When planning a trip to the beach, packing light, physically and figuratively, is key. Science books, which are a bit denser than your average thriller, offer considerable prose per pound and mix well with salt water. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.

‘Darwin’s Ghosts: A Secret History of Evolution’ by Rebecca Stott

Everyone knows Charles Darwin as the father of evolutionary theory, but most people overlook the important contributions of the scientists that came before him. In fact, just a month after he published his famous On The Origin of Species, Darwin received an angry letter accusing him of forgetting those scientists that came before him. Stott tells the forgotten stories of these great men, finally paying them the respect they deserve (Darwin did too, eventually). Taking you from Aristotle’s early ideas on gradation among animals to Denis Diderot’s secret scientific investigations during the Enlightenment all the way up to the theories of Charles’ grandfather Erasmus, Stott’s exciting book promises an exciting trip through science history.

‘The Dorito Effect’ by Mark Schatzker

America is in the grip of a sweeping obesity epidemic, and we’ve responded by hunting for the nutritional culprits: carbs, salt, sugar, gluten, the list goes on. Schatzker thinks we’ve got it all wrong; we’re sick because our bodies and brains are becoming increasingly confused by the divide between food and flavor. Thanks to genetic engineering, our produce looks better, but there’s less taste to go around — we just make up for it with synthetic flavoring. By putting the focus back on flavor, Schatzker thinks we can get our diets back on track. So, go on, finish that bag of chips. It’s not your fault your apple tastes like water.

‘The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch’ by Jonathan Gottschall

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Jonathan Gottschall was an adjunct English professor, bored out of his skull, when a mixed martial arts gym opened across the street from his house. Challenge accepted. The Professor in the Cage outlines his personal journey from unfit, late-thirties academic to, literally, professor fighting in a brutal cage match. Along the way, he discovers and explores the terrifying nature of mankind’s relationship with violence, a compulsion so overpowering we’ve created endless games, rituals, and traditions in which we can indulge ourselves in a controlled manner. Football, anyone?

‘Infested: How the Bed Bug Infiltrated Our Bedrooms and Took Over the World’ by Brooke Borel

Aren’t you glad to be out of the city, miles away from your tiny, probably-bed-bug-infested apartment? You’re in the perfect setting to read Brooke Borel’s brief history of the abhorred pest, which has been terrorizing humans for over 250,000 years. They’re remarkably persistent little creatures that have managed to dodge pesticides, travel across continents, and hide even in the most luxurious of hotels. Disgusting as they are, and as itchy as their bites may be, their tenacity is fascinating, and they might just gain your respect after exploring their biology and behavior and the ways we’ve responded to them (oddly, often in an artistic fashion). Just don’t forget to check under your pillow tonight.

‘Year of the Dunk: A Modest Defiance of Gravity’ by Asher Price

Midlife personal revolutions seem to be a theme this year. Like Gottschall, Asher Price was in his late thirties when he decided to test his physical limits and attempt something he’d always dreamed of doing: a slam dunk. He takes the reader with him though the hilarity of physical exertion and the disappointment of realizing his limits, exploring the science behind the slam dunk and its cultural significance along the way. 

Yasmin is a writer and former biologist living in New York. A Toronto girl at heart, her writing also appears in The Last Magazine and SciArt in America. You might recognize her as a past host of Scientific American's YouTube series.