The couch beckons , and the brain yearns for that perfect book: the lyrical, binge-able tome that also dispenses heaps of knowledge. The writers of these top titles from 2019 have produced just that. They've made it easy to set aside the remote , bow out of the attention economy , and season the soul with perfect prose. Grab a copy of one of these page-turners and start living the life of the erudite sofa spud.
Year in Review: What WIRED learned from tech, science, culture, and more in 2019Inheritance, by Dani ShapiroWhen novelist Dani Shapiro’s husband hits middle age and gets curious about his family history, he sends away for a DNA test . He asks if she wants one too. Looking up at her walls covered in the sepia-toned portraits of her Orthodox Jewish family, her interest is hardly piqued. But spousal solidarity prevails. She spits, sends, and promptly forgets about it. Until, weeks later, her results come back and blast apart her hitherto firmly held reality.
The first half of Inheritance reads like an emotional thriller-slash-detective story, as Shapiro uses the tools of modern genealogy—genetic data and Google—to peel back the layers on a long-buried family secret. While the details of her parents’ lifelong deception are particular to Shapiro, her experience is shared by thousands of others in the modern age of inexpensive DNA testing. These tests, often taken in a spirit of casual curiosity, can throw genetic buzzsaws at the branches of people’s family trees .
The emotional fallout of such unexpected discoveries fills the pages of the second half of Shapiro’s searching, tenderly written memoir. At WIRED, we tend to cover technical advances in genetic testing, and the privacy implications of rapidly expanding DNA databases . For anyone wishing to understand the personal side of these cultural shifts, Inheritance should be considered required reading. —Megan MolteniInfinite Powers, by Steven StrogatzRichard Feynman once called calculus “the language God speaks,” but I’m afraid to say I wouldn’t know anything about it because I never took a calc class. At some point in high school, I got the mistaken impression that calculus—and mathematics in general—was an entirely uncreative pursuit that mostly just involved shuffling numbers and letters around on the page. I only wish that I had had a copy of Infinite Powers by Cornell mathematician Steven Strogatz as a corrective.
Fortunately, wildlife biologist and science communicator David Steen has taken the most common snake myths, tall tales and snake safety rules and applied real science to them in his wildly entertaining Secrets of Snakes: The Science Beyond the Myths (Texas A&M University Press).A lot of our wildlife myths are about creatures that we believe we know.
This is probably the only calculus book ever written that can truthfully be called a page-turner, which speaks to Strogatz’s strength as a writer and teacher. The book offers a high-level overview of fundamental concepts in calculus and goes into great detail about how they are used in modern life. Strogatz eschews complicated formulas—hardly a single one appears in these pages—in favor of simple graphs and illustrations. While the extreme simplification of remarkably heady mathematics might turn off calculus adepts, there’s something for everyone in the book, especially when he dives into the minds of some of history’s greatest thinkers. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the intellectual history of science and mathematics, as well as those calculus dropouts like me who wonder what they’re missing out on. —Daniel Oberhaus
Children’s Book Review: Wake Up, Woods
Bottle of Lies, by Katherine EbanReading Bottle of Lies turned out to be more expensive than I anticipated. Sure, there was the $14.99 I shelled out for the Kindle edition. But that's nothing compared to the price of vowing to never buy another generic drug. Pills containing incorrect dosages, unstable compounds, ground-up glass, and even insects? I'd rather keep my kidneys, thanks.