Posted by: Kash Farooq | February 16, 2013

A List of Must Read PopSci Books

List last updated: 15 February 2014.

This is a “crowd-sourced” list of recommended popular science books.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post: “Can you recommend a PopSci book?“. I was after books that people felt everyone should read. Books that you would really recommend to someone who perhaps knows nothing about a subject, or would even recommend to someone who doesn’t read science books.

I left that post running for a few weeks and have regularly been asking for more recommendations. The recommendations have stopped coming in now so I thought that I should finally collate all the books into a single list.

I must stress that this is not my list – I have only read a handful of the books listed below (about 10); I cannot personally vouch for the quality of all the books on the list. They have just been recommended as a “must read” in reply to the original blog post.

Here is a summary of the requirements:

  • Accessible to someone who hasn’t studied the subject before.
  • Think carefully: “Would I recommend this book to someone who knows nothing (or very little) about <insert subject area here>?”
  • The book should be relatively cheap and readily available.

And, of course, this is by no means a final list – if you feel that there is a book that should be on this list, let me know via a Tweet or a comment on “Can you recommend a PopSci book?“.

The list is not in any particular order – the books are literally listed in the order that the recommendations were sent to me. Don’t get angry if your favourite book appears at the bottom of the list!

However… books 1 to 14 appear at the top of the list as they were recommended by multiple people. Bill Bryson’s book has been recommended by many people – the audio version has been recommended too. If you have never read a science book before, start with this one.

So…here it is:

A list of “Must Read” Popular Science Books (last updated 15 February 2014)

