What science books ought a bookstore stock?

I have a little metric for rationality that I exercise now and then: when I visit a bookstore, I compare the sizes of the religion/new age sections to the size of the science section…if I can find it. Typically, there’s at least a 10:1 disparity in the amount of shelf space dedicated, and it’s often much worse — there have been a few bookstores where, when I ask to find the science books, the clerk will point me to a small shelf labeled “Pets/Nature”. Bleh.

Anyway, I got a good question on Saturday at Guelph, which also mentioned this cluelessness by too many bookstores. Could we compile a list of excellent science books, that is, books that should appeal to the lay public, have some chance of commercial success, and that we think do a good job of presenting an interesting and accurate view of science? I suspect there are a few people here who read books, and might have some opinions here — how about expressing them in the comments?

What I’d like to accumulate is actually a couple of lists. If you went to the religion section of the local Barnes & Noble, you’d be quite surprised if the Christian bible were absent — similarly, I’d like a list of the essential books a good bookstore ought to carry, the ones that are perennially useful and popular. This would be handy for confronting an owner and asking him why he has so many obvious omissions.

Another list would be of commercially viable popular science books. These would be books that present good science, but ought also to be popular among readers. Bookstore owners want to make money, so doing a little pre-screening for them and helping them to make an informed decision would be productive and helpful, and maybe they’d actually listen if we showed a list like that.

So here’s the deal: nominate some books. For each one, say whether it is essential or popular. It might also be useful to assign a broad category (math, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, psychology, for instance) to each. I’ll compile them later this month and put together some simple pdfs that you can download and use at your local bookstore to try and encourage some upgrading of the stock.


  1. says

    I’d throw Antigravity by Steve Mirsky into the popular list. They articles reprinted in the book are fun to read, and expose the “lighter” side of science at times. It shows that science isn’t all old white men with beards pronouncing the secrets of the universe.

  2. Facehammer says

    The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins ought to be in there. It’s detailed and broad while still being inspiring and well-written enough to make it accessible to most people.

  3. Doug Smith says

    The God Particle by Leon Lederman is a really well written and entertaining history of the search for the indivisible.

    Bonus points for also being titled like a Trojan Horse, and Dr Lederman’s consistent reference to the divine as female.

  4. brain says

    In a half priced books store in Burleson Texas, in the religion section, there is a shelf labeled “Science”. It is full of Scientology books and Christian Science books.

  5. NathanielT says

    Hmm… My bibles:

    “CRC Handbook”
    “Numerical Recipes in [your favorite langauge here]” – Press et al
    “The Art of Electronics” – Horowitz and Hill
    “Radiation Detection and Measurement” – Knoll

    Plus a good table of isotopes…

    These are working texts, though, not introductory texts. There’s no real ‘bible’ in the sense of a single master document that is both authoritative and useful.

  6. says

    In the book store here it is the bottom two shelves on a case. Above it, next to it, and the whole 2 cases across from it are bibles and religion. To make it worse, most of the “science” books are stuff like Darwin Black Box.

  7. says

    I would have to say

    A Brief History Of Time by S. Hawking


    A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

    I’m what is generally considered a layperson in the scientific fields, but I found both to be very challenging and interesting.

  8. says

    Excellent idea – I love it.

    I could write a huge list, but I’ll just nominate my top pick:

    “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman”
    Richard Feynman

    I think this book more than any other got me charged about the reasons to do science and appreciation for the natural world.

  9. says

    I work at Barnes & Noble and I’m sorry to say, PZ that the reason the Bible isn’t in the religion section is because it has its own “bible” section specifically dedicated to it.

    And yes, the science books in our store are also relegated to pets/nature, I’m sad to say.

  10. Simon says

    Bad astronomy and Death from the Skies by Phil Plait. Both books are easy and fun to read.

  11. Ferrous Patella says

    I am a bookseller for a living. Notice the second half of that word: seller.

