The best science books of 2011 have one thing in common: wonder. These books are written by, and for-- borrowing Marjorie C. Malley's words from her dedication in Radioactivity--"those who wonder and seek to understand."
And Malley would know. Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science, on our list at number four, is an accessible and comprehensive book about how energy that was once nothing more than "a scientific riddle" went from being the world's "magical elixir" to its "poisonous apple." In a bit more than 200 pages, Malley covers more than a century of scientific research while leaving out all the heavy technical jargon us nonspecialists don't understand and including the romance, mythology, and philosophy behind the science.
Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, has made it his life's work to wonder and understand what the rest of us were wondering and understanding. Thinking, Fast and Slow is an introduction to and discussion about the research in congnitive psychology that earned Kahneman the Nobel Prize and our number three spot. The way humans think is predictable and flawed, but Kahneman shows readers how to use our two systems of thought to overcome some of our biases.
Too much information? James Gleick wrote a book about that. The Information: A Theory, a History, a Flood is our top pick of the year in Science. Information systems and technologies are a whole lot older than the Internets. Gleick tells the story of information and introduces readers to some unlikely characters who brought us into the modern (flood of) information age.