A little science with your stuffing? Book gifts for curious minds this Christmas


SMALL PRINT:Prepare to be dazzled. SUDDENLY, IT’S December. And if you already have all your Christmas presents bought and wrapped, then good for you. But it’s more likely that, like many of us, you still have a few gifts left to get.

So if you have existing or aspiring scientists, nerds and geeks on your list – or perhaps people who just like bending their brains around new things – then why not get your skates on and get over to the science section of the bookshop (real or virtual), where you will find plenty of gifts to get the neurons firing after Christmas dinner.

Here are some of this year’s best offerings:

One of the most eye-catching tomes to come out recently is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed,by Carl Zimmer. Using the body art as a jumping-off point, Zimmer eloquently relates the meanings behind tattoos that depict symbols and equations from fields such as maths, biology, astronomy, neuroscience and physics.

Arresting images are also peppered throughout Frozen Planet, by Alastair Fothergill and Vanessa Berlowitz,which ties in with the popular BBC series. The picture-laden book focuses on landscapes and life at the polar regions, and has a foreword from Sir David Attenborough.

Less heavy on the snaps, The Best American Science Writing 2011 draws together a broad compendium of engaging stories that offer insights into science. The collection is edited by Rebecca and Floyd Skloot, and if the former’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack s isn’t already on the bookshelf, then it also deserves its own place under the Christmas tree. It’s a beautifully written, eye-opening tale about how a young woman’s cancer led to the development of the HeLa cell line, which has been used as a research tool in labs around the world.

Christmas is a time of nostalgia, so how about sparing some thoughts for the technologies that will soon be just fond memories? In his book 21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects (and Other Stuff), Steve Stackruns through potted histories of golden oldies as varied as cassette tapes, typewriters and Concorde.

When the Christmas cracker jokes have run their course, you could turn to a few puzzlers from New Scientist. Why Are Orangutans Orange? , edited by Mick O’Hare, is one of the Last Word series of columns that gathers readers’ questions and answers. This edition also includes images of some curious creatures or phenomena the readers themselves have captured. Brace yourself to find out why flies sometimes explode, why mould can grow on soap and why the blue-footed booby has such natty feet for a bird.

Those who want to wax lyrical on quantum theory in the new year could spend the festive season ploughing through The Quantum Universe: Everything that Can Happen Does Happen, by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw.

Or if straight-up biography is more their thing, devout Apple fans on the gift list could get some mileage out of Steve Jobsby Walter Isaacson, a frank, engaging and sometimes poignant account of Apple’s co-founder and brand builder, who died earlier this year.

Isaacson, who had long conversations with his subject, conveys Jobs’s charisma, perfectionism, passion for design and “reality distortion field”, which seemingly often made life a roller coaster for those who worked and lived with him.

And the final tip for science-savvy shoppers: the Science Galleryat Trinity College Dublin on Pearse Street has a small but well-formed shop that carries oodles of interesting science books and techie stocking fillers.