The Body: A Guide for Occupants, by Bill Bryson, Transworld, RRP£25/Doubleday, RRP$30
The human body, a miracle of spontaneous self-assembly, is the perfect vehicle for Bryson’s trademark humour and fact-sharing compulsion (if you laid all the DNA code in your body end to end, it would stretch beyond the known planets). There is grit as well as wit: he tackles tricky health issues such as the global variation in life expectancy, medical insurance and obesity.
Extra Time: 10 Lessons for an Ageing World, by Camilla Cavendish, HarperCollins, RRP£20
Affluent countries are ageing rapidly, thanks to falling birth rates and rising longevity. Cavendish, an FT columnist and former No 10 policy adviser, briskly lays out the implications for governments and societies, from childbearing incentives to extended working lives. Progressive social care models, elder-care robots and anti-ageing medicine also get a look-in.
What Dementia Teaches Us About Love, by Nicci Gerrard, Allen Lane, RRP£16.99/Penguin Press, RRP$28
There are 850,000 people in the UK with dementia: as the country ages, we all know someone who has it or is at risk. For Gerrard it was her beloved father; she describes his decline as the “great unravelling”. Published as The Last Ocean in the US, this is a profound and powerful exploration of how society interprets and deals with a health challenge that will only deepen over the coming decades.
The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria and Hubris, by Mark Honigsbaum, Hurst, RRP£20/Norton, RRP$29.95
Perfect for the flu season. Honigsbaum, a medical historian, provides a macabre rundown of pandemics, ranging from Ebola to the Spanish flu that killed 50m. History shows that pathogens will always exploit new ecological niches, as we will no doubt discover anew in 2020.
Time and How to Spend It: The 7 Rules for Richer, Happier Days, by James Wallman, WH Allen, RRP£9.99/$19.95
The average Briton has more than five hours of spare time a day. Why does it feel like so much less? Because we spend too much of it alone, online and indoors. The author of Stuffocation trawls through research to show us how to make better use of this ever-diminishing, precious resource, by choosing transformative experiences.
Anjana Ahuja is a science commentator
Books of the Year 2019
FT commentators, critics and guests select the titles of the year that you need to read. Explore the series here.
What are your favourites from this list — and what books have we missed? Tell us in the comments below.
Join our online book group on Facebook at FTBooksCafe. You can listen to acclaimed novelist Ben Lerner discuss his newest book, The Topeka School, on the FT’s culture podcast Culture Call. Find it on the FT, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Get alerts on Science books when a new story is published