There’s not a pure science book in the lot, though there’s a sort-of-science book on the Chernobyl disaster, which is more dramatic history than science, and in 2018, Michael Pollan’s excellent How to Change Your Mind, which is science related but also about personal experience, made the list.
Over the last three years, there have been thirty NYT “notable” books, half fiction and half nonfiction, with the latter including history, biography, sociology, and autobiography. But there’s only one pure science book, The Evolution of Beauty by Richard Prum; the Times‘s review of that is here. (By pure science book, I mean a book that is wholly about science, without big swaths of autobiography or other non-science stuff. That is, books like those by Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, and Stephen Jay Gould.)
Sadly, Prum’s book, while it has lively writing and some good bits, is deeply flawed—to the extent that its main message, that we now understand well how sexual selection works in animals, is wrong. (See my posts, which also summarize critical reviews from the scientific literature, here, here, and especially here as well as the review discussed therein.) The reviewer of Prum’s book, David Dobbs, who clearly isn’t up on sexual selection, simply bought Prum’s thesis whole hog, and didn’t mention any criticisms of the “runaway theory” so beloved by Prum and so problematic to evolutionary biologists. It’s not a thoughtful or well-informed review.
Regardless, 3% of all best books being science books over three years is a pitifully low figure, for there have been some very good science books or science-related books published since 2016. This paucity of science literature on awards lists, however, is typical, and shows that we’re still stuck in the Two Culture stage.