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Astronomy to Zoology: Holiday Gift Books Span the Science Spectrum

Is someone on your gift list starry-eyed about space? Do they dig dinosaurs? Check out 20 science books that are worth giving — or getting.
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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.

Coffee-table books

Children's books

  • 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.)

For still more kids' books, check out the latest reading lists from the National Science Teachers Association and the AAAS/Subaru Prize for Excellence in Science Books.


Graphic books

  • 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.

Cosmic Log backlist