Season’s Greetings


Wishing you a joyous holiday season
and all our best wishes for 2019!

with gratitude from your team at the
Association of Science-Technology Centers


1 – Lesley Markham, 2 – Nina Humes, 3 – Todd Happer, 4 – Wendy Hancock, 
5 – Walter Staveloz, 6 – Melissa Ballard, 7 – Ann Hernandez, 8 – Korie Twiggs,
9 – Rachel Diamond, 10 – Cristin Dorgelo, 11 – Michelle Kenner, 12 – Jamie Bell, 
13 – Susan Straight, 14 – Alejandro Asin, 15 – Margaret Glass, 16 – Christofer Nelson,
17 – Frosty


This holiday season, we’re glad to share this list of books (new and old) recommended by ASTC staff, members, partners, and friends. Happy reading in 2019!

The Alternative: Most of What You Believe about Poverty Is Wrong by Mauricio L. Miller (2017) presents an approach to make poverty escapable, and not just tolerable, by trusting poor families and using technology to capture information about their talents and initiative; his option is shaped by his mother’s lament that charitable programs “take my pride away” and his own subsequent work in anti-poverty programs he realized he wouldn’t bring his own family through.

American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic by Victoria Johnson (2018) shares the untold story of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr’s personal physician . . . and his dream to build America’s first botanical garden three miles outside what was then New York City (the site of the garden is now Rockefeller Center).

Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor by Virginia Eubanks (2018) reveals the effects of data mining, policy algorithms, and predictive risk models on poor people, with illuminating stories about how new technologies keep citizens from the pursuit of happiness, including a woman whose benefits are cut off while she is dying to a family that lives in constant fear of losing their daughter because they fit a certain statistical profile.

The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky (2006) traces the history of New York City and its people from prehistoric times to today through the evidence of the oyster—one of the lowest-effort, highest-protein food sources—with surprising and entertaining turns into evolutionary biology, the American Revolutionary war, industrial pollution policy, and delicious recipes.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (2016) explores the authors’ stories and teachings about joy, the most recent findings in the science of deep happiness, and the daily practices that anchor their own emotional and spiritual lives. 

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016), a funny autobiography written by the comedian and Daily Show host, details his youth growing up in post-apartheid South Africa as the light-skinned product of a white father and a black mother; a crime for him to be born as a mixed race baby, he never fit in with the county’s apartheid policies nor the racial schemes introduced after apartheid.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013) draws on her life as both a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation to take you on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise” and shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices.

Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste by Bianca Bosker (2017) takes you inside underground tasting groups, exclusive New York City restaurants, California mass-market wine factories, and even a neuroscientist’s fMRI machine as the author attempts to discover just what is the big deal about wine.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited by Paul Hawken (2017) is a set of 100 realistic and bold actions from an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists that can move us, beyond slowing the Earth’s warming, to hitting that point in time when greenhouse gases begin to actually decline—ranging from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries about land use practices that pull carbon out of the air.

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (1998) is a witty collection of essays on books, word, language, and the wonders they bring, covering the delicate negotiations surrounding the merger of spouses’ libraries, what you can find yourself reading when you’ve read everything in the house already, a competitive quest to find the most typographical errors on restaurant menus, and more.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World—and Why Things Are Better than You Think by Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Hans Rosling, and Ola Rosling (2018) shows why people are mostly wrong about the state of the world; explains how it is actually richer, healthier, and less dangerous than most people think; and suggests 10 human instincts that prevent us from seeing real progress.

The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy by Michael Lewis (2018) explores what happened as the Trump administration took control of the workings of American government (where appointees were few and far between and those who did show up were often uninformed about what their new job entailed) and also how unsung heroes strive to keep the daily machinery of the country running.

The Fortunes by Peter Davies (2016) captures and capsizes over a century of history through the lives of Chinese Americans—a railroad baron’s valet who unwittingly ignites an explosion in Chinese labor, Hollywood’s first Chinese movie star, a hate-crime victim whose death mobilizes Asian Americans, and a biracial writer visiting China for an adoption—and examines the process of becoming not only Chinese American, but American.

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight (2018) is the definitive, dramatic biography of the most important African American of the 19th century, an escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era.

Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch (1991) looks at the inner sources of spontaneous creation, the flow of unhindered creative energy, and how you can be liberated to speak, sing, write, paint, dance, play, and create with your own authentic voice . . . using the boundless creative energies you may not even know you have.

A Girl’s Guide to Missiles: Growing Up in America’s Secret Desert by Karen Lynnea Piper (2018) is a coming-of-age story about growing up on the China Lake missile range in California’s Mojave Desert—where workaday people lived regular lives while also designing and building weapons of mass destruction—with sometimes-comical stories about those dichotomous worlds converging and how the author decided to escape the culture of secrets and fear.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth (2016) looks at how the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but “grit,” how it is evident in high achievers in every domain, and scientific evidence that grit can grow—and is filled with research, insights from history, and interviews with high achievers.