    As a wholesaler, we constantly have shops asking us for recommendations. We frequently pass over better books for ones we know will sell better, especially for shops just starting a new line. If the better book just sits on the shelf, the shop will give up. But if the more “accessible” sells there is a good chance the shop will later expand their line to include the better book and their clientele will be ready to upgrade as well.

  12. says

    These may be broader than what you are asking, but the Audubon Society’s field guides are essential. I have a number of the series. Trees, Insects, Birds, Mammals, Stars, Reptiles and Amphibians, Fishes, and a few others.

  13. says

    The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan
    The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

    The Canon by Natalie Angier
    Mutants by Armand Marie Leroi

  14. Richard Harris says

    Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species…”

    Everyone should read that book. There’d be a lot fewer Creationists, assuming they’d got the intelligence to understand it, that is.

  15. Jelle Waltman says

    Richard Dawkins – Selfish Gene

    This book changed my view on life, and OF life. It introduced me to a scientific way of thinking, or, a more constructive way of thinking. This was the first book ever to tickle my mind, great stuff. this book is better for introducing someone to science then any school book I ever read.

  16. says

    Two classics:

    Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World. Popular, I believe. General science/critical thinking.

    In the same category, Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow.

    Not precisely science, more history, but relevant to critical thinking (and a bit of crowd psychology), MacKay’s Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

  17. Bostonian says

    Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, which is a general reader that covers all areas of science. Extremely readable, I’d categorize it more as popular book than an essential one. But if you want a general overview of the state of our knowledge, it’s a must have.

  18. Sam B says

    I would say the “The Science of Discworld” series, but they’ll go under fantasy/comedy as Pratchett co-authored it, and the book is half science/half comedy-fantasy.

    Bloody good read though.

  19. PGE says

    Though it won’t get you the most recent advances, a bookstore science department wouldn’t go too wrong just by sticking to everything Dover re-prints. I don’t know how many titles I’ve bought over the years, but two that come to mind are a nicely footnoted/annotated edition of Euclid’s Elements (3 volumes) and Newton’s Optics.

  20. says

    A few essentials:

    Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel.
    Jared Diamond, Collapse.
    Sean B. Carroll, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo.
    Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene.
    Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation.

  21. BobC says

    This would be handy for confronting an owner and asking him why he has so many obvious omissions.

    A bookstore owner could also be told any book that invokes intelligent design magic (any book by Behe for example) belongs in the religion section, not the science section.

    A science book I’ve never seen in a bookstore but I would recommend for a scientifically illiterate person like myself is The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution by Sean B. Carroll. The “there’s no evidence for evolution” creationists should be forced to read this book.

  22. says

    See Ferrous Patella’s comment above. There are a lot of books I love that I could list, but the criterion here is that it must also be commercially viable — something that, for instance, a doting grandma might pick out for her brilliant granddaughter, or that someone all fired up over a political issue might grab to get some background.

  23. Ben D says

    Consilience – E.O. Wilson. An essential book for understanding how the entire scientific edifice fits together.
    Guns, Germs, and Steel – Jared Diamond. A popular attempt to bring a more scientific outlook to the history of the world, and why some nations are and were more advanced than others.
    Darwin’s Dangerous Idea – Daniel C. Dennett – Maybe I just liked its takedown of Gould, but I thought it was brilliant.
    I can second “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman”, and add the collection of his letters, “Don’t you have time to think?”.
    All fantastic books.

  24. Ian Sharkey says

    Popular science books I’ve enjoyed:

    Longitude – Dava Sobel
    The Mapmakers – John Noble Wilford

    Endless Forms Most Beautiful – Sean Carroll

    Elegant Universe – Brian Greene

    Computer Science:
    The Code Book – Simon Singh
    An Introduction to Information Theory – John R. Pierce

  25. dave says

    a lot of stephen j gould’s books should appeal to the lay public. they’re very entertaining to read and at the same time fairly in depth and very insightful. flamingo’s smile, for instance, is a pretty good one

  26. D- says

    Much harder to have a succint list than to come up with some.

