7 fascinating reads for the STEM enthusiast in your life

19 Nov 2015

Christmas is coming fast, as anyone who’s seen the recently-released bevy of heartstring-tugging ads is surely aware.

For a lot of us, that means the growing headache of buying gifts for a whole host of family members, friends and office Kris Kindle giftees.

Luckily for you, we’re here to make shopping just that little bit easier.

We’re all big readers at Siliconrepublic.com and know that, sometimes, books are the ideal gift, so here’s a list of seven of the best non-fiction books and fascinating reads that should satisfy even the most demanding STEM enthusiast in your life.

An Impossible Invention – Mats Lewan

Best books: An Impossible Invention Mats Lewan


Whether you think it’s the alchemy of science, or mankind’s greatest hope for survival in a future without fossil fuels, cold fusion energy is certainly a hot topic in the science community.

Perhaps one of the most controversial figures in the cold fusion world is inventor Andrea Rossi, who reportedly developed his own portable cold fusion generator – the E-Cat.

While not everyone believes the claims, and independent researchers were baffled as to how the device could possibly work, in An Impossible Invention, journalist Mats Lewan still felt compelled to look into the story of Rossi himself.

Charting Rossi’s work, and detailing a series of interviews with the inventor, Lewan looks into the weird and compelling life of a man promising the world.

Recommended for: Those who believe in the impossible, and environmentalists.

Jewels of Allah: The Untold Story of Women in Iran – Nina Ansary

Best Books: Jewels of Allah - Nina Ansary

Jewels of Allah is a book that traces the numerous untold, yet pretty remarkable, stories of women in Iran.

Taking in everyone from rock stars to internationally-renowned scientists, Inspirefest 2015 speaker Nina Ansary tells a story of a “global sisterhood” of women who have achieved great things amid a domestic culture of significant oppression.

The odds are you don’t actually know that much about women in Iran, despite thinking you’ve heard it all. Jewels of Allah can help you redress that balance.

Recommended for: People interested in broadening their world view, or people who need to.

Lab Coats and Lace: The Lives and Legacies of Inspiring Irish Women Scientists and Pioneers – Mary Mulvihill

Best books: Lab Coats and Lace - Mary Mulvihill

Edited by the late, great Mary Mulvihill, who sadly died this year, and published by WITS (Women in Technology and Science) in 2008, Lab Coats and Lace celebrates the historical achievements of Irish women in STEM. The book charts pioneering Irish female role models in science, engineering, astronomy, medicine, technology and other STEM disciplines.

The biographical accounts include crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale, who revealed the structure of many complex chemical compounds and who has a type of diamond named after her; and Donegal mathematician Kay McNulty, who was one of the first programmers of the famous ENIAC computer during World War II.

For those who already have Lab Coats and Lace, there’s always the companion – Stars, Shells and Bluebells: Women Scientists and Pioneers – which celebrates 15 Irish women scientists, explorers and adventurers from the 18th century onwards.

Recommended for: Anyone interested in getting a less male-centric view of Ireland’s scientific history.

It’s ONLY Rocket Science: An Introduction in Plain English – Lucy Rogers

Best books: It's ONLY Rocket Science - Kerry Rogers

At Inspirefest 2015, Lucy Rogers spoke about her frustrations with the inaccessibility of rocket science knowledge. Working with a company designing and building a spacecraft years earlier, Rogers said, she had learned a lot about the mechanics behind one specific area of rocketry.

But she wanted to know more. Asking her colleagues for book recommendations that would help her see how the different areas connect and overlap, she received only “tomes … all full of maths and formulae”. When Rogers asked for one in plain English, she was told it didn’t exist.

So she wrote it herself.

It’s ONLY Rocket Science is the result – a book that aims, and largely succeeds, to explain the minutiae of spacecraft and space travel in a way that is readily and easily understandable.

Spanning topics from gravity and orbits to nuclear propulsion, It’s ONLY Rocket Science offers a glimpse into a previously obscured world, and illuminates it.

Recommended for: Those who want to be able to respond to ‘It’s not rocket science’ with ‘I actually know rocket science!’, but hate impenetrable technical language.

The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution – Walter Isaacson

Best books: The Innovators - Walter Isaacson

In The Innovators, Walter Isaacson takes the reader through the human back stories behind some of the digital age’s most significant milestones.

The plurality in the title means more than you think, actually, given that digital inventions are rarely solo crusades.

You may know Isaacson from his previous work, the Steve Jobs biography. This latest piece gives us a history of an industry growing in importance like no other.

Recommended for: Anyone who enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch-Keira Knightley vehicle The Imitation Game.

How Irish Scientists Changed the World – Seán Duke

Best books: How Irish Scientists Changed the World - Seán Duke

For a relatively small island, we certainly have achieved an awful lot in the different scientific fields, from Robert Boyle’s foundation of chemistry to Kenneth Edgeworth’s discovery of the space debris field at the edge of our solar system.

While we at Siliconrepublic.com have covered many of their achievements extensively, it is nice to see them rendered in paper and ink by Seán Duke’s How Irish Scientists Changed the World.

The entrants are not limited to just those born in Ireland, as one of the most notable inclusions is legendary physicist Erwin Schrödinger – most well-known for the Schrödinger’s cat theorem – who lived, and expanded his research, in Ireland during World War II.

Recommended for: Those unaware of Ireland’s scientific prowess. Or those who have always suspected Ireland is the home of geniuses and wants proof.

Ingenious Dublin: A Guide to the City’s Marvels, Discoveries and Inventions – Mary Mulvihill

Best Books: Ingenious Dublin - Mary Mulvihill

A second entry on this list from Mary Mulvihill, an incomparable science communicator and the founding chair of WITS.

Mulvihill’s Ingenious Ireland tours were renowned for their entertaining take on the scientific history at the heart of Dublin, bringing the city alive with incredible stories from its past.

This summer, Mulvihill passed away following a short illness, but Ingenious Dublin lives on in this 216-page e-book available from Amazon. Devour this and you’ll find yourself retelling the amazing stories of an elephant autopsy in Temple Bar, the Irish algebra that landed a man on the Moon, and the surprising location of the world’s first earthquake experiment.

The first tome, Ingenious Ireland (which prompted the establishment of the walking tours and guides) is currently out of print, but used copies can often be found on sale on Amazon.

Recommended for: Dubliners who enjoy reading and retelling great stories, particularly those with a scientific bent.

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