  1. A Short History of Nearly Everything – by Bill Bryson (423 pages if you ignore the notes!)
  2. Bad Science – by Ben Goldacre (288 pages).
  3. Your Inner Fish – by Neil Shubin (256 pages).
  4. Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13000 Years – by Jared M. Diamond (425 pages if you ignore the references!)
  5. The Demon-haunted World – Carl Sagan (436 pages).
  6. Wonderful Life: Burgess Shale and the Nature of History – by Stephen Jay Gould (353 pages).
  7. Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution – by Nick Lane (352 pages).
  8. The Disappearing Spoon – by Sam Kean (400 pages).
  9. Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic – by David Quammen (592 pages).
  10. The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius – Graham Farmelo (560 pages).
  11. The Periodic Table – by Primo Levi (224 pages).
  12. Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures – by Carl Zimmer (288 pages).
  13. The Beak of the Finch: Story of Evolution in Our Time – Jonathan Weiner (352 pages).
  14. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – by Rebecca Skloot (384 pages).
  15. The Code Book – by Simon Singh (402 pages).
  16. Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You – by Marcus Chown (224 pages).
  17. The Selfish Gene – by Richard Dawkins (384 pages).
  18. Supersense: From Superstition to Religion – The Brain Science of Belief – by Bruce Hood (320 pages).
  19. Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts – by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson (304 pages).
  20. Antimatter – by Frank Close (176 pages).
  21. Six Easy Pieces: Fundamentals of Physics Explained – by Richard Feynman (176 pages).
  22. Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution – by Richard Fortey (256 pages).
  23. Last Chance to See – by Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardine (224 pages).
  24. Paranormality – by Richard Wiseman (336 pages).
  25. The Origin of Virtue – by Matt Ridley (302 pages).
  26. How to Lie with Statistics – by Darrell Huff (128 pages).
  27. The Ambidextrous Universe – by Martin Gardner (416 pages).
  28. Afterglow of Creation: Decoding the message from the beginning of time – by Marcus Chown (288 pages).
  29. We Need to Talk About Kelvin: What Everyday Things Tell Us About the Universe – by Marcus Chown (288 pages).
  30. Nonsense on Stilts – by Massimo Pigliucci (336 pages).
  31. Stiffs: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers – by Mary Roach (304 pages).
  32. The Left Hand of the Electron (PDF) – by Isaac Asimov (225 pages).
  33. Philosophy of Science – Very Short Introductions – by Samir Okasha (160 pages).
  34. Relativity – Very Short Introductions – by Russell Stannard (128 pages).
  35. QED (The Strange Theory of Light and Matter) – by Richard Feynman (176 pages).
  36. Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life – by Carl Zimmer (256 pages).
  37. The Alchemy of Air – by Tom Hager (336 pages).
  38. The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code – by Sam Kean (432 pages).
  39. Deceived Wisdom: Why What You Thought Was Right is Wrong – by David Bradley (192 pages).
  40. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life – Science Masters – by  Richard Dawkins (224 pages).
  41. Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages – by Guy Deutscher (320 pages).
  42. Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences – by John Allen Paulos (160 pages).
  43. Cells to Civilizations: The Principles of Change That Shape Life – by Enrico Coen (360 pages).
  44. Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum – Richard Fortey (320 pages).
  45. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth – by James Lovelock (176 pages).
  46. Chaos: Making a New Science – by James Gleick (368 pages).
  47. The Planet in a Pebble: A Journey into Earth’s Deep History – by Jan Zalasiewicz (256 pages).
  48. Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA – by Maryn McKenna (288 pages).
  49. Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us – by Maggie Koerth-Baker (304 pages).
  50. Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements – by Hugh Aldersey-Williams (448 pages).
  51. H2O: A Biography of Water – by Philip Ball (400 pages).
  52. Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body – by Armand Marie Leroi (320 pages).
  53. The Particle at the End of the Universe: The Hunt for the Higgs and the Discovery of a New World – by Sean Carroll (352 pages).
  54. Why Evolution is True – Jerry A. Coyne (336 pages).
  55. Big Bang: The Most Important Scientific Discovery of All Time and Why You Need To Know About It – Simon Singh (544 pages).
  56. Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth – by Andrew Smith (384 pages).
  57. Like a Virgin: How Science is Redesigning the Rules of Sex – by Aarathi Prasad (288 pages).
  58. Massive: The Higgs Boson and the Greatest Hunt in Science – by Ian Sample (352 pages).
  59. The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory – by Brian Greene (464 pages).
  60. Geek Nation: How Indian Science is Taking Over the World – by Angela Saini (288 pages).
  61. Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing Hoax – by Phil Plait (288 pages).
  62. The Ascent of Man – by Jacob Bronowski (352 pages).
  63. Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate Our Universe – by Lisa Randall (464 pages).
  64. Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All – by Rose Shapiro (304 pages).
  65. Life in the Universe: A Beginner’s Guide – by Lewis Dartnell (224 pages).
  66. Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life Beyond Our Solar System – by Ray Jayawardhana (280 pages).
  67. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space – by Carl Sagan (334 pages).
  68. Written in Stone: The Hidden Secrets of Fossils and the Story of Life on Earth – by Brian Switek (320 pages).
  69. The Canon: The Beautiful Basics of Science – by Natalie Angier (304 pages).
  70. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in Space – by Mary Roach (312 pages).
  71. The Eye: A Natural History – by Simon Ings (336 pages).
  72. What Is This Thing Called Science? – by A.F. Chalmers (288 pages).
  73. Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World – by Bruce Schneier (448 pages).
  74. Risk – by John Adams (224 pages).
  75. Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins – by Ian Tattersall (288 pages).
  76. The Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin – by Francis Spufford (240 pages).
  77. The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary – by Caspar Henderson (336 pages).
  78. Death from the Skies!: The Science Behind the End of the World – by Phil Plait (336 pages).
  79. Here is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics – by Misha Angrist (352 pages).
  80. From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time – by Sean Carroll (448 pages).
  81. The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy – by Seth Mnookin (439 pages).
  82. My Beautiful Genome: Exposing Our Genetic Future, One Quirk at a Time – by Lone Frank (336 pages).
  83. The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China’s Political Animal – by Henry Nicholls (224 pages).
  84. Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science – by Jim Al-Khalili (336 pages).
  85. The Edge of Physics: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Cosmology – by Anil Ananthaswamy (336 pages).
  86. Incognito: The Secret Lives of The Brain – by David Eagleman (304 pages).
  87. The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began – by Stuart Clark (224 pages).
  88. Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences – by Cordelia Fine (368 pages).
  89. Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality – by Manjit Kumar (464 pages).
  90. Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939-1949 – by Jim Baggott (480 pages).
  91. The 4-Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality – by Richard Panek (288 pages).
  92. The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life – by Alison Gopnik (304 pages).
  93. Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding – by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (432 pages).
  94. How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming – by Mike Brown (271 pages).
  95. The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning – by Daniel Bor (352 pages).
  96. The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe – by Theodore Gray (240 pages).
  97. Thirty Years That Shook Physics: Story of Quantum Theory – by George Gamow (240 pages).
  98. Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines – by Richard A. Muller (384 pages).
  99. A Universe from Nothing – by Lawrence M. Krauss (224 pages).
  100. The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature – by Matt Ridley (416 pages).
  101. Dr.Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation: Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex – by Olivia Judson (320 pages).
  102. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – by Oliver Sacks (256 pages).
  103. The Blind Watchmaker – by Richard Dawkins (368 pages).
  104. The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates – by Frans De Waal (304 pages).
  105. A Tale of Seven Elements – by Eric Scerri (200 pages).
  106. Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials That Shape Our Man-made World – by Mark A. Miodownik (272 pages).
  107. Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed – by Jim Al-Khalili (288 pages).
  108. The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction – by Peter W. Atkins (120 pages).
  109. Electric Universe – by David Bodanis (320 pages).
  110. The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance – by Nessa Carey (320 pages).
  111. Neutrino – by Frank Close (192 pages).
  112. Particle Physics: A Very Short Introduction – by Frank Close (160 pages).
  113. Survivors: The Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind – by Richard A. Fortey (352 pages).
  114. The Animal Kingdom: A Very Short Introduction – by Peter Holland (144 pages).
  115. Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth – by Andrew H. Knoll (296 pages).
  116. The Quantum Frontier: The Large Hadron Collider – by Don Lincoln, Leon M. Lederman (192 pages).
  117. It’s Only Rocket Science: An Introduction in Plain English – by Lucy Rogers (368 pages).
  118. Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life – by Adam Rutherford (272 pages).
  119. Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid – by Wendy Williams (224 pages).
  120. Bomb, Book and Compass: Joseph Needham and the Great Secrets of China – by Simon Winchester (340 pages).
  121. The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began – by Stuart Clark (224 pages).
  122. The Faber Book of Science – by John Carey (560 pages).

