Your friends that kind of like science, are scientists, or want to be scientists:
1) If you were following the Paleopals last year you probably remember me plugging Richard Feynman’s Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character). This is one of the best books out there for someone who is interested in science or thinks they might be a professional scientist. It covers all of the good stuff about being a scientist and none of the bad (except maybe that you get made fun of a lot). Feynman is able to capture what he calls the “pleasure of finding things out” in his short essays about things that are science and things that are sort of science.
2) If you followed my advice last year and already bought this book for yourself or someone else then go with What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character.
3) This is the best chemistry set on the market. Get it for yourself, for me, or for your niece/nephew/offspring. If you are getting it for a kid, get it for them before they are too old (high school). Once they reach high school, chemistry is a class they can take and it is ‘hard.’ Get it while they are too young to know chemistry is supposed to be hard, while itis still awesome stuff they want to do one day. This set has tons of experiments, glassware, and tools, however it doesn’t have the actual chemicals. Some of them can be tricky to obtain. They can pretty much all be bought at hardware stores but it may take some googling to figure out what names they are sold under.
4) Want a gift for a science loving kid but can’t fork over the dough for a badass chemistry set? Get em an ant farm. Even ant farms have gone high tech. Now instead of sand they chew through this blue gel. The great part is that the gel is more resistant to kid caused earthquakes than the sand ever was (leads to longer ant lifespans). If you get this ant farm, I’m told you can get your ants much faster by ordering them online, than by filling out the snail mail form that comes with the ant farm.
For your friends that like to cook or watch cooking shows:
1) Before there was Alton Brown there was Harold McGee. If Alton were to write a dissertation, Harold would be his advisor. McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen covers all sorts of kitchen science from why you can’t actually fry an egg on the pavement (even if it’s ‘hot enough to fry and egg on the pavement’) to the science of fermentation. If you have friends that love to cook and are kind of nerdy or if you have a nerdy friend that you wish would cook, this is a great gift.
2) Harlod McGee also has a new book out that I don’t own called Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes.
3) Or get your nerdy cook a set that contains a chemically correct salt shaker and a chemistry inspired pepper shaker from thinkgeek.com.
For your friends that like history/biographies:
1) One of the great problems in navigation was figuring out where you were longitudinally (east-west). Thanks to the sextant, north-south was relatively straight forward, but longitude vexed sailers for centuries. An early version of the X-prize was put out as a reward for whoever could solve sailing’s most pressing problem. The answer could lie in the form of a clock, but making that clock is another story. At the time, clocks worked via pendulums and pendulums don’t work too well on a boat. Therefore somebody needed to reinvent the wheel… Longitude is the story of the solution to this problem. Very readable and concise; an interested middle schooler could probably get through this book.
2) Did you know Mark Twain wrote an autobiography? Apparently, it was so scandalous that he demanded that it not be released until 100 years after his death. That 100 years is up now. See what he wanted to keep quiet for a century. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1.
3) This one is also great for the science lover/want to be a scientist too. Science… sort of guest and general champion of science, Neil Degrasse Tyson, says that Issac Newton was the smartest man to ever live (according to Tyson, Einstein and Copernicus aren’t even in the discussion). Figure out why Newton didn’t really need to stand on the shoulders of giants to see farther than others in this book. Isaac Newton.
For your friends that like zombies/gardening:
1) One thing’s for sure, zombies are in right now. I’m not sure why. I guess bn might know. Anyhoo, if you have a friend that loves zombies or loves to garden and is reaching his/her quota on garden gnomes, then here is the perfect gift. It’s a zombie, reborn from dead garden gnomes for all I know.
For your hipster friends that are too cool for you:
1) Wallets are great, they hold all your stuff so you can find it when you need it. Only problem is they throw off your body lines. If you are really cool and have a great body like me, this is a problem. The solution is this superthin wallet (oh and bonus, it won’t erase your credit cards).
For your friends that like/live in the Bay Area (may be the same as the last category):
1) If you know/love a fan of the Bay Area, get them Infinate City: A San Francisco Atlas. It has a chapter called Monarchs and Queens (think about it).