Now onto the recommendations!
1. The entire SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD series. These books work for a wide age range and are notable not only for their stellar content but outstanding design as well. The author/photographer combo embed with a variety of scientists working in areas from sharks to frogs to volcanoes and space travel. The chapters are concise, the photos clear and intense and the focus is always on the fascinating work being done by scientists (male, female, all races, American & international) in the field. A personal favorite for me is Tracking Trash which was a page turner for everyone who saw it on our coffee table a few Christmases ago. (And got us all talking about the garbage in the oceans.) Check these titles out - I can't recommend them enough.
2. The books of Mary Roach. From Grunt, (on the science of war), to Packing for Mars and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (+ more), Roach has carved out a fascinating niche as an author who immerses herself in a subject and then presents it in a highly engaging and readable fashion. Check all of her work out & read this recent interview with Wired on Grunt.
3. Next of Kin by Roger Fouts & Stephen Mills on years of researching chimpanzees (and development of sign language communication with them) which led to Fouts's turn against biomedical research using chimpanzees. With a forward by Jane Goodall, this will appeal strongly to animal lovers. (And younger teens should also check out Jim Ottaviani's graphic novel Primates for short bios of Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas.) Jane Goodall has written a slew of books, all worth checking out - 50 Years at Gombe is especially impressive.
4. Multiple Exposures by Catherine Caufield and The Age of Radiance by Craig Nelson both take a long look at the history of the Atomic Age and the "use, misuse and control of the power of radiation from the discovery of x-rays and radium to the present day." Also check out Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss which combines a biography of their tragic research into radioactivity along with Redness's unique artistic presentation. Jonathan Fetter-Vorm has an outstanding graphic novel history of the Manhattan Project with Trinity and Jim Ottaviani's Feynman is everything you would ever want to know about what of the greatest physicists of all time. (Also see Richard Rhodes's definitive history, The Making of the Atomic Bomb.) Finally, Shelly Emling (who wrote the wonderful Fossil Hunter about Mary Anning) has a biography of the Curie family: Marie Curie and Her Daughters which covers the decades-long period after her husband's death and Curie's constant battles against sexism as she continued to work.
The Radioactive Boy Scout by Ken Silverstein. Tons of accolades for this one &, as it chronicles of the story of a teen, it has been appeal for readers in his age group. From Booklist: "Silverstein recounts how Hahn, while a high-school student in the early 1990s, tried to assemble a breeder nuclear reactor in a garden shed. Seeking the origins of such audacity, the author extensively interviewed Hahn and worked backward from the day in 1995 when EPA personnel clad in ventilated moon suits took away Hahn's radioactive material. To Silverstein, Hahn was two things at once: a kid out of time who imbibed 1960-style nuclear optimism from a chemistry book published that year and a kid of the times, the product of divorce. Neither parents nor stepparents, consumed by work and personal problems, supervised young David, who, utterly heedless of danger, re-created the experiments of Marie and Pierre Curie with a monomania that fed his fantasy of going nuclear. Aghast at Hahn's recklessness but amazed by his mad-scientist resourcefulness, Silverstein regales readers with an irresistible tale."
6. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. It should be on high school reading lists everywhere, not only for the science issues it tackles but the moral issues that demand classroom discussion. Skloot has written a masterpiece, plain & simple. Read about what she is doing for Lacks's descendants in this NY Times article. And then just buy it. Really. Just buy the book.
(Here's a bit from the NYT review that really stayed with me: "But The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is much more than a portrait of the Lacks family. It is also a critique of science that insists on ignoring the messy human provenance of its materials. “Scientists don’t like to think of HeLa cells as being little bits of Henrietta because it’s much easier to do science when you dissociate your materials from the people they come from,” a researcher named Robert Stevenson tells Skloot in one of the many ethical discussions seeded throughout the book.")
7. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. I reviewed this one for Booklist and I'm so glad it has been made into a movie. It's a classic example of forgotten/hidden history and along with Margaret Hamilton receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom last month, an excellent stab at shining light on the historic record. From my review for Booklist: "....many of the women, particularly African American women, were employed not as secretaries but as “computers”: individuals capable of making accurate mathematical calculations at staggering speed who ultimately contributed to the agency’s aerodynamic and space projects on an impressive scale. Shetterly does an outstanding job of weaving the nearly unbelievable stories of these women into the saga of NASA’s history (as well as its WWII-era precursor) while simultaneously keeping an eye on the battle for civil rights that swirled around them. This is an incredibly powerful and complex story, and Shetterly has it down cold. The breadth of her well-documented research is immense, and her narrative compels on every level."
Take a minute and check out the trailer for the upcoming movie which looks AWESOME:
Also check out Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt on the women who were employed early at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and T-Minus, another great graphic novel from Jim Ottaviani, on the race to the moon and, if you can bear to have your heart broken, Laika, by Nick Abadzis, the story of the little Russian dog who became the world's first space traveler. (I prefer the ending to that tale found in the picture book Laika: Astronaut Dog by Owen Davey. It's wonderful.)
8. Elements by Theodore Gray is both visually stunning and very well written (even funny). Gray has a ton of fans and for good reason. He actually collects the elements which seems...impossible, but is true and is a great way in which to make the whole Periodic Table a real thing and not some abstract poster that hangs on a classroom wall (which is how most of us see it). Gray has also written Molecules and fans can get a puzzle of his version of the Periodic Table and a photographic card deck which allows users to create their own table.
I'll be adding more to the post in the coming days. (I haven't even gotten to the Darwin books yet!) And please feel free to make your science recs in the comments. Thanks!