    Gotta start out with the classics,

    Origin and Voyage of the Beagle, on their own, as well as a part of one of the many Darwin compendiums having been published in the last couple years.

    Relativity by Einstein

    Silent Spring by Carson (although that might be in environment/ nature section)

    Demon-Haunted World and Cosmos would be my Sagan picks (if I only had two).

    What evolution is by Mayr.

    And would someone for the love of pete tell them that The God Delusion is not a science book, and should not be put there. It’s about religion…put it in the right spot.


  27. Saint Pudalia says

    I like the Barnes & Noble in San Bruno, CA. That store has an excellent science section — truly awe-inspiring. I, too, am currently enjoying Carl Zimmer’s outstanding “Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea.” Biology, obviously. And I’d say it’s both essential AND popular. I also thought V.S. Ramachandran’s “Phantoms in the Brain” to be one of the best non-fiction books — period — I’ve ever read. Psychology/Popular. People rave about Dawkins’ “The Blind Watchmaker”, which is wonderful, but I found “Climbing Mount Improbable” to be a much more enjoyable read, somehow. Biology/Essential. I loved “Mind of the Raven” by Bernd Heinrich (biology) which I’d describe as popular as well as essential.

  28. says

    A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I’d go so far as to call it essential. it neatly summarizes just about everything we know so far about biology, physics, astronomy, chemistry and geology. and has some very cool random facts, like the same jerk invented both leaded gasoline and CFC’s.

  29. says

    Some maths books: “Innumeracy” by John Allen Paulos is an essential book (in the strong sense that everyone ought to have read it). “A Mathematician’s Apology” by G.H. Hardy should be in every bookshop. They are both also “popular” (could be read by an intelligent layperson ). “Proofs from THE BOOK” by Aigner and Ziegler would be mark out a really GOOD bookshop.

    Good popular books are Simon Singh’s “Code Book” and “Fermat’s Last Theorem” and “The Music of the Primes” by Marcus du Sautoy ( Dawkin’s successor about whom I refuse to shut up lately).

  30. says

    I don’t get to read much these days except papers for my research. But one book that I truly enjoyed last Summer was
    “Lonely Planets” by David Grinspoon. He lists arguments for the presence of extraterrestrial life. Very well done. Very accessible. I nominate it for the popular astronomy section.

  31. says

    Another good one that is a mix of history and science in the vein of Guns, Germs and Steel (more history than science in this one) is Salt:A World History by Mark Kurlansky

    Again that may be broader than you are asking, but its a hell of a good book with enough science in it to be included (IMHO).

  32. cactusren says

    Essential: On the Origin of Species. I recommend the Harvard University Press Facsimile of the First Edition.

    Popular: Your Inner Fish, by Neil Shubin. I also second Jared Diamond’s books, and A Brief History of Time.

  33. says

    There isn’t any money in it. Typically these days, if someone wants a text book or a science based book it’s because they found some reference to recommendation to it on the web. From there it’s a simple hop to amazon to purchase the book.

    When I go to a bookstore I look at the science section and see about what I’d expect. A lot of novels with scientific issues and I’ve picked up a couple for that purpose. ‘Your Inner Fish’ by Neil Shubin was the last one I picked up.

    I’d say 10:1 people don’t go to the bookstore for science books. Hence the 10:1 sales difference.

  34. rowmyboat says

    Math: Flatland, by Edwin Abbott; How to Lie With Statistics, by Darrell Huff.

    There’s always Silent Spring and Al Gore’s book for environmental stuff.

  35. Abstruse says

    Taylor Books in Charleston WV has no “new age” or “religion” sections.

    It’s got a decent science section too!

