Recommended Science Books for Non-Scientists

Last week, Steven Weinberg wrote a piece for the Guardian promoting his new book about the history of science (which seems sort of like an extended attempt to make Thony C. blow a gasket..). This included a list of recommended books for non-scientists which was, shall we say, a tiny bit problematic.

This is a topic on which I have Opinions, so I wrote a recommended reading list of my own over at Forbes. I'm more diplomatic about Weinberg than Phillip Ball was, but I have ego enough to say that I think my list is way better...

I won't pretend that it's a truly comprehensive list, though, so please, feel free to suggest books I should've included but didn't, either in comments there or comments here. If I get a lot of additional recommendations, I may compile them into another list, because, hey, easy blog post!

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Richard Fortey's books are great geological teachers - Trilobite, Earth, etc.

My favorite books by physicists are two timeless classics: Feynman's The character of physical law and Galilei's dialogues (both books). Of course it helps that I can read Galilei's elegant prose instead of a translation :).
As for mathematics, there's Singh's book on Fermat, a number of beautiful biographies (Zariski, Hilbert, Courant) and autobiographies (Halmos, André Weil). I hate with a passion Enszenberger's book because of its not-at-all-hidden misogyny; avoid it if it can land in the hands of a girl. For the readers who want to learn some mathematics, there's the incredibly beautiful Courant-Robbins, "What is Mathematics?" - it's dated of course, but it opens up worlds. I read it at 17 and it changed my life.
I know of a few really great books for children (say age 10) about female scientists (the Curies and Lise Meitner among them), but they haven't been translated into English.

I would have to include George Gamow's classic 'One, Two, Three...Infinity'. I read it in high school. It prompted a live-long interest in all things scientific (tho' I remain a dillettante).

I'm curious, what does it mean to say "he’s very much in the Whig history mode"? I only know the Whigs as an long-ago political party (both in the UK and USA), so what does the term "Whiggish" imply?

"Whig history" is a term for the presentation of history as a steady progression from the benighted past to the enlightened present. I don't actually know what the connection to the political party was, but this mode of history is very much out of fashion in professional scholarly circles.

Seconding Singh's Fermat book, twas quite good.

Anything by Mary Roach.

By Brad Hoehne (not verified) on 07 Apr 2015 #permalink

I second "One Two Three Infinity".

I do agree with having Feynman and Rhodes on Weinberg's list. I prefer "The Second Creation" for a viewpoint on what Weinberg and Salam did. ;-)

By CCPhysicist (not verified) on 08 Apr 2015 #permalink

On your list, I definitely second the Brontosaurus book and Mr Tompkins.

By CCPhysicist (not verified) on 08 Apr 2015 #permalink

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by
Jonathan Weine is a good story of evolution and the study of evolutionary topics in the Galapagos Islands a la Darwin. I would second Courant-Robbins, “What is Mathematics?” As with the original recommend-er I read it as a teenager and was thoroughly enchanted. The Rhodes book, off Weinberg's list, was terrific.

By Jay Croft (not verified) on 09 Apr 2015 #permalink

I'd like to share two books I have found

"Vanished Ocean: How Tethys Reshaped the World" by Dorrik Stow
where he explains the effect of plate tectonics on the evolution of ecosystems and species over the last 300 million years.

"If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens ... WHERE IS EVERYBODY?: Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and ..." by Stephen Webb
I like the entertaining way he discusses all the obstacles to life and space traveling.

Thank you for the list of books, I find it very helpful as I did not take science as a subject in school.

By Kelly (15086080) (not verified) on 10 Apr 2015 #permalink