Even in this age of e-books, there are times when you just want to hold a good book in your hand — and the holiday season is definitely one of those times. It's even better when the physical object you're giving or getting provides a sense of wonder, whimsy or just plain WOW!
These science books can do that. But don't think of them merely as science books. Think of them as gifts that have substance to match their literary and/or visual style. For more book recommendations, check out Keith Wagstaff's roundup of this year's top science and tech books. And for still more suggestions, follow the Web links to browse through our Cosmic Log backlist.
- Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time, by Michael Benson. The author of "Far Out" and "Planetfall" offers up artistic visions of the cosmos that are as old as the Bronze Age — and as new as the Space Age.
- Deep Space: Beyond the Solar System to the Edge of the Universe and the Beginning of Time, by Govert Schilling. Pictures, graphics and text trace the history of the universe as well as the history of astronomy.
- Dinosaurs: The Grand Tour, by Keiron Pim. This richly illustrated volume presents the latest perspectives on dinosaur lore, feathers and all, with field notes from famed paleontologist Jack Horner.
- Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record, by Errol Fuller. Learn the stories of the passenger pigeon, the thylacine and other species that live on only in photos and museum specimens.
- New Space Frontiers: Venturing Into Earth Orbit and Beyond, by Piers Bizony. After the space shuttle fleet's retirement, some thought America was no longer in the space travel business. This book remedies that misimpression. Artwork and pictures show off spaceships ranging from NASA's Orion to SpaceX's Dragon V2 and XCOR Aerospace's Lynx. (Boeing's CST-100 seems to be missing, however.)
- Evolution: A Coloring Book, by Annu Kilpelainen. The scientific tale of natural selection and adaptation is told not only with pictures to color, but with stencils and peek-under goodies. (All ages.)
- Junk Drawer Physics: 50 Awesome Experiments That Don't Cost a Thing, by Bobby Mercer. Want to make a pinhole camera, a swinging wave machine or a planetarium? Physics teacher Bobby Mercer shows you how to do all that and more, on the cheap. (Ages 9-14.)
- Mission: Mars, by Pascal Lee. The planetary scientist behind the Mars Institute and the NASA Haughton-Mars Project explains how projects on Earth are preparing the way for human missions to Mars — and gets kids involved in the adventure. (Ages 9-12.)
- Sally Ride: Life on a Mission, by Sue Macy. The inspirational story of America's first woman in space. (Ages 8-12.) For a more grown-up biography of the late astronaut/physicist/educator, check out Lynn Sherr's "Sally Ride."
- Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes, by Nicola Davies. The microbial world can be the source of threats to our health, but it also brings us healthy things — ranging from yogurt to the air we breathe. This picture book covers a big subject in terms little kids will understand. (Ages 4-8.)
- Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian, by A. Douglas Stone. Albert Einstein is known for pooh-poohing quantum uncertainty with the quip that "God does not play dice with the universe." This intellectual biography reveals how Einstein was actually the driving force behind quantum theory. Winner: Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science.
- Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink. The harrowing story of what went wrong, and why, at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Winner, National Association of Science Writers' Science in Society Journalism Awards.
- The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert. Interviews with experts in the field and in the lab flesh out the saga of today's global mass extinction — a die-off for which we humans are responsible. Finalist, AAAS/Subaru Prize for Excellence in Science Books.
- Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World, by Mark Miodownik. A deep (and entertaining) dive into the everyday materials that surround us, from concrete and steel to denim and chocolate. Winner, Royal Society Winton Prize.
- Tom's River: A Story of Science and Salvation, by Dan Fagin. This saga of a New Jersey town's environmental agony reads like a detective story. Winner, Pulitzer Prize and National Academies' Science Communication Awards.
- Area 51: The Graphic History of America's Most Secret Military Installation, by Dwight Jon Zimmerman, illustrated by Greg Scott. Get the real story behind Area 51, from Roswell to stealth fighters to drones and beyond, in black-and-white, comic-book form. Even the UFO angle is covered.
- The Best American Infographics 2014, edited by Gareth Cook. Feast your eyes on graphic representations of every interplanetary space mission ever flown, the odysseys of migratory birds, 2009 Bieber vs. 2013 Bieber ... the list goes on, and so do the graphic goodies. With an introduction by data guru Nate Silver.
- The Book of Trees: Visualizing Branches of Knowledge, by Manuel Lima. This visual orchard shows how depictions of branching trees — some of them beautifully illuminated, others computer-generated — have been used for centuries to organize our understanding of the world.
- Neurocomic, by Hana Ros and Matteo Farinella. A neuroscientist and a scientific illustrator team up on what sometimes seems like a hallucinatory comic-book journey. But if you stick with the stylized black-and-white story, you'll learn how your brain works — and how we know what we know about the brain.
- What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe. Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns? This question and many others get fun but fact-based answers from the cartoonist/physicist/roboticist behind the xkcd comic strip.