  36. says

    Stumbling on Happiness – Daniel Gilbert
    The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks
    Descartes Error – Antonio Damasio

  37. BB says

    The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins – Essential
    A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson (sp?) Essential (This one would fit in well with the “a doting grandma”.
    Unweaving The Rainbow – Richard Dawkins – Essential
    Why religion is like masturbation – PZ Myers – Essential

    Unfortunately many of Richard’s books aren’t named the way they should be if you were hoping for a “doting grandma” to pick them up.

    I also don’t think “On The Origin of Species” would be “viable”.

  38. Notorious P.A.T. says

    “And would someone for the love of pete tell them that The God Delusion is not a science book, and should not be put there. It’s about religion…put it in the right spot.”

    Nothing stopping you from doing that ; )

  39. Greg Peterson says

    Popular only:

    At the Water’s Edge, Carl Zimmer
    Parasite Rex, Carl Zimmer
    Ancestor’s Tale, Richard Dawkins
    Climbing Mount Improbable, Richard Dawkins
    Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Sean Carrol
    Making of the Fittest, Sean Carrol
    Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin
    Evolution: What the Fossils Say…, Donald Prothero
    Physics of Star Trek, Lawrence Kraus
    Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan
    Physics of the Buffyverse, Jennifer Ouellette
    The Way Life Works, Mahlon Hoagland & Bert Dodson
    Molecular Biology Made Simple and Fun, David Clark & Lonnie Dee Russell
    Richness of Life, Stephen J. Gould
    Moral Minds, Marc Hauser

    Off the top of my head. That’s one very small shelf.

  40. says

    Unhelpfully, I’ll just say: anything by Zimmer (on the strength of having read Parasite Rex and At The Water’s Edge, which means I’ve got lots more to look forward to). By that, I mean: stocking at least some of the Z opus is essential, and faithfully stocking them all would be fantastic. They’re both readable AND good science AND they handle evolution in a matter-of-fact way.

  41. rowmyboat says

    And maybe they’re in the biography section instead, but biographies of famous science people — Einstein, Currie, Newton, etc.

  42. Sven DiMilo says

    Ditto on the McPhee; all of his stuff is great but Annals is the motherlode.
    Roughgarden? Too iconoclastic to recommend very strongly.

    One that should definitely be included, though is Quammen’s Song of the Dodo. Biology/ecology/conservation, and totally totally excellent.

  43. tsg says

    I’d say 10:1 people don’t go to the bookstore for science books. Hence the 10:1 sales difference.

    Maybe they would if they carried more.

  44. Leslie in Canada says

    As a non-scientist, I tend to pick my science books for their accessibility and writing styles, so along with most of the Stephen Jay Gould books, I would recommend David Quammen’s “The Song of the Dodo,” Jonathon Weiner’s “The Beak of the Finch,” Neil Shubin’s “Your Inner Fish” and B.Holldobler/E.O Wilson’s “Journey to the Ants.”

  45. gma says

    Key science books that open up your mind:
    – The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins
    – Unweaving the Rainbow, RIchard Dawkins
    – The Ancestor’s Tale, Richard Dawkins
    – Climbing Mount Improbable, RIchard Dawkins
    – The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins

    To counterbalance the vast sections on superstition/religion:
    – The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins
    – God’s Problem, Bart Ehrman
    – Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman
    – Papal Sin, Garry Wills
    – Only A Therory, Kenneth Miller
    – The End of Faith, Sam Harris
    – God, The Failed Hypothesis, Victor Stenger

  46. says

    I’m not sure if it fits the bill, but I think it does.

    Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. I consider it to be both potentially popular and absolutely essential. Covers a lot about mathematics, genetics, logic and computer science, while also having some wonderfully scientific types of insights into music. In fact, I highly, highly, highly recommend that book to anyone on Pharyngula who hasn’t read it. It might just be your next favorite book.

