First of all, go and check out Smithsonian's 40th anniversary issue, "40 Things You Need to Know about the Next 40 Years." There's lots of science, nature and technology stories, including ones about electric cars, how a wildlife refuge is dealing with rising sea levels, lab-grown body parts and how one scientist is building batteries with viruses. Want more? Here are eight books that have interesting lessons for our future:
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond: The human race is faced with many challenges in the coming decades—climate change, overuse of resources and a growing population, to name a few. How should we respond? In Collapse, Diamond looks at how human societies faced such problems in the past.
Death from the Skies! The Science Behind the End of the World, by Philip Plait: The Bad Astronomer examines the many ways the universe could end life here on Earth, from coronal mass ejections to the more likely scenario of the planet being devastated by an asteroid.
Hack the Planet: Science's Best Hope—or Worst Nightmare—for Averting Climate Catastrophe, by Eli Kintisch: Some have proposed using geoengineering to manipulate the climate and prevent the worst potential outcomes of climate change. Kintisch examines the debate in this recently published book.
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, by Bill McKibben: McKibben first warned of the effects of climate change two decades ago. In his most recent book, he argues that we've already changed the planet so much that we've lost the climatic stability that marked human development up until now, and he offers advice for how the human race could survive this new era.
The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman: What would happen if humans were suddenly wiped out, killed off by disease or abducted by aliens? How quickly, and how, would the planet recover from us?
The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs, Michael Belfiore: DARPA—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—has been responsible for the invention of many of the technologies we depend on as a modern society, like the Internet and GPS. What else might they have in store for our future?
No Small Matter: Science on the Nanoscale, by Felice C. Frankel and George M. Whitesides: Whitesides is featured in our anniversary issue for his work making medical laboratories on chips the size of postage stamps. But nanotechnology can do so much more, as Whitesides and Frankel show in this book, which includes beautiful photos of nanoscale objects.
The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, by Richard Holmes: The book delves into the scientific world at the end of the 18th century, so you may wonder why it's on this list. Here's why: "If there is a second Age of Wonder, I believe it will be driven by the United States of America, and that the Smithsonian will be at the heart of this new possibility."