2018 in culture: Best science books and shows of the year

Ancient robots, suffragist scientists, Tom Lehrer at 90 and the ultimate food fight – 2018 was a gift for science books and art.

Maria Mitchell at 200: a pioneering astronomer who fought for women in science Richard Holmes celebrates Mitchell’s pedagogic fire and salty opinions on the bicentenary of her birth.

Ancient dreams of intelligent machines: 3,000 years of robots Stephen Cave and Kanta Dihal revisit the extraordinary history of cultural responses to automata.

A gif of an elaborate automaton playing its miniature dulcimer by striking the strings. It moves its head, arms, eyes and body.

This dulcimer-playing automaton from the 1770s, attributed to clockmaker Joseph Möllinger, mimics human movements to play eight compositions.Credit: M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans

Rotten meat and bottled formaldehyde: fighting for food safety Felicity Lawrence extols two chronicles on the ongoing battle to regulate the US food industry.

How asylums became the crucible of genetics David Dobbs lauds a dark history tracing the roots of heredity science to statistics on people with mental illness.

Blood, sweat and tears in biotech — the Theranos story Eric Topol extols a gripping account of the rise and fall of the US medical-testing company.

Elizabeth Holmes, a white woman dressed in black, stand between workers and machines in a biotechnology manufacturing facility.

Elizabeth Holmes, chief executive of Theranos, in a company facility in Newark, California.Credit: Carlos Chavarria/NYT/Redux/eyevine

When suffragists kicked open the lab door Elizabeth Bruton lauds a book tracing how women in wartime science blazed a path to the vote and beyond.

Tom Lehrer at 90: a life of scientific satire Andrew Robinson celebrates the high notes in the mathematician’s inimitable musical oeuvre.

Where Blade Runner began: 50 years of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Ananyo Bhattacharya toasts Philip K. Dick’s prescient science-fiction classic.

In a futuristic cityscape, a vehicle hovers in front of a screen showing a woman's face.

A still from the 1982 film adaptation Bladerunner.Credit: Entertainment Pictures/Alamy

Forgotten heroes of the Enigma story Polish codebreakers paved the way for Alan Turing to decrypt German messages in the Second World War. Joanne Baker commends a gripping tale.

Lessons from the Ebola front lines Nahid Bhadelia appraises an analysis of the fraught campaign to contain the 2013–16 crisis.

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