No one knows exactly what the future holds for us this year, but this we do know: There will be books. Here’s a look at some of the most exciting science and psychology titles to watch for in the first half of the year (though this is by no means an exhaustive list). Take some time to nurture your nerdier side in 2017.
The Telomere Effect, by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel (January 3)
Elizabeth Blackburn is a biology researcher who in 2009 won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for her work on telomeres. What, uh, are telomeres, exactly? Good question. They are the protective caps at the ends of our DNA strands — often likened to those plastic caps at the ends of shoelaces — and they are involved in cellular aging. The fact that more of us don’t know more about telomeres was frustrating to Blackburn, who teamed up with psychologist Elissa Epel to write a book intended for a general audience. As Blackburn told Stat this week, you have more control over this process than you likely realize. “Telomeres listen to you,” she said. “[T]hey listen to your behaviors, they listen to your state of mind.”
The Power of Meaning, by Emily Esfahani Smith (January 10)
Here’s the thing about happiness: The more you chase after it, the more it eludes you. A far better idea, argues writer Emily Esfahani Smith, is to shape your life around the pursuit of meaning, not happiness. Okay, but what does it mean, exactly, to lead a meaningful life? To Smith, who holds a master’s in positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, it’s feeling like your life has purpose, coherence, and worth. All in all, not a bad goal to aim for this year.
Why Time Flies, by Alan Burdick (January 24)
Serious question: What even is time, really? In his second book, New Yorker staff writer Alan Burdick attempts to answer, examining and explaining how humans perceive the passage of time: Why does time seem to speed up as we get older? And why does it slow down when we’re bored?
Hit Makers, by Derek Thompson (February 7)
You know, of course, what it means when people say something “went viral.” But do you have the faintest idea of why some ideas — or videos, or tweets, or movies, or whatever — take off, while others fall flat? In his upcoming book, Derek Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, investigates the science of popularity. Among his most intriguing insights is that people respond to things that are a little different from the norm, but not too different, something Thompson calls “familiar surprises.”
Can’t Just Stop, by Sharon Begley (February 7)
Sharon Begley is a top-notch medical journalist, currently stationed at the equally top-notch Stat. Here, she interprets all manner of compulsions — OCD, hoarding, exercise — as maladaptive ways people use to try to handle their anxiety. It’s an important and fascinating subject, and I can’t wait to see how a veteran reporter like Begley handles it.
Inkblots, by Damion Searls (February 21)
One of my favorite science books from 2016 was Patient H.M., a work of narrative nonfiction that explored the untold story of a classic case study in Psych 101 textbooks. This, the story of psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach and the invention of his famed Rorschach test, could be the 2017 version of that.
The Gene Machine, by Bonnie Rochman (February 28)
How much do you really want to know about your medical future? What about your children’s? Veteran medical journalist Bonnie Rochman takes a look at the often confusing and rapidly expanding world of genetic testing, along with the ethical landmines that have cropped up as the science has progressed.
How Emotions Are Made, by Lisa Feldman Barrett (March 7)
Last year, neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett — who heads the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Lab at Northeastern University — introduced us to the concept of “emotional granularity,” the idea that the way you describe what you’re feeling influences the way you feel what you’re feeling. For example: Is it anger you’re feeling, or is it maybe more like righteous indignation? Sadness, or despair? Happiness, or exhilaration? You get the idea. Her upcoming book explores this concept and more, promising to introduce a “new theory of how the brain constructs emotions.” I would say I am excited, but perhaps what I really mean is that I am enthused and also a little impatient.
Irresistible, by Adam Alter (March 7)
Last year for this magazine, Andrew Sullivan wrote a long, moving essay about what he characterized as an “information addiction,” in a piece somewhat terrifyingly titled, “I Used to Be a Human Being.” In March, psychologist Adam Alter takes on the subject of behavioral addiction — why we’re so attached to our phones, and what, if anything, can be done about it.
Wild Nights, by Benjamin Reiss (March 7)
A good night’s sleep, as most of us would define it, is getting seven or (preferably) eight hours of blissfully uninterrupted slumber. But this isn’t always how humans have slept. Benjamin Reiss is an English professor at Emory University in Atlanta, and in his book on the mysteries of human sleep, he looks for guidance to the latest scientific studies, yes, but he also ventures beyond the realm of the scientific, including insights from history and literature.
The Knowledge Illusion, by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach (March 14)
A question: Do you know how a zipper works? Of course you know how a zipper works. So, tell me: How, exactly, does a zipper work? This is a question researchers have used to illustrate the “illusion of explanatory depth,” the idea that “people believe they understand the world more deeply than they actually do and only realize that this belief is an illusion when they attempt to explain elements of the world.” In their upcoming book, cognitive scientists Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach explain this concept and others; their argument will challenge the way you think about the things you “know.”
Your Brain Is a Time Machine, by Dean Buonomano (April 4)
It seems 2017 is the year for books asking the Big Questions about time, and how and why it passes the way we perceive it. This one is an exploration of “mental time travel” by neuroscientist Dean Buonomano, who teaches neurobiology and psychology at UCLA; as such, it is grounded in the latest brain science on the subject.
Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (April 24)
This is a book about resilience, and merely reading the story behind the title was enough to make me teary. In 2015, Sheryl Sandberg — Facebook COO and author of the mega best seller Lean In — became a widow, suddenly and unexpectedly; her husband was only 48. Shortly after his death, Sandberg was facing a tragic first: an event specifically for children and their fathers. “But I want Dave,” she said to a friend. The friend replied, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of Option B.” Sandberg weaves her personal story in with dispatches from the scientific research on resilience with the help of the always-insightful psychologist Adam Grant.
Behave, by Robert M. Sapolsky (May 2)
This landed on my desk a few weeks back: It’s an 800-page tome on the way biology, neurobiology, and environment interact to shape human behavior, written by Stanford neurologist and MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipient Robert M. Sapolsky. You know, just some light fare to kick off summer beach-reading season.
Peak Performance, by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness (June 6)
Brad Stulberg is a regular contributor to Science of Us, and his first book covers topics that will be familiar to readers of his work here. How is it, for example, that elite athletes are able to push themselves to accomplish extraordinary things? Perhaps, suggest Stulberg and co-author exercise physiologist Steve Magness, it’s because they’re not thinking of themselves at all. Self-transcendence is just one of the intriguing themes Stulberg and Magness cover in their book, a cross-disciplinary look at performance science.