Find gifts for the intellectually curious, part 1

To kick off the holiday shopping season, explore the perfect gifts for the science geeks, changemakers, and sci-fi lovers in your life

The holidays are right around the corner, which can only mean one thing: It’s time to get to work on our shopping lists. This year we’ve gathered in one place the perfect gifts for everyone in your life. Explore part one—featuring gifts for your favorite science lovers, change seekers, and sci-fi fanatics—below, and discover more perfect gifts here.


Gifts for the science geeks who want to see our universe in new ways

Water: A Visual and Scientific History by Jack Challoner

Water is so ubiquitous in our lives that it is easy to take for granted. The average American uses ninety gallons of water a day; nearly every liquid we encounter is mostly water—milk, for example, is 87 percent water. Clouds and ice—water in other forms—affect our climate. Water is the most abundant substance on Earth, and the third-most abundant molecule in the universe. In this lavishly illustrated volume, science writer Jack Challoner tells the story of water, from its origins in the birth of stars to its importance in the living world.

The Beauty of Chemistry: Art, Wonder, and Science by Philip Ball

Chemistry is not just about microscopic atoms doing inscrutable things; it is the process that makes flowers and galaxies. We rely on it for bread-baking, vegetable-growing, and producing the materials of daily life. In stunning images and illuminating text, this book captures chemistry as it unfolds. Using such techniques as microphotography, time-lapse photography, and infrared thermal imaging, The Beauty of Chemistry shows us how chemistry underpins the formation of snowflakes, the science of champagne, the colors of flowers, and other wonders of nature and technology. We see the marvelous configurations of chemical gardens; the amazing transformations of evaporation, distillation, and precipitation; heat made visible; and more.

Ten Patterns That Explain the Universe by Brian Clegg

Our universe might appear chaotic, but deep down it's simply a myriad of rules working independently to create patterns of action, force, and consequence. In Ten Patterns That Explain the Universe, Brian Clegg explores the phenomena that make up the very fabric of our world by examining ten essential sequenced systems. From diagrams that show the deep relationships between space and time to the quantum behaviors that rule the way that matter and light interact, Clegg shows how these patterns provide a unique view of the physical world and its fundamental workings.

Into the Anthropocosmos: A Whole Space Catalog from the MIT Space Exploration Initiative by Ariel Ekblaw

As Earthlings, we stand on the brink of a new age: the Anthropocosmos—an era of space exploration in which we can expand humanity's horizons beyond our planet's bounds. And in this new era, we have twin responsibilities, to Earth and to space; we should neither abandon our own planet to environmental degradation nor litter the galaxy with space junk. This fascinating and generously illustrated volume—designed by MIT Media Lab researcher Sands Fish—presents space technology for this new age: prototypes, artifacts, experiments, and habitats for an era of participatory space exploration.

Hidden Wonders: The Subtle Dialogue Between Physics and Elegance by Etienne Guyon, José Bico, Étienne Reyssat and Benoît Roman

Hidden Wonders focuses on the objects that populate our everyday life—crumpled paper, woven fabric, a sand pile—but looks at them with a physicist's eye, revealing a hidden elegance in mundane physical mechanisms. In six chapters—Builders, Creating Shapes, Building with Thread, From Sand to Glass, Matter in Motion, and Fractures—the authors present brief stories, set in locales ranging from the Eiffel Tower to a sandcastle, that illustrate the little wonders hidden in the ordinary. A simple experiment that readers can perform at home concludes each story. More than 200 illustrations bring the stories to life.

Featured journal: Leonardo

Leonardo is the leading international peer-reviewed journal on the use of contemporary science and technology in the arts and music and the application and influence of the arts and humanities on science and technology. Leonardo is interested in work that crosses the artificial boundaries separating contemporary arts and sciences. Featuring illustrated articles written by artists about their own work as well as articles by historians, theoreticians, philosophers and other researchers, the journal is particularly concerned with issues related to the interaction of the arts, sciences and technology.

Featured journal: Perspectives on Science

Perspectives on Science publishes science studies that integrate historical, philosophical, and sociological perspectives. Its interdisciplinary approach is intended to foster a more comprehensive understanding of the sciences and the contexts in which they develop. Each issue of Perspectives on Science offers a selection of theoretical essays, case studies and review essays.


Gifts for the changemakers who want to make the world a better place

Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Women make up fewer than ten percent of national leaders worldwide, and behind this eye-opening statistic lies a pattern of unequal access to power. Through conversations with some of the world's most powerful and interesting women—including Jacinda Ardern, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Christine Lagarde, Michelle Bachelet, and Theresa May—Women and Leadership explores gender bias and asks why there aren't more women in leadership roles.

Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond: The Life of Astronomer Vera Rubin by Ashley Jean Yeager

We now know that the universe is mostly dark, made up of particles and forces that are undetectable even by our most powerful telescopes. The discovery of the possible existence of dark matter and dark energy signaled a Copernican-like revolution in astronomy: not only are we not the center of the universe, neither is the stuff of which we're made. Astronomer Vera Rubin (1928–2016) played a pivotal role in this discovery. By showing that some astronomical objects seem to defy gravity's grip, Rubin helped convince the scientific community of the possibility of dark matter. In Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond, Ashley Jean Yeager tells the story of Rubin's life and work, recounting her persistence despite early dismissals of her work and widespread sexism in science.

