Best Books of 2021: Science

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Helgoland
by Carlo Rovelli, Allen Lane £ 20 / Penguin Publishing Group $ 20

Another triumph of quantum physicist Rovelli, who makes his own scientific field accessible without losing a sense of authority. He mixes history and contemporary research to describe a “relational” universe in which nothing is permanent or absolute and everything depends on the interactions between objects.

Vaxxers: The Inside Story Of The Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine And The Race Against The Virus
by Sarah Gilbert and Catherine Green, Hodder & Stoughton £ 20

Gilbert and Green, key members of the University of Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine team, vividly describe their roles in one of the most urgent development projects in recent medical history. The narrative of research in action and how individuals respond to a scientific emergency will remain relevant long after the pandemic is over.

Peak: The virus against the people – The inner story
by Jeremy Farrar with Anjana Ahuja, Profile € 14.99

Another great “inside story” of the pandemic. Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and one of the world’s leading infectious disease experts, worked with FT columnist Ahuja to explain why governments around the world haven’t taken decisive action against Covid-19. A closely observed and deeply analyzed case study of the intersection between science and politics.

Books of the year 2021

All week FT writers and critics are sharing their favorites. Some highlights are:

On Monday: Undertaken by Andrew Hill
Tuesday: Politics by Gideon Rachman
Wednesday: Economics by Martin Wolf
Thusday: Laura Battle Fiction
Friday: Story by Tony Barber
Saturday: Critics’ Choice

The man of the future: The visionary life of John von Neumann
by Ananyo Bhattacharya, Allen Lane £ 20 / WW Norton $ 30

A splendid biography of one of the most brilliant, unpredictable and ultimately dangerous mathematicians of the 20th century. Von Neumann played a key role in the development of computer science, quantum mechanics, and game theory. After working on the Manhattan Project, he became fond of nuclear weapons – and was one of the Mad Scientist’s inspirations in the 1964 film. Dr Strangelove.

Be you: A new science of consciousness
by Anil Seth, Faber £ 20 / Dutton $ 28

In recent years, several books by neuroscientists have addressed the “difficult problem” of consciousness. The latest is Seth, who examines the main theories and then comes up with his own: our brains are “prediction machines”, constantly generating “controlled hallucinations” as we sense our surroundings in order to stay alive. Whether or not he’s on the right track, his writing is fascinating.

Tell us what you think

What are your favorites from this list – and which books have we missed? Tell us in the comments below

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