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The best science books I read in 2018

It’s the end of another year and we all know what that means. Indeed, it’s time for year lists! Here I want to mention the 5 science books I enjoyed reading most this year. If they haven’t been published in 2018 I will mention this as such. I’m not using any particular order, other than the order I have read them in. In case you haven’t read one or more of them, I hope I will inspire you to do so. Except perhaps the first one, if you don’t speak Dutch you have an excuse. But that’s probably the only one.

Verstoppertje Spelen Met Aliens by Jean-Paul Keulen (nov. ’17)

The title means “Playing hide and seek with aliens”. It is a scientific approach on why we haven’t heard from the aliens, and also why we haven’t found the aliens and why this might take a while. Keulen has a very pleasant way of writing and a great sense of humor. The book is a great even without a scientific background. He takes the search for aliens pretty far without getting into the questions whether extraterrestrial intelligence exists. This book is about the scientific possibilities and not about the existential question. A shame it’s not in English. 

The Order Of Time by Carlo Rovelli

Time. What is time? It flows in different speed in different places. Gravity has a big influence on time. And Quantum Theory has a lot to say about time as well. Rovelli has a very enthusiastic way of telling. Be aware that you need to stay focused. This book is written with inspiring people to get into Quantum Theory in mind (worked on me) but he also easily trails off. This is interesting but if you are listening to this book like I did rather than reading, you need to focus on every word he says. Flipping back the pages because you lost the plot temporarily isn’t that easy when listening.

Chasing New Horizons – Alan Stern and David Grinspoon

Warning: if you have accepted that Pluto isn’t a planet (like I had), this book will likely change your mind. Granted, this book is written by Mister Pluto himself but isn’t propaganda on why Pluto is a planet. The whole matter is discussed only briefly. No, this book is all about how the mission was created. The struggle that followed. The dedication of the people involved. All the setbacks. You know that New Horizons will become a success, otherwise you’re reading expecting a disappointment. The book tells a fascinating story of determined people who want nothing more than explore space. Also, Pluto is a planet.

Endurance – Scott Kelly (oct. ’17)

Scott Kelly spent a year in the International Space Station. How did he made it to that special assignment? Turns out that this is an inspirational story of someone who had some odds against him but never gave up. Even when he believed it wouldn’t happen he kept on that path. The story of how he became an astronaut are mixed with his year on space. A story of success and a story of loss. No matter where you are in life yourself and what your goals are, this book will inspire you in one way or another. I listened to this book and it was read by Kelly himself which gave the audio book an warmer feel.

Brief Answers to the Big Questions – Stephen Hawking

I have reviewed this book on my blog recently but it belongs in this list. If you were to read only one science book, make sure it’s this one. Hawking writes brilliantly and with a lot of humor. He possessed the ability to explain the even most complex things in a way that leaves you understanding even a black hole. His brief answers are really explaining the big scientific questions. We still have a long way to go understanding the universe though. It was in the making while he was still alive. By the time it was published it wasn’t just a great science book. It’s a last testimony of the most gifted scientist of our time. He will be missed.

Stephen Hawking – Brief Answers to the Big Questions

This collection of thoughts and essays by the late Stephen Hawking looks like it’s been put together after his dead. As to show one last time what kind of genius he has been. Even if that was the case, there is no shame in that because his ideas have been wondrous and highly influencing. He’s arguably the best theoretical scientist of our time. However he was already working on this book, collecting his thoughts and essays about the Big Questions and it has been carefully wrapped up after his passing in March 2018. His unexpected passing however have given this book even more power.

 

Star Trek

What we get is a private look inside his life. We read about his family, his time in university and the struggle with his illness. He also speaks about the doors that have been opened. And although he doesn’t say it, his pure determination has made him stand out in more ways than just his remarkable mind and gave him parts in series such as Star Trek – The Next Generation and The Simpsons. All these aspects are mentioned during his essays which give them a personal touch. Also his sense of humor shines through and I admit to have had a loud chuckle when reading through this work. He isn’t just a physics genius but knows what goes on in the rest of the world and is not afraid to speak his mind about them.

This book, it essentially being a theoretical physics book (in the popular science category), is surprisingly easy to read. You may want to avoid skipping parts or you may lose the plot. This book gave me the ultimate description of a black hole and I will not shy away of using it when I’d ever get in the position where I want to explain what makes a black hole. He is famed for his work on black holes but the book also tackles AI, time travel and aliens. And he explains how he got to his ideas, and how other things just aren’t possible. He doesn’t force you to agree with him but then, it’s hard not to with the explanations he gives. Also, his essays are highly scientific.

Legacy

As these are all collected essays and other small publications, some topics are mentioned more than once and the one anecdote will appear twice as well. This isn’t annoying or anything. The subjects don’t feel disconnected from each other either, even though they are written separate from each other. It’s a whole and that’s quite an accomplishment.

If theoretical physics is your thing, you need to read this book. But even if it’s not and you’re just curious about the world, you will enjoy this book as well. I recommend this for everyone who has the ability to think. I’d nearly go as far by saying that this is essential reading. Stephen Hawking contributed greatly to science and has inspired many in his life. His legacy will live on forever, his contribution to Earth and the Universe and especially to Black Holes are in-erasable. What a mind and we must be grateful he defied all odds and lived for as long as he did. But no one is more grateful for that than Stephen Hawking himself and if anything, it’s that what shines through the entire book. An absolute must-read.