How to Talk to a Science Denier: Conversations with Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who Defy Reason by Lee McIntyre

“Climate change is a hoax—and so is coronavirus.” “Vaccines are bad for you.” These days, many of our fellow citizens reject scientific expertise and prefer ideology to facts. They are not merely uninformed—they are misinformed. They cite cherry-picked evidence, rely on fake experts, and believe conspiracy theories. How can we convince such people otherwise? How can we get them to change their minds and accept the facts when they don't believe in facts? In this book, Lee McIntyre shows that anyone can fight back against science deniers, and argues that it's important to do so. Science denial can kill.

Electrify: An Optimist's Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future by Saul Griffith

Climate change is a planetary emergency. We have to do something now—but what? Saul Griffith has a plan. In Electrify, Griffith lays out a detailed blueprint—optimistic but feasible—for fighting climate change while creating millions of new jobs and a healthier environment. Griffith's plan can be summed up simply: electrify everything. He explains exactly what it would take to transform our infrastructure, update our grid, and adapt our households to make this possible. Billionaires may contemplate escaping our worn-out planet on a private rocket ship to Mars, but the rest of us, Griffith says, will stay and fight for the future.

The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another by Ainissa RamirezNow in paperback

In The Alchemy of Us, scientist and science writer Ainissa Ramirez examines eight inventions—clocks, steel rails, copper communication cables, photographic film, light bulbs, hard disks, scientific labware, and silicon chips—and reveals how they shaped the human experience. Ramirez tells the stories of the woman who sold time, the inventor who inspired Edison, and the hotheaded undertaker whose invention pointed the way to the computer. She describes, among other things, how our pursuit of precision in timepieces changed how we sleep; how the railroad helped commercialize Christmas; how the necessary brevity of the telegram influenced Hemingway's writing style; and how a young chemist exposed the use of Polaroid's cameras to create passbooks to track Black citizens in apartheid South Africa. These fascinating and inspiring stories offer new perspectives on our relationships with technologies.

Featured journal: Daedalus

Drawing on the nation’s most prominent thinkers in the arts, sciences, humanities, and social sciences, as well as the professions and public life, Daedalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, explores the frontiers of knowledge and issues of public importance. Recent issues have examined Access to Justice; Inequality as a Multidimensional Process; Science and the Legal System; Why Jazz Still Matters; Political Leadership; Ethics, Technology, and War; Russia Beyond Putin; and The Prospects and Limits of Deliberative Democracy.

Featured journal: Global Environmental Politics

Global Environmental Politics examines relationships between global political forces and environmental change, with particular attention given to the implications of local-global interactions for environmental management, as well as to the implications of environmental change and environmental governance for world politics.


Gifts for the sci-fi readers who love to discover something new

The Curie Society by Heather Einhorn, Adam Staffaroni and Janet Harvey; edited by Joan Hilty

An action-adventure original graphic novel, The Curie Society follows a team of young women recruited by an elite secret society—originally founded by Marie Curie—with the mission of supporting the most brilliant female scientists in the world. The heroines of the Curie Society use their smarts, gumption, and cutting-edge technology to protect the world from rogue scientists with nefarious plans. Readers can follow recruits Simone, Taj, and Maya as they decipher secret codes, clone extinct animals, develop autonomous robots, and go on high-stakes missions.

The works of Stanisław Lem, like The Truth and Other Stories

Of these twelve short stories by science fiction master Stanisław Lem, only three have previously appeared in English, making this the first “new” book of fiction by Lem since the late 1980s. The stories display the full range of Lem's intense curiosity about scientific ideas as well as his sardonic approach to human nature, presenting as multifarious a collection of mad scientists as any reader could wish for. Many of these stories feature artificial intelligences or artificial life forms, long a Lem preoccupation; some feature quite insane theories of cosmology or evolution. All are thought provoking and scathingly funny.

Make Shift: Dispatches from the Post-Pandemic Future edited by Gideon Lichfield

This new volume in the Twelve Tomorrows series of science fiction anthologies looks at how science and technology—existing or speculative—might help us create a more equitable and hopeful world after the coronavirus pandemic. The original stories presented here, from a diverse collection of authors, offer no miracles or simple utopias, but visions of ingenuity, grit, and incremental improvement. In the tradition of inspirational science fiction that goes back to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, these writers remind us that we can choose our future, and show us how we might build it.

Science Fiction by Sherryl Vint

The world today seems to be slipping into a science fiction future. We have phones that speak to us, cars that drive themselves, and connected devices that communicate with each other in languages we don't understand. Depending on the news of the day, we inhabit either a technological utopia or a Brave New World nightmare. This volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series surveys the uses of science fiction. It focuses on what is at the core of all definitions of science fiction: a vision of the world made otherwise and what possibilities might flow from such otherness.


Discover more gifts for the intellectually curious