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery (2018) shares lessons learned in “conversations” with animals like Tess the border collie, spiders, octopuses, and Chris the extroverted pig and reflects on the personalities and quirks of the author’s nonhuman friends, as well as the otherness and sameness of people and animals, ways we learn to love and become empathetic, coping with loss and despair, and more.

The Informed Vision: Essays on Learning and Human Nature by David Hawkins (2002) is an education classic with 15 essays on how children learn, offering insights to educators, parents, and anyone concerned with how kids develop their understandings of the world around them—including science-center basics like “Messing About In Science,” “On Living in Trees,” “I, Though, and It,” and more.

The Last Lecture by Jeffrey Zaslow (2008) is the Carnegie Mellon computer science professor’s legendary final talk, on achieving your childhood dreams, which delves into the importance of overcoming obstacles, the value of enabling other people’s dreams, and the imperative to seize every moment.

The Overstory: A Novel by Richard Powers (2018) gathers a scientist who has discovered trees communicate with one another, a soldier saved by falling into a banyan tree, an artist who inherited a century’s worth of pictures documenting the same chestnut tree, and many more compellingly drawn characters who band together to save to save the continent’s last virgin forest in a story of activism and resistance dedicated to the natural world.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (2010) looks at the mind-boggling logistics space travel requires—as well as the physiological challenges people face in space—employing humor and science to explain bodily functions, testing procedures, training regimens, and more.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (1993) is a science-fiction novel set in a society decimated by climate change, wealth inequality, attacks on minorities, and corporate greed, telling the story of a young empath who takes flight to survive and creates a new belief system and vision of human destiny.

The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century by Deborah Blum (2018) reveals the dramatic, true story of how food was made safe in the United States and the heroes, led by the inimitable Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, who fought for change in a “David and Goliath” battle driven by the moral imperative of confronting corporate greed and government corruption on behalf of consumers and citizens.

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that Tell You Everything You Need to Know about Global Politics by Tim Marshall (2015) examines Russia, China, the United States, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Japan, Korea, Greenland, and the Arctic—their weather, seas, mountains, rivers, deserts, and borders—to provide context often missing from the news about how the physical characteristics of these regions affect their strengths and vulnerabilities and the decisions made by countries’ leaders.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (2015) is a study of the history of humans, from archaic human species through the Stone Age up to contemporary times—exploring how biology and history have made us what we are and continue to help us know what being human means.

Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson (2015) is a hard science fiction novel about the nations of the world banding together to save humanity, after the apocalyptic disintegration of the moon, and their formation of a new human society in space . . . and what happens when 5,000 years later their descendants decide to journey to a new world, which happens to be an transformed Earth.

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer (2018) is a completely new perspective on what passes from generation to generation, how we inherit genetically influenced characteristics but also microbes and technologies, the urgent bioethical quandaries arising from new biomedical practices, and longstanding presumptions about who we really are.

Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly Weinersmith and Zach Weinersmith (2017) is a hilariously illustrated, comic-book exploration of future technologies (programmable matter, augmented reality, space elevators, robotic construction, robot swarms, toasters powered by nuclear fusion, etc.) that investigates why they are needed, how they would work, and what is standing in the way of them becoming real.

The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen (2018) explains how recent discoveries in molecular biology can change our understanding of evolution and life’s history, with powerful implications for human health and even our own human nature. 

Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech by Sara Wachter-Boettcher (2017) demystifies the tech industry and leaves those of us on the other side of the screen better prepared to make informed choices about the services we use for buying our groceries, tracking our health, finding a date, and more—and better equipped to demand more from the companies behind them.

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin (2006) is a science fiction tale set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, when an alien civilization on the brink of destruction gets a secret signal from Earth and plans to invade the planet, prompting different camps to form: one to welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt and another to fight against the invasion.

Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist by Franchesca Ramsey (2018) is a collection of personal essays on race, identity, online activism, harassment, and the downfall of real communication in the age of social media rants, trolls, and call-out wars.

What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Mona Hanna-Attisha (2018) shares how this immigrant, doctor, scientist, and mother (and a team of researchers, parents, friends, and community leaders) discovered that the children of Flint, Michigan, were being exposed to lead in their tap water—and then battled her own government and a brutal backlash to expose that truth to the world.

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas (2018) is an unflinching investigation of how the global elite’s efforts to “change the world” often preserve the status quo (and obscure their role in causing the problems they later seek to solve) and encourages us to use democracy and build more robust, egalitarian institutions in order to truly make the world better.