Your Inner Fish, by Neil Shubin - What does our anatomy tell us about our evolutionary past? Shubin is the anatomy teacher I wish I had. He's a fossil hunter and a professor of anatomy, and a fun writer. Read my review here.
Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life, by Carl Zimmer - Zimmer uses one of the most important experimental organisms in biology to take us on a grand tour of some of the big ideas in biology, past and present, from fields as diverse as evolution, systems biology, genetics, molecular biology and microbiology. The book is compact, readable, and entertainingly written, and a great way to get yourself up to speed on the state of modern biology. Read my review here.
Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul, by Ken Miller - A book on the intelligent design/evolution controversy, written to explain and persuade, and not to ridicule. For someone interested in one good book to get started on this issue, Miller's book is the one. It's clear, up-to-date, and Miller explains why this issue is important. Read my review here.
The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn, by Louisa Gilder - OK, I haven't read it yet, but I spotted this one in the book store and couldn't put it down. The early history of quantum mechanics is well-trodden ground, both in popular books and in college courses. We typically learn about Heisenberg, Born, Schrödinger, Max Planck, Einstein, Bohr, and the stunning developments of the late 1920's that turned classical physics on its head. Usually, the story stops there, especially in college courses, because chemists and biochemists and engineers don't need to know much more than how to solve Schrödinger's equation.
But quantum mechanics went through a crisis in the 1930's, one that developed into the one of the most interesting intellectual threads in 20th century science. Gilder covers what happened and who did it - John Bell, David Bohm, Richard Feynman, and dozens of others who aren't as famous to the public, but who are important intellectual players in 20th century physics. Check out the book's web site.
Ein-O science kits - I hate overpriced science sets that don't teach anything. Ein-O kits, while still overprices in some cases, are great because they focus on a single concept and provide an experiment to demonstrate the concept. Be careful, some kits just come with everyday items you likely have around your house, but others have great stuff.
I bought my daughter the electrochemistry kit - a great way to teach your kid how a car battery works. The kit comes with a tank divided into 4 Galvanic cells which you rig up in series, so with vinegar or lemon juice you generate enough power to light up the enclosed LED. The enclosed booklet explaining the concepts was a little skimpy, and didn't include an explanation of how a Galvanic cell works (but it did include a great explanation of pH) - however it's easy to look up the relevant info. The important part is that for $10 you can get a kit that does a good job illustrating a single important concept.
Evolving Planet: Four Billion Years of Life on Earth, Erica Kelley and Richard Kissel - This book is for kids about 8-14 years old, and is the best children's book on evolution I've seen. It's full of fantastic pictures (a must for any kids book on evolution) and great explanations. The book is filled with explanations of what evolution is and how we know it happened. It walks through the major periods of earth history explaining the changes taking place and pointing out subtle changes in one period that turn ito big ones later on. It includes a great discussion of the importance of variation in evolution. It also emphasizes the role climate change has played in many mass extinctions in history, so kids come away aware of how the environment can shape the future of life on the planet. Order it now to get it for Christmas - it's on backorder already.