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This season, our recommended reading list has a good dose of books with science and math at their core. But there’s no science or math to our selection process. The following books are simply ones that we loved, made us think in new ways, and kept us up reading long past when we should have gone to sleep. As a result, this is an eclectic list—from an 800-page science fiction novel by a local legend to a 200-page nonfiction book on how Japan can get its economic mojo back. I hope you find at least one book here that inspires you to go off the beaten path when you get some time to yourself this season.

  • Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson. The plot gets going in the first sentence, when the moon blows up. People figure out that in two years a cataclysmic meteor shower will wipe out all life on Earth, so the world unites on a plan to keep humanity going by launching as many spacecraft as possible into orbit. You might lose patience with all the information you’ll get about space flight—Stephenson, who lives in Seattle, has clearly done his research—but you’ll love the technical details.
  • How Not to be Wrong, by Jordan Ellenberg. Ellenberg, a mathematician and writer, explains how math plays into our daily lives without our even knowing it. Each chapter starts with a subject that seems fairly straightforward—electoral politics, say, or the Massachusetts lottery—and then uses it as a jumping-off point to talk about the math involved. In some places the math gets quite complicated, but he always wraps things up by making sure you’re still with him. The book’s larger point is that, as Ellenberg writes, “to do mathematics is to be, at once, touched by fire and bound by reason”—and that there are ways in which we’re all doing math, all the time.
  • The Vital Question, by Nick Lane. Nick is one of those original thinkers who makes you say: More people should know about this guy’s work. He is trying to right a scientific wrong by getting people to fully appreciate the role that energy plays in all living things. He argues that we can only understand how life began, and how living things got so complex, by understanding how energy works. It’s not just theoretical; mitochondria (the power plants in our cells) could play a role in fighting cancer and malnutrition.
  • The Power to Compete, by Ryoichi Mikitani and Hiroshi Mikitani. Today, Japan is intensely interesting to anyone who follows global economics. Why were its companies—the juggernauts of the 1980s—eclipsed by competitors in South Korea and China? And can they come back? Those questions are at the heart of this series of dialogues between Ryoichi, an economist who died in 2013, and his son Hiroshi, founder of the Internet company Rakuten. The Power to Compete is a smart look at the future of a fascinating country.
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Noah Yuval Harari. Harari takes on a daunting challenge: to tell the entire history of the human race in just 400 pages. He also writes about our species today and how artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and other technologies will change us in the future. Recommended to anyone who’s interested in the history and future of our species.
  • Magic and Loss, by Virginia Heffernan. The Internet! What is it? No longer capitalized, for one thing—a linguistic development the brilliant tech journalist Virginia Heffernan plainly detests. “Terrible. Standards falling. Lacks proper reverence,” she recently tweeted. (FWIW, we agree. Nobody would dare lowercase “the Matrix.”) That’s about what you’d expect from someone who’s just written a whole book about it, with a subtitle no less reverent than “The Internet As Art.” For Heffernan, the web—sorry, Web—is “the great masterpiece of human civilization… As an idea it rivals monotheism.” Read the book and decide for yourself. At the very least, it contains the best writing on Angry Birds you’ll ever encounter.
  • Grunt by Mary Roach (Norton). What do fashion, submarines, and shark repellant have in common? Mary Roach, of course. Nobody does weird science quite like her, and this time, she takes on war. Though all her books look at the human body in extreme situations (sex! space! death!), this isn’t simply a blood-drenched affair. Instead, Roach looks at the unexpected things that take place behind the scenes—protecting the hearing of snipers, penis transplants, playing paintball with the US Marine Corps, and the debilitating effects of travel on the digestive system.
  • Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi. It’s the Summer of the Debut Novel. A handful of young writers, many of them women, have been given huge sums for their first books in recent months and now those writers are beginning to release their introductory offerings. Among them is Yaa Gyasi, a 26-year-old whose debut, Homegoing, has the literary world buzzing. The novel follows two Ghanaian half-sisters. One, Effia, marries a Brit and lives in luxury at the Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to her, her sister, Esi, is held as a slave in the dungeons below Effia’s feet. The book chronicles the split in their lives and in the paths of their descendants. Relaxing Sunday read? Maybe not. But this is a powerful book people will be talking about for the rest of the year.
  • You’ll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein. Even if you don’t know Jessi Klein by name, you surely know her work: Klein is the head writer on Inside Amy Schumer and has appeared on VH1’s Best Week Ever and in the film Sleepwalk with Me. Needless to say, she is very, very funny. Case in point: her anti-ode to baths, published in The New Yorker last month. On the appeal of feeling weightless in a tub, she writes of visiting a planetarium “and finding an area where you could stand on different scales to see what you would weigh on other planets. I remember one woman was getting on a scale to find out what she would weigh on the moon, and she handed her purse to her friend. She handed her purse to her friend so that she wouldn’t throw off her weight on the moon.”
