Every year for the last few years I’ve collected lists of notable science books from various media sources. I certainly continued this tradition for books published in 2010! I can tell it’s a very popular service from the hit stats I see for the blog and from the number of keyword searches on “science books 2010″ or whatnot I see in the logs.
Last year I started taking all the lists and tallying up all the “votes” to see which are the most mentioned books from the year. An interesting exercise, to say the least! While the “winner” wasn’t in any sense the best book of the year, it was certainly very revealing to see what the most reviewed and acclaimed book was.
As with last year, some of the lists have been from general media sources, in which case I’ve just extracted the science-related books. From science publications, I’ve included most or all of the mentioned titles.
This year I’ve looked at 60 different lists, spread among 46 different posts. Last year I looked at 33 different lists over 32 different posts, so I had significantly better coverage this year. That was mostly thanks to the amazing work gathering Year’s Best Book lists over at the Largehearted Boy blog. Thanks!
Since I covered so many more lists this year, I’m upping the number of mentions a book needs to get to be included on this list from 3 to 4. And
And I’m still bringing 21 books to this summary list compared to 16 last year. I’m listing those 21 below.
Some notes/caveats, mostly similar to last year:
- These aren’t in any way the “best” books of 2010, only the most popular books on year’s best lists. For the most part, all the books mentioned will likely be very good since they’ve attracted the most media “best” mentions. But, they are also almost certainly the books that had the biggest promotional budgets and sent out the most review copies. Realistically speaking, of course, Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is so far above all the rest in terms of mentions that it’s probably pretty uncontroversial to state that it is simply the best science book of 2010.
- There are probably one or two straggler “best of” lists that haven’t come out yet and I’m sure there are a bunch that I missed. Since I saw so many lists, I feel pretty confident that the list is fairly representative of reviewer sentiment.
- Similarly, there may be lists that were published that I just missed.
- Finally, in some of the longer mainstreams lists that I did see, I can’t guarantee I consistently pulled in the same “edge cases” in to my science-y lists. There were numerous books mentioned twice or three times so one or two of those might have squeaked onto this list. Of course, I can’t guarantee complete accuracy in any of the steps of the whole process.
- British, American and Canadian publication dates can mean that a 2009 British & Canadian book is a 2010 American book and vice versa. It happens.
- There were 215 different books mentioned among the various lists, up from 175 last year. My list is in a Google Docs spreadsheet here. If you have any questions about the spreadsheet, just let me know.
Enjoy — and good reading!
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (41)
- The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee (17)
- Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (16)
- The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival (Borzoi Books) by John Vaillant (11)
- Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson (9)
- The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow (7)
- What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly (6)
- The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu (5)
- The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely (5)
- The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum (5)
- Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell (5)
- The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks (5)
- Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky (5)
- The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World by David Kirkpatrick (5)
- Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg (5)
- The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey (5)
- Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science by Ian Sample (5)
- The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean (4)
- Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality by Jonathan Weiner (4)
- The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley (4)
- You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier (4)
Any comments? First of all, there’s a fair bit of actual science among the books, not just more edge cases or books about historical or socail aspects of science. That’s a pretty noticible difference from last year. Second, not a whole lot of women on the list, unfortunately, although better than last year. And two out of the top three is significant too. Third, some good general technology books and some “social” technology books like the Facebook item or Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus.
BTW, I really do appreciate the comments I’ve gotten both online and off about the usefulness of this bizarre project/obsession. It can be a bit of a slog sometimes as well as sucking most of the blogging energy out of me for a couple of months, so the comments help keep me motivated.