  47. Matt says

    Elegant Universe – Brian Greene
    Selfish Gene- Richard Dawkins
    Ancestors Tale- Richard Dawkins
    Your Inner Fish- Neil Shubin
    The Demon Haunted World- Carl Sagan
    Death by Black Hole- Neil DeGrasse Tyson
    The Discoverers- Daniel Boorstin
    Germs, Guns and Steele- Jarod Diamond

  48. Amanda Montel says

    As a lay person, I really enjoyed Chaos: The Making of a New Science by James Gleick. I think it would fit into the popular category?

  49. says

    Oooh! I love this! I especially want to share some popular chemistry books since they seem to be rather few and far between.

    My list is repeated in easy-to-read list form for your convenience.

    Stars (*) indicates it’s also popular since I can’t think of one popular book that hasn’t also been essential, Hashes (#) indicate chem books-


    Anything by Carl Sagan* (Duh!)
    Bad Astronomy by Phil Plait
    Death from the Skies by Phil Plait (I’m not just saying this because it’s new, the fact is that it’s the only book of its kind.)

    Radar, Pigs, & Hula Hoops by Joe Schwarcz#
    Asimov on Chemistry by Issac Asimov#*
    The Same and Not the Same by Roald Hoffman#
    Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer
    A Brief History of Time by Steven Hawking*
    The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins*
    Nuclear Weapons by Jeffery Bernstein
    Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman
    The Thirteenth Element by John Emsley#
    Uncle Tungsten: Memoirs of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sachs#*

  50. travc says

    Darwin among the machines by George Dyson
    IMO a really engaging angle mixing history of science with a bit of philosophy and a lot of ‘I didn’t know that’. It is kind of hard to describe “what it is about” in a single sentence, but it is really a great book in my estimation… and it is about my chosen field.

  51. druidbros says

    The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene. Its very meaty mental chewing and expands a readers thought process about the universe.

  52. Jonathan Flint says

    The Science of Discworld series – it may or may not be in the fiction section, but there is such a wealth of scientific knowledge in the even – numbered chapters (by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart) to make it a book I still use, and which got me interested in Big and little science. (I am applying to university at this point in my education)

  53. Hermanito says

    Of course everything by Richard Dawkins, all must reads…

    Then I particularly liked “The Big Bang” by Simon Singh, a nice and popular review of how the big bang theory grew mature.

    In software you’d have “Code Complete” by Steve McConnell.

    There are others, but I’m not near my bookshelf at the moment… I’ll try to post again when I am…

    Very nice idea by the way. You know, PZ, I live in Belgium and here it is even more difficult to find a decent technical/science book. Most shops don’t want to have English books, too little people buying maybe. And books in Dutch (translated or original, doesn’t matter) aren’t up to par to most English editions.

  54. Notorious P.A.T. says

    “Why religion is like masturbation ”

    Hehe, I’d buy that.

    I nominate “The Big Bang” by Simon Singh.

  55. SteveC says

    @#40: I agree with you about V. S. Ramachandran’s “Phantoms in the Brain”, and with your assessment of “Climbing Mount Improbable” vs. “The Blind Watchmaker.”

    To those, I’d add “What Makes You Tick; The Brain in Plain English.” by Thomas B. Czerner.

  56. says

    Under the “popular” heading should go the Cartoon Guides by Larry Gonick, in particular those for genetics, statistics, chemistry and physics. I browsed through David Macaulay’s The Way We Work in the bookstore, and other than one (forgivable) oversimplification and an instance of “textbook cardboard” historical blunder. it was delicious. Both it and The Way Things Work belong on any decent science shelf.

    Also a worthwhile inclusion would be James Gleick’s biography of Feynman, Genius. I haven’t read the Isaacson biography of Einstein, but I hear it’s very good.

  57. says

    I would like to see ‘Just six numbers’ by Martin Rees and ‘The Elegant Universe’ by Brian Greene. For a lay audience ‘Life on Earth’ and any of the books that accompany David Attenborough’s series would be good.

