Must Read Science Books for May 2021: Mom Genes | The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy | Extra Life: A Short History to Living Longer

Looking for a new book? A science editor shares their top reads for May.

By Jennifer Walter
Apr 25, 2021 5:00 PM
woman in hammock reading a book - shutterstock 147277643
(Credit: Pavel L Photo and Video/Shutterstock)


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Mom Genes: Inside the New Science of Our Ancient Maternal Instinct

By Abigail Tucker

Naturally, Mom Genes starts off in a maternity ward — for sheep. Science writer Abigail Tucker is assigned to watch the pregnant ewes and assist if any of the huge, clumsy mothers-to-be go into labor. It’s an odd scene. You can feel the impatience and anticipation in both author= and sheep, as well as a sense of awe.

The scene is one of many instances where Tucker highlights the complexities of pregnancy, birth and parenthood. Beyond the illustrative moments from both her own life and others’, Tucker has a knack for unravelling the science behind the many processes that researchers have studied in mothers (and fathers). For starters, you may have heard of the so-called “maternal instinct.” Isthat even quantifiable? And how do the brains of mothers change postpartum?

Even if those questions aren’t ones you’ve pondered, don’t sell this book short. (I had reservations before I cracked it open, since I’m not a parent.) Tucker’s enthusiasm radiates on every page, and her dive into the wacky world of motherhood is fascinating whether you are a mom, have a mom or know a mom — of any species.

The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal About Aliens — and Ourselves

By Arik Kershenbaum

Aliens: We don’t know what they’re like, but we can dream. Unless you’re zoologist Arik Kershenbaum, in which case you’ll argue that there are already ways to understand what extraterrestrials might be like without ever meeting them. Zoology meets ecology and evolution in this fascinating look at the systems that shape our natural world — and potentially the worlds of others. Kershenbaum doesn’t spew unfounded speculations, but instead reflects inward on patterns we use to predict and explain life on Earth. The book taught me as much about the study of the natural world as it did about our potential neighbors in space.

Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer

By Steven Johnson

We might not have the secret to immortality, but science and medicine have come a long way in extending our life spans. Author Johnson explores several advancements, from vaccines to antibiotics to farming, that have grown into monumental success stories of public health and prosperity. Extra Life is not an exhaustive account of everything that makes modern life prosperous, but gives important insight into the history of a few specific leaps and bounds we’ve made as a species to outwit disease, famine and even the safety threats posed by our own inventions.

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Wild Wild Tech


Ever hear about the pandemic in World of Warcraft that helped scientists fight COVID-19? What about the computer algorithm designed to protect musicians from copyright infringement? In this podcast, you’ll find hosts Jordan Erica Webber and Joshua Rivera at these intersections of research, technology and culture. Like lively tour guides, the pair takes listeners through the oddest tales in tech — while still approaching some of the more grandiose ideas with a healthy dose of skepticism.

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