  • The Girls, by Emma Cline. When 14-year-old Evie sees Suzanne, a raven-haired hippie leading a pack of girls through a park, something shifts inside of her. The Girls, one of the most anticipated books of the year, is about many things. On the surface, it’s about a girl caught in the web of a Manson-like California cult, her loss of innocence, and how an average person can become complicit in that kind of insanity. But more than that, it’s about the feminine gaze—women watching each other, watching others watch them, and wanting to be really seen. It’s a magnetic debut worth the hype.
  • False Hearts, by Laura Lam. A near-future San Francisco is the setting for this biotech thriller, in which conjoined twins Taema and Tila, raised in a cult and surgically separated at 16 when their heart begins to fail, find themselves at the center of an unprecedented crime involving murder and a terrifying narcotic called Verve. The drug seems to give you some kind of power to carry out dark deeds in your dreams—sorta Freddy Krueger-style, maybe? (We’re promised a cross between Orphan Black and Inception. Sure!) Anyway, to summarize: twins, cults, drugs, and dream-murder. If you don’t think that’s the most perfect recipe for a great read, just go knit alone in a corner or something.
  • Chaos Monkeys, by Antonio García Martínez. The truth about the HBO satire Silicon Valley is that it’s not satire at all but, well, truth. Exhibit 1,725,604: this latest contribution to the growing subgenre of tech-bro tell-all. It’s written by Antonio García Martínez, who worked at [insert big tech company names] and while there did [insert ridiculous embarrassing unbelievable things, man]. He now lives on a 40-foot boat on the Bay, because of-effing-course he does. You’ll read his book for the same reason you watch Silicon Valley: for entertainment, but also for that painful, necessary awareness that, somehow, this really is the world we live in.
  • The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. Everything about this book is exciting. First, it’s huge—some 750,000 words fill its 1,200 pages. Second, it’s been compiled by one of sci-fi’s coolest power couples—she’s a distinguished editor (, Weird Tales), he’s a superb writer (2014’s Southern Reach trilogy). And finally, it’s not just another survey of white men in science fiction (aka Phillip K.’s dicks). For every Wells and Dick and George R.R. Martin, there’s work by Le Guin, Butler, and Katherine MacLean—not to mention stories from all over the world, from China (Liu Cixin) to Argentina (Silvina Campo). Gift it to a friend, then buy one for yourself.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 & 2, by J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter is obviously massive. So when news of an “official eighth story” was announced, it sent fans into a frenzy. Let’s be clear on this, people: This is not a new book. It’s the full script for the two-part stage adaptation of a new Harry Potter story that premieres at the Palace Theatre in London’s West End. It’s also not entirely written by J.K. Rowling—she collaborated with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany on the story, and Thorne wrote the script. That said, it is a continuation of the story of The Boy Who Lived, so it will surely fly off the shelves. Set 19 years after the events of Rowling’s novels, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child centers on Harry’s midlife crisis as a Ministry of Magic employee, with his son Albus Severus Potter struggling “with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted” (no wonder—that name). Theatre-goers have to view the plays on consecutive evenings to get the whole story, but readers will be able to devour the entire script in one go. As long as it’s better than that frightful epilogue, everyone should go home satisfied.
  • The Hike, by Drew Magary. Drew Magary is a Deadspin columnist, a correspondent for GQ, and a Chopped champion. His Hater’s Guides are so cutting he even earned a Hater’s Guide to himself from a thin-skinned Notre Dame football fan. His work is conversational, vulgar, and relatable—but don’t tell him that, because any praise will go straight to his head, and we don’t want to make the problem any worse. His new book, The Hike, is about “a suburban family man” who takes, you guessed it, a hike before a business dinner in rural Pennsylvania, and ends up on some sort of supernatural path where he can only go forward. It’s kind of a more cynical version of The Phantom Tollbooth mixed with a game of Dungeons & Dragons from Community creator Dan Harmon’s podcast Harmontown.
  • Known and Strange Things, by Teju Cole. You may know Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole from his Twitter, where he sparked conversations about a white savior complex through his critique of Kony 2012 and Nicholas Kristof. Or from his New Yorker essay on the role of photojournalism in Ebola coverage. Or from his meditative 2012 novel, Open City. Cole’s voice has been central in recent conversations about race and representation, from the role of Instagram to James Baldwin in the era of Black Lives Matter. If you don’t know him yet, look forward to a crash course in Cole with this debut essay collection.
  • I Contain Multitudes, by Ed Yong. You probably know that germs are not the enemy anymore. You’re probably aware that there’s this thing called the microbiome. But what you probably do not know is that this microbiome is, as Ed Yong puts it in his beautiful and terrifying book, “more management than labor.” Vibrio fischeri tell the bodies of the Hawaiian bobtail squid what to do and when. Bacteroides thetaiotmicron actually activate mouse genes telling them to absorb nutrients and otherwise engage in a little murine gut-sculpting. Fed by human breast milk, Bifidobacterium longum infantis busies itself in baby bellies, keeping infections at bay, telling gut cells to make anti-inflammatory molecules, and doing who knows what else. We used to think germs were hostile invaders, to be nuked from space with antibiotics and slathered out of existence with hand sanitizer. But if we treat them well and cultivate them properly, they won’t be the end of us. They’re actually kind of the boss of us.