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Summer reads and listens

earth science, social scienceJohn Gordon, Content DeveloperJul 6, 2020

Hey, folks! It’s summer, and that means it’s time to avoid densely occupied places for the sake of public health. Hooray?

You may not be able to dive into the community center pool this summer, but you can still dive into some fun summer reading (and listening)! The Science Museum of Minnesota has put together a list of science-, equity-, math-, and environmentally-themed recommendations for you. While I haven’t personally read or listened to all of them, these suggestions for podcasts and books all came from Science Museum Staff members, and I can vouch for them. Go ahead and check them out—you won’t be disappointed.


Natural sciences, animals, geology, earth history, paleontology, and evolution

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

“A fun overview of science, from astronomy to zoology. The author is a great storyteller, and I’ve found myself laughing out loud. This book was a summer reading assignment in middle school, and got me hooked on science forever!”

Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

“Addresses the large issue of rapidly increasing rates of extinction in the modern era within the context of the other five mass extinctions on Earth.”

Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

“A really great exploration of developmental biology and paleontology that is 100%
understandable to the average reader, really well written by a great scientist.”

Caesar’s Last Breath by Sam Kean

“A history of the Earth, as told by the atmosphere. The book discusses how nearly everything in the Earth’s history relates to our atmosphere and the gases within it. It’s a fun chemistry read, and poignant at times to see how we’re all connected to the past via air. I read this shortly after my grandmother’s passing, and I treasure it more because of that.”

Cod by Mark Kurlansky

“Cod is a natural and cultural history through the lens of cod fishing and trade.”

Through Minnesota’s Seasons by Jim Gilbert

“This is a look at phenology through the eyes of someone who dearly loves the seasons and what they bring to Minnesota each annual cycle.”

Minnesota’s Natural Heritage by John Tester

“Not a textbook in the typical sense, but it is very accessible writing on climate, weather, ecology, and the different biomes and habitat types in our state.”

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

“A personal narrative that delves into our understanding of an intelligence that is very different from our own.”

Krakatoa by Simon Winchester

“Geology and history intermingle in a surprisingly engaging page-turner (especially given that you probably know how it ends: with a bang.)”

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World by P. Wohlleben

“Written by a forester, this book is about how trees communicate with each other, the importance of biodiversity, and the ecosystem of forests.”

Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters by Donald R. Prothero and Carl Buell

“A very thorough account of the evidence for evolution and against creationism. The book is a bit textbook-like in it's prose and layout, but for those who want to dive deep into the subject it’s really fascinating. Lots of good pics and charts, too.”

Consider the Platypus by Maggie Ryan Sanford

“A fun book on evolution that I was introduced to by a talk at the museum.”
Editor’s note: Maggie used to work at the Science Museum of Minnesota! Pick this one up to support a local author, a great writer, and a cool person! It’s funny, interesting, and it has lots of great illustrations.

STEM - Computer science, chemistry, math, physics, and more

How to Bake Pi by Eugenia Cheng

“A very well written book about how mathematics works and how it is structured. Also, it comes with recipes!”

The Varieties of Scientific Experience by Carl Sagan (ed. Ann Druyan)

“This book is driven by the core scientific pursuit of questioning, productive skepticism, and, ultimately, the sense of awe.”

The Discovery of Subatomic Particles by Steven Weinberg

“Weinberg wrote this book because he was dissatisfied with the way high-school physics was taught as though it were the first class in a college major, rather than an overview of the big ideas and insights of the subject for interested nonspecialists. The book follows the history of how scientists figured out what atoms are made of, introducing physics concepts as they become necessary to understand the experiments.”

An Introduction to Information Theory by John R Pierce

“A very laid-back and readable introduction to the mathematical theory of information, with digressions discussing the field’s relationship with physics, psychology, robotics, and art. This is a Dover book, so it’s very affordable as well.”

Creations of Fire by Cathy Cobb and Harold Goldwhite

“A vibrant and imaginative history of the development of modern chemistry, covering everything from ancient alchemy to modern nuclear transmutation.”

The State of Play edited by Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson

“A wonderful anthology of essays on video games and the culture surrounding them, with excellent pieces on the intersection of gaming, mental health, race, gender, and more. I actually picked this one up in the museum’s Explore Store!”

Introduction to Graph Theory by Richard J Trudeau

“A short and sweet introduction to graph theory (aka “network theory”). Very mathematically gentle, while still providing a fantastic introduction to the joy and beauty of pure mathematics. Has you pondering open questions in the field within a few minutes of opening the book.”

Maxwell’s Demon: Why Warmth Disperses and Time Passes by Hans Christian Von Baeyer

“A great narrative history of the second law of thermodynamics. Covers heat, energy, and entropy and the lives of the people who were at the forefront of physics when this was first being explored. Only 200 pages—a quick read, but very enjoyable.”