  58. says

    @Matt and others

    Jared Diamond is only ever going to be shelved under history I’m afraid. Otherwise I’d nominate “Black Swan”.

    As for my list, I have to scrap The Same and Not the Same. It’s not commercially viable. I would add however the two Richard Rhodes books about the atom bombs, as well as Glenn Seaborg’s Adventures in the Atomic Age. The latter of the two is put in specifically because I can imagine a grandmother both picking it up for her grandkid, as well as enjoying it herself.

  59. says

    Essential :
    Scientific Companion (Cesare Emiliani).

    Popular :
    The Third Chimpanzee (Jared Diamond)
    Religion Explained (Pascal Boyer)
    Einstein for Beginners (ISBN 978-0375714597)
    A Short History of Nearly Everything (Bryson)

  60. says

    Popular sciency books:

    Carl Zimmer’s Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life

    Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

  61. Raynfala says

    Seconded (thirded?) on Godel Escher Bach. I, too, have yet to finish it, but the parts I did manage to get through were quite fascinating. It’s not that it’s a “hard read”, it’s just that the stuff it covers is so heady that I found myself having to take a break while I let it all sink in.

    Great stuff for math / computer types, and those that just want to play one on TV.

  62. BobC says

    This book hasn’t been published yet: “Only a Theory?” by Richard Dawkins. I plan to buy it.

    I’m also impatiently waiting for a book to be published by PZ.

  63. MikeD says

    I recommend that booksellers carry ALL of Larry Gonick’s books. They are highly accessible, lots of fun, and actually informative.


    Cartoon Guide to Chemistry
    Cartoon Guide to Physics
    Cartoon Guide to Genetics
    Cartoon Guide to Statistics

    Along the same lines, I recommend Joy Hosler’s “Sandwalk Adventures” for introductory exposure to evolution:


    His “Clan Apis” is quite good also.

  64. Norm Olsen says

    Here’s three random nominations; the first two I would call essential, and the last, popular.

    “The Growth of Biological Thought” by Ernst Mayer

    “Biogeography and Adaptation: Patterns of Marine Life” by Geerat J. Vermeij

    “Climbing Mount Improbable” by Richard Dawkins

  65. bob says

    Some skepticism: “Demon-Haunted World” and “Why People Believe Weird Things” (popular, essential, skepticism/critical thinking).

    I think everyone should read Bill Bryson’s “A Short History Of Nearly Everything” (popular, essential, general science) … if someone don’t find that book interesting, there’s no hope for them. (A highly scientifically literate person might find it a touch too light, but that’s not who this list is for.)

    Hawking’s books (popular, essential, physics) and Greene’s books (popular, physics) are good, but not for the faint of heart. Einstein’s “Relativity” (physics) could also be grouped with these, albeit harder and less popular.

  66. Kurt says

    Second (or third) on the Dawkins, Diamond, McPhee, and Zimmer recommendations among others.

    Simon Winchester: The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the birth of Modern Geology (Popular, Geology)

    Kurlansky also has Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (Popular, Biology/History) [links well with his book on salt]

    – Kurt

  67. Susan says

    PZ wants:

    something that, for instance, a doting grandma might pick out for her brilliant granddaughter

    Then you need a few women in here.

    Broadsides from the Other Orders: A Book of Bugs by Sue Hubbell– in fact, just about anything from Hubbell. Popular.

    My mother recommended it to me and my many sisters, and I passed it on to my daughter, and we all loved it. If you’re interested in bugs (and we are), you’ll enjoy Hubbell.

    Also, the LA Times had a really good science writer (I’m not sure if she’s still there) and her books seemed to sell really well in LA, where folks were familiar with her: KC Cole. She’s written Mind Over Matter: Conversations with the Cosmos; The Hole in the Universe: How Scientists Peered Over the Edge of Emptiness and Found Everything; and The Universe and the Teacup, the Mathematics of Truth and Beauty. (I especially liked that one.) She’s also been published in The Best American Science Writing(for x year) series, the latest edition of which should always be available in a bookshop. All Popular.

