If you're a fan of science and technology, keeping pace with the latest developments can be a dizzying process. Every day it feels like something amazing and new has been invented and discovered. But sometimes it is worth taking a step back to consider what we've actually learned. So here's our pick of the top 10 best science and tech books of 2015, to add some brain food to a geeky Christmas stocking.
Best Science and Tech Books 2015
How does psychology change the way we think about money? That’s the question at the centre of Misbehaving in which Richard Thaler, who is one of the pioneers of the field of behavioural economics, tells the story of how his nascent discipline turned traditional economics on its head.
For example, how come we’ll travel 10 miles out of our way to save £10 on a cheap toaster, yet we wouldn’t do the same to save a tenner when buying an expensive TV? How does being told a bottle of beer was bought from a hotel or a grocery store change our perception of its value? And why does losing disproportionately hurt more than winning? All are explained with a mixture of science, anecdotes and jokes. [Buy it Here]
This book tells the story of how it turns out that it is possible for ordinary people to make more accurate predictions than even the best CIA analysts. It explains Tetlock’s Good Judgment Project, in which he recruited thousands of people, asked them to make forecasts on questions of huge geopolitical importance - and aggregated together, they’re better than the experts. [Buy it Here]
Nature is often viewed as a competition, notes “Punk Rock Professor” Greg Graffin, who when he is not teaching zoology at Cornell University in New York is the leader singer with punk band Bad Religion. This view of nature though isn’t Graffin’s, and in Population Wars puts forward the thesis that nature could equally be viewed as a symphony of cooperation - with different plants and species reliant on each other for survival.
The book sets out this worldview at a leisurely pace, as Graffin describes spending time in his garden, his lawn-mower buying habit, and tells anecdotes from his youth growing up and his time in music. [Buy it Here]
We all know that the march of technology constantly changes the world, but are we at a tipping point where technology will cause capitalism to break down? Channel 4 News economics editor Paul Mason argues that in a world of ubiquitous information, where information-businesses hoard information rather than compete, we need to rethink how we organise society from the ground up.
In fact, the revolution might have already begun. For example, take Wikipedia - a website that despite paying its contributors no money, has managed to singlehandedly destroy the market for encyclopaedias. Similarly sharing economy services like AirBNB, though currently operating within a capitalist framework, point to a future where sharing and cooperation replaces the drive for profits. And what are we going to do when technology means there literally isn’t any jobs for people to do? Mason does his best to predict the future. [Buy it Here]
If ever there was a book to sum up the last few years on social media, this is it. Jon Ronson meets and profiles the victims of various social media assaults after their actions have gone viral. For example, perhaps the best known tale from the book is that of Justine Sacco, who boarded an international flight after making a poor-taste joke about AIDS. By the time she had landed, half of the internet had shared her tweet, it had made its way onto a number of blogs and she had been sacked from her job.
Ronson meets her, and others like her to see what happened after the initial furore died down - and paints most of them as surprisingly sympathetic characters. [Buy it Here]
The scourge of quacks and big pharma, doctor and science writer Ben Goldacre’s latest book, a compendium of his shorter essays and newspaper columns, was released in paperback earlier this year. Goldacre is a master of explaining complex science succinctly and simply, so that us normal people can understand - and by then end you’ll be fuelled by righteous anger about the amount of bullshit in the world, and full of a passion for the scientific method which exposes it. [Buy it Here]
Read Richard Dawkins the way he should be read: At length and as far away from Twitter as humanly possible. The controversial biologist and celebrity atheist this year published the second volume of his autobiography covering everything that happened from the Selfish Gene until today. We’re just hoping it has the full low-down on the honey incident. [Buy it Here]
Why will seemingly intelligent people believe any old rubbish? What goes on in your mind if you think that 9/11 was an inside job or that we didn’t land on the moon? Rob Brotherton is a psychologist by training and has written the definitive guide to understanding the mind of conspiracy theorist. It’s a great read. But we would say that, because that is what they want you to think. [Buy it Here]
Randall Munroe of XKCD fame has come up with another fascinating title that this time takes the idea that “if you can’t explain it in simple terms, you don’t really understand it” and uses it to tackle topics as diverse as microwaves, bridges, the solar system and the cells in our bodies. [Buy it Here]
If the real world is a little too… well… real for you, then why not try some science fiction instead? Ancillary Mercy follows earlier books Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword and the third in the series follows fleet captain Breq confronting her nemesis, trying to protect the downtrodden who live in a space station and her crew. Breq herself is a non-human humanoid, once part of a warship. This makes sense in the context of the book, honest. You’ll have to trust me. [Buy it Here]