The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh

“I’m fond of this book’s ‘pop quizzes,’ which are really just incredible math jokes.”

Equity, racism, culture, and science and human experiences combined

Names on the Land by George R. Stewart

“This cartography book shows how different geographical features and cities got their names and why some stayed and why some didn’t.”

Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter

“Perhaps the most clever book ever written, if you like puzzles. It weaves together art, math, and music to investigate the nature of intelligence and whether machines will be able to replicate it.”

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

“How geography and climate influenced the fates of human societies. Why did certain technologies advance on some continents and not others? Why did Native Americans die from European germs, and not the other way around? Obviously relevant today.”

Touch the Earth compiled by T.C. McLuhan

“A series of historical quotes and short essays by Native American people, coupled with iconic photos by Edward Curtis.”

A Good Time for Truth: Race In Minnesota edited by Sun Yung Shin

“Essays that challenge, discomfort, disorient, galvanize, and inspire all of us to evolve now, for our shared future. Each chapter is written by a different Minnesotan and gives an insight into what it's like living as a person of color in Minnesota.”

The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene by Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin

“The authors make a well-written and compelling case for the Anthropocene being one of the most important scientific ideas of our time.”

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

“Kimmerer brings together indigenous knowledge (as a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation) and Western sciences from her formal training as a botanist as lenses for ecological consciousness.”

Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini

“An informative and engaging historical tracing of how science has been used to support the fundamentally false idea of biological race from the past to today.”

The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould

“A powerful book on the history of scientific racism. A bit dated, but profoundly relevant to the modern world.”


Hidden Brain

“This NPR podcast presents fascinating content about why we do things and is told in a very accessible, storytelling manner. I always learn something new that I have to quote to others.”

Science Friday

“Covers a variety of science topics each Friday.”

Story Collider

“Stories about science in people’s lives.”


“SMM staff member Jake Withee co-hosts this podcast all about the science behind the spooky and strange! (Language alert—not for young audiences)”

Science Vs

“‘Science Vs takes on fads, trends, and the opinionated mob to find out what’s fact, what’s not, and what’s somewhere in between.’ It’s funny and informative, plus the host’s australian accent is delightful.”


“Ologies' tagline is ‘Ask Smart People Stupid Questions.’ The host Alie Ward's life was changed when she started volunteering for the Natural History Museum of LA County. Each week she interviews a scientist about their ‘ology’ to find out how they got into science, why they find their subject so interesting, and what they love (and hate) about their job. This podcast makes science accessible and lets us meet the passionate personalities of the people who make it their lives. I also appreciate that Ward’s guests are often from underrepresented populations, and that her ad revenue goes to a charity chosen by that week’s ologist.”

Brains On!

“Locally produced, with science aimed at kids.”

The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe

“This podcast is dedicated to promoting critical thinking and science literacy. I like it for the humor and the repeat segments, such as ‘Who’s That Noisy?’ and ‘Science or Fiction?’

This Podcast Will Kill You

“Each episode of This Podcast Will Kill You covers an infectious disease, discussing its history, its biology, and how scared you should be of it. The hosts know what they are talking about, since one is an epidemiologist and the other is an ecologist. They’re currently doing a whole series on COVID-19, but before the ‘new normal.’ (This podcast is fascinating if you are into infectious diseases, but it may hit a little too close to home for some right now.)”

Big Picture Science

“The topics vary quite a bit, but are often very tied to everyday life. It’s accessible to all learning levels, but it doesn’t feel like the hosts ‘dumb it down,’ which is something that disappoints me in a lot of science podcasts. (Yes, I’m throwing shade at you, Short Wave.)”

Wow in the World

“My son listens to this non-stop. It has great production value, and Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz are super hosts. They really creatively dive into the wonders of the world all around us.”

Tai Asks Why

“An 11 year old with an inquiring mind spends each episode delving into one big question. The curiosity and inquiry mixed with Tai’s conversations with a wide variety of professionals make it a really entertaining and informative family listen.”

I Know Dino

“A great show if you’re missing the museum’s Diplodocus! The podcast has lots of good information, and their page has a ton of free dino resources right now, too.”


“A podcast that’s ostensibly about medical history, Sawbones often delves into more current medical topics (recent episodes have covered COVID-19 and medical racism). It’s hosted by a working MD and her husband, a goofball.”

Squabbling Squibs

This one isn’t always completely about science (it frequently explores sci-fi, pop culture, and nerdy news through a scientific lens), but we thought we’d include it. After all, it’s hosted by Katie and Alex Hastings, and Dr. Alex Hastings is the museum’s own paleontologist!