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Need a last-minute gift for your favorite smartypants? These science and sci-fi books should do the trick.

Confidence game

The Confidence Game

Part science and part self-help, Maria Konnikova’s latest book uses the psychological profiles of real-life con artists to help explain why even the most rational humans fall prey to falsehoods and scams. “For our minds are built for stories. We crave them, and, when there aren’t ready ones available, we create them. Stories about our origins. Our purpose. The reasons the world is the way it is. Human beings don’t like to exist in a state of uncertainty or ambiguity. When something doesn’t make sense, we want to supply the missing link. When we don’t understand what or why or how something happened, we want to find the explanation. A confidence artist is only too happy to comply — and the well-crafted narrative is his absolute forte.” From $17 on Amazon.
Seven brief lessons

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Just because he’s the smartest guy you know doesn’t mean he knows a thing about physics. This best-seller will give your friend a whirlwind introduction to the basics. From $11 on Amazon.
Oliver sacks

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks was a brilliant neuroscientist. But he also wrote some of the best science nonfiction ever published. For those unfamiliar with his poignant body of work, you can’t go wrong with the classic The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat ($10 on Amazon). If your recipient is a seasoned Sacks fan, they’re bound to appreciate the late author’s recent autobiography. $10 on Amazon.
Black hole blues

Black Hole Blues

What’s up with this whole gravitational waves business? Find out more about the science—and the people behind it. $16 on Amazon.
Handmaid's tale

The Handmaid’s Tale

It’s nearly 20 years old, but Margaret Atwood’s seminal work of speculative fiction couldn’t be more relevant today. (It’s also about to be turned into a Hulu series, so it’s probably on your smart friend’s re-read list.) From $9 on Amazon.
This underrated space opera is guaranteed to make the recipient think deep, satisfying thoughts about language, love, society, and what it means to be human. It’s a must-read for anyone who raved about the movie Arrival. $14 on Amazon. Amazon
Hidden figures

Hidden Figures

Get this one under the tree just in time to beat the movie: Hidden Figures, soon to hit the big screen, tells the story of NASA’s first “computers”— the women of color who helped put men on the moon. Whether your friend is a math geek, a space nerd, or a history buff, this one is definitely worth a read. From $11 on Amazon.
All the birds

All The Birds In The Sky

The former editor-in-chief of sci-fi site io9 made waves with her first foray into fiction this year. The story of witches and tech geniuses working together to save the world made pretty much every best-of list there is, so you can’t go wrong. $18 on Amazon.
I contain multitudes

I Contain Multitudes

Ed Yong is quite simply one of the best science writers out there, so it’s no surprise that his first book is a delight. With everyone buzzing about the microbiome these days, your smartypants friend will want to dive into this read on the microbial world. The New York Times called it “infectiously enthusiastic”. Get it? $18 on Amazon.


If your friend loves to read about science, they probably already love Mary Roach. Any book of hers is an easy recommendation, and her titles explore everything from the “science” of the supernatural to the history of research on sex. Grunt, her latest, covers the science of warfare. $17 on Amazon.