, morality, and scientific ethics. The work owes much of its style to Isaac Asimov’s «Foundation» series, and has been getting great reviews on reddit and other platforms.

How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler

by Ryan North

What would you do if your time machine inconveniently broke down during a trip to the Victorian era? How would you survive the life of technological poverty? Would you be able to recreate the luxuries you’ve gotten used to? And can this accident accelerate humanity’s scientific progress?

«How to Invent Everything» — by the developer and cartoonist Ryan North — aims to help you stay calm in this hypothetic scenario. Stylistically stuck somewhere between popular science and science fiction, the book is made of entertaining DIY guides for all the tech we can no longer live without — from agricultural machinery to computers. The guides are accompanied by true-to-live schematics, scientific calculations and FAQs.

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