The best books to teach you something cool and make you laugh in the process

Why am I passionate about this?

I didn’t know anything at all about meteorites (or, really, space in general) until I took a cosmochemistry class during my first semester of a PhD program in geology. As soon as I learned that meteorites captured information about the start of the Solar System – the material we started with, hints about how planets evolve, and how meteorites changed the course of Earth – I was hooked. At the end of that class in 2007, I switched the main topic of my PhD research to studying meteorites and what they can tell us about the past, and I have been doing it ever since.


I wrote...

Impact: How Rocks from Space Led to Life, Culture, and Donkey Kong

By Greg Brennecka,

Book cover of Impact: How Rocks from Space Led to Life, Culture, and Donkey Kong

What is my book about?

Did you ever wonder how the Solar System formed, or where the ingredients for life on Earth came from? Did you ever wonder how a rock falling from the sky could alter the rise, fall, and evolution of cultures and religions around the world? Are you wondering about them now, at least since I just brought it up?

If you find these types of things interesting and don’t mind some irreverent humor sprinkled in while you learn about why life on Earth would not be the same – or probably not even exist at all – if it weren’t for meteorites hitting our home planet, then I think you will enjoy Impact.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Short History of Nearly Everything

Greg Brennecka Why did I love this book?

In my opinion, this is the best book ever written. By anyone. Of all time.

Sure, that is a bold statement, but A Short History has everything I personally want in a book: thoughtfully presented information that explains things I previously did not know and, of course, humor. Importantly, Bill Bryson has Bill Shakespearean abilities at storytelling, without all that troublesome early modern English obscuring the prose.

Bryson’s preeminent work is singularly responsible for getting me into reading (and writing) as an adult, and even played a big role in me doing the science I do today.

By Bill Bryson,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked A Short History of Nearly Everything as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The ultimate eye-opening journey through time and space, A Short History of Nearly Everything is the biggest-selling popular science book of the 21st century and has sold over 2 million copies.

'Possibly the best scientific primer ever published.' Economist
'Truly impressive...It's hard to imagine a better rough guide to science.' Guardian
'A travelogue of science, with a witty, engaging, and well-informed guide' The Times

Bill Bryson describes himself as a reluctant traveller, but even when he stays safely at home he can't contain his curiosity about the world around him. A Short History of Nearly Everything is his quest to…


Book cover of Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up

Greg Brennecka Why did I love this book?

I don’t really consider myself a history buff, but I do love hearing a funny story where someone screws something up, and, apparently, I really love a funny story where someone screws something up that has immense historical consequences.

And, boy howdy, there is apparently no shortage of screw-ups causing major inflection points in history. I certainly laughed out loud multiple times while reading this book, and one time in particular I was so animated that my dog was concerned enough to come check on me.

By Tom Phillips,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Humans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*NOW AN INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER*

A Toronto Star Bestselling Book of the Year

“Witty and entertaining.”—Sarah Knight

“Laugh-out-loud.”—Steve Brusatte

AN EXHILARATING JOURNEY THROUGH THE MOST CREATIVE AND CATASTROPHIC F*CK-UPS OF HUMAN HISTORY

Modern humans have come a long way in the seventy thousand years they’ve walked the earth. Art, science, culture, trade—on the evolutionary food chain, we’re true winners. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, and sometimes—just occasionally—we’ve managed to truly f*ck things up.

Weaving together history, science, politics and pop culture, Humans offers a panoramic exploration of humankind in all its glory, or lack thereof. From Lucy, our first…


Book cover of Salt: A World History

Greg Brennecka Why did I love this book?

I am not one of those people that adds salt (NaCl) to their food, so I am not even sure why I picked up the book. I certainly didn’t anticipate loving Salt (the book) as much as I did, but I have apparently talked about it and recommended it to the level that it annoys my wife and friends and is a fun joke to them now. “There he goes, talking about Salt again…”

But I don’t care; it is a fascinating book, and I regret nothing! Among other things, salt helped build empires, end wars, and promote global exploration – it is a story that needs to be known, dammit! At least, I think so…

By Mark Kurlansky,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Salt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Kurlansky finds the world in a grain of salt.” - New York Times Book Review

An unlikely world history from the bestselling author of Cod and The Basque History of the World

Best-selling author Mark Kurlansky turns his attention to a common household item with a long and intriguing history: salt. The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars,…


Book cover of Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

Greg Brennecka Why did I love this book?

Like many folks, I am fascinated with the “where we came from” question. And for me, this is the quintessential book to dive into this topic from an evolutionary biology perspective.

Correct or not, I fancy myself someone that knows a decent amount about evolution and the human body, but I was captivated by the parts of the human body that have endured, for good or for bad, the long journey of us crawling out of the ocean and eventually into the office cubicle.

This book isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as some others I generally like, but it really is a great book, and I had a hard time putting it down.

By Neil Shubin,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Your Inner Fish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The paleontologist and professor of anatomy who co-discovered Tiktaalik, the “fish with hands,” tells a “compelling scientific adventure story that will change forever how you understand what it means to be human” (Oliver Sacks).

By examining fossils and DNA, he shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our heads are organized like long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genomes look and function like those of worms and bacteria. Your Inner Fish makes us look at ourselves and our world in an illuminating new light. This is science writing at its finest—enlightening, accessible and told with irresistible…


Book cover of Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

Greg Brennecka Why did I love this book?

I went to see Mary Roach in person at an event held in the town where I live, and the interview was nothing short of hilarious. Roach’s curiosity and zest for life are infectious, and her storytelling style made me feel like I was the one (or, often, wishing I was the one) in the wacky situations she seems to find herself.

For me, her book is no different; it covers a lot of the wild, captivating stories involved with space travel. It is just such a fun book about a fun topic.

By Mary Roach,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Packing for Mars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can't walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour? To answer these questions, space agencies set…


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Thorn City

By Pamela Statz,

Book cover of Thorn City

Pamela Statz

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Dressed to kill and ready to make rent, best friends Lisa and Jamie work as “paid to party” girls at the Rose City Ripe for Disruption gala, a gathering of Portland's elite.

Their evening is derailed when Lisa stumbles across Ellen, a ruthless politician and Lisa’s estranged mother. And to make matters worse, Lisa’s boyfriend, Patrick, crashes the party to meet his new boss, Portland's food cart drug kingpin. Lisa makes a fateful choice that traps her, Jamie, and Patrick in Ellen’s web. In this gripping thriller, Lisa must reconcile a painful past and perilous present.

Thorn City

By Pamela Statz,

What is this book about?

Suspected murder, eclectic food trucks, and artisanal cocaine: just another day in Thorn City.

It’s the night of the Rose City Ripe for Disruption gala—a gathering of Portland’s elite. Dressed to kill in sparkling minidresses, best friends Lisa and Jamie attend as “paid to party” girls. They plan an evening of fake flirtations, karaoke playlists, and of course, grazing the catering.

Past and present collide when Lisa stumbles across Ellen, a ruthless politician who also happens to be Lisa’s estranged mother. Awkward . . . When Lisa was sixteen, Ellen had her kidnapped and taken to the Lost Lake Academy—a…


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