Thank you to….

A handful of books in the list above were recommended by me, but the majority are recommendations from the following people:

Robin InceRobAlun SaltMartin OrmanMark LewneyMike WardJohn TweedieSam HawkswellEd YongRob SharpAndrea SellaBobLewis DartnellNeil DennyAlok JhaEva AmsenStuart CantrillSee Arr OhGraham SteelMatthew HartingsRichard Van NoordenJon TurneyDorothy BishopDr Neil MartinSarah MountAbigail AmeyMartyn NorrisRob McD, Simon Vessey, Liz LutgendorffPeter HarrisonDrew RaecolsmudgeJulian OnionsMark LorchStephen J HenstridgeSteve Cook, John Read, StuartJon TreadwayChrissy Mitchell, Eamon, SandraEleanor BakerPep Anton Vieta, Dave SteeleMatthew WoldGrrlScientistGary BurnessLadislas ReventlovBrendan MurrayColin DonovanRon SchucksciencegirlBill PopeEric Lawton, James Thomas.

Thank you!

And, last but not least, thank you to Stephen Curry for the original idea.

Pop Sci Book Club

I few of us have started up a Pop Sci Book Club! See “The Pop Sci Book Club – an introduction and our first book” for more details.

Guns, Germs And Steel - Life Ascending - Yiur Inner Fish - Wonderful Life


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