Great Science Books to Read Right Now

Now's the time to pick up a book about the science of breath, the physics of destruction, or how one major U.S. city is responding to climate change.

By Jennifer Walter
Jun 10, 2020 7:00 PMJun 11, 2020 7:28 PM
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(Credit: Patiwat Sariya/Shutterstock)


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This originally appeared in the July/August issue of Discover magazine as "What We're Reading." Support our science journalism by becoming a subscriber.

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

By James Nestor

If you were told to refrain from breathing through your nose, could you do it? Journalist Nestor managed it for about 10 days, plugging up his nose and breathing only through his mouth as part of an experiment at Stanford University. The effects were systemic — sleeping troubles, high blood pressure and, of course, perpetual discomfort. 

Breathing is an activity so automatic that most of us never think about doing it. But, as Nestor shows through his own experiences and conversations with dozens of experts, the way we breathe makes a difference for the body’s overall health. He explores everything from the role our noses play in hormone regulation and digestion, to how some athletes build up the lung capacity to run marathons in extreme conditions or withstand submergence in icy water for more than an hour at a time. 

The topic is deceptively simple — an entire book about breathing? — but every chapter reveals new details about how body and breath work together synchronously.

Nestor’s daring attitude and unbounded curiosity were infectious: I not only noticed myself paying attention to my own breathing every time I sat down to read, but my newfound comfort with my own lungs even emboldened me to go for my first jog in years. 

The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move 

By Sonia Shah

Mass migrations are taking place worldwide in response to environmental change, sometimes spurring fear and pushback from governments and residents alike. But science shows that humans, as well as countless other species, have always been transient. Science journalist Shah offers a level exploration of why migration has historically been viewed as dangerous, destructive and even unnatural, and how more recent data reveal movement as a natural part of life.

The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)

By Katie Mack

Theorizing the apocalypse might seem unpleasant or frightening, but astrophysicist Mack dives into it headfirst. She creates an accessible, easy-to-digest guide to how the universe might end, speaking in a casual way that feels like sitting down for coffee with a good friend — one who can break down the physics of destruction into bite-sized delights.  

Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism, and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100 

By Marta Zaraska 

Conventional depictions of a “healthy” person might be of someone who eats a lot of vegetables and spends all their free time in the gym. But, science journalist and Discover contributor Zaraska argues, there are much more important factors that play into longevity. Her densely researched account gets down to the science of how empathy, friendships and mindfulness can lengthen lives — and how loneliness can make them shorter. 

Disposable City: Miami’s Future on the Shores of Climate Catastrophe 

By Mario Alejandro Ariza

With climate change already making waves in Florida, Miami journalist Ariza set out to capture the evolving story from the perspective of people experiencing it. Ariza blends recent research from scientists, conversations with residents, economic trends and history in a richly reported odyssey of one city’s response to a growing crisis. Weaving in his own deeply personal narrative, Ariza shows the effects of the rising tide aren’t just about environmental and infrastructural change — they also impact individual lives. 

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