  68. ggab says

    Demon Haunted World- Sagan
    Only a Theory- Miller
    Selfish Gene- Dawkins
    Ancestors Tale- Dawkins
    The First Three Minutes- Weinberg (out of date but great stuff)
    Darwin’s Dangerous Idea- Dennet
    Man’s Place In Nature- Huxley (historical interest)
    Anything from Sagan. Tyson’s always good for the layman.
    I like Brian Greene, but some don’t.
    Getting ready to start At The Water’s Edge by Zimmer. Not sure yet on that one.

  69. says

    Among the free swag I’ve received during my time as a science blogger are two books which I’d say could fit into the “commercially viable” list: The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, an anthology edited by Richard Dawkins; and The Drunkard’s Walk, by Leonard Mlodinow. I reviewed the former book here, and have been meaning to post a review of the latter book for several months now.

    I second the nomination of Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy, also under “popular”, partly because it’s a good book but mostly to goad P-Zed into finishing his own. You’re letting the astronomers win!

  70. tcb says

    Unfortunately many of Richard’s books aren’t named the way they should be if you were hoping for a “doting grandma” to pick them up.

    What about Climbing Mount Improbable? Great grandma-friendly title.

    I’d also go with Godel, Esher, Bach. Disadvantages: 1) Fermat is proved 2) Who will understand what the groove of a record is these days?

    As a practical handbook of all-around fun stuff, I’d second Horowitz and Hill, The Art of Electronics. There really needs to be a third edition though – many of the projects use obsolete components.

  71. Kraid says

    The Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins. – essential Biology (although I recall these overlap considerably, it’s been too long since I read either… I can’t recall which would be the better recommendation of the two). Despite being thoroughly debunked long ago, the watchmaker argument is alive and well in the US. I was taught to believe in it as a child!

    Another vote for Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins as essential also.

    Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan – popular science (general). Great introduction to how science works and why it’s valuable. Deep material with classic Sagan easy-to-readness.

  72. says

    Haven’t yet read all the comments, but this post reminded me of an experience I recently had in a book store. I went in with the intent of rounding out my collection of Dawkins books only owning at the time TGD, Ancestors Tale, and River Out of Eden. I asked where I could find the science books and was pointed all the way to the back of the store. So I wove my way through the 2 shelves of Religious/Inspirational, the 1.5 shelves of Christian fiction (snickers were made a the irony there), the 1.5 shelves of New Age/Mysticism… all the way back to the barely 1/4 of a shelf of science books (by shelf I refer to the standard Borders Bookstore floor length displays of books).

    Now once I reach this small offering of books, what do I find in it but Icons of Evolution, Edge of Evolution, and Darwin’s Black Box. I was particularly miffed at this point so, much to my sympathy with the plight this would cause the floor staff in stocking and organizing, decided to move these books to the section they belonged… somehow I managed to move all of these across the store and into the Christian Fiction section without notice. I was rewarded in my efforts by uncovering a copy of Kludge during this… so all in all not a bad day.

    Bookstores could really use some help with the book weighting though.

  73. Becca says

    A classic: Microbe Hunters -Paul De Kruif

    And Women: an intimate geography -Natalie Angier is probably financially viable.

    + The Botany of desire -Michael Pollan

    One that isn’t as well known, but also fun
    Magical mushrooms, Mischievous Molds -George W. Hudler

  74. Brian says


    The Elegent Universe by Brian Greene

    A Brief History of Time
    Black Holes and Baby Universes bothy by Hawking

    General Science/skeptisism

    The Demon Haunted World Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan.


    What is Mathematics? By Courant and Robbins.

    For a less technical view of mathematics

    The Mathematical Tourist
    Islands of Truth both by Ivars Peterson.

    While philosophy of science wasn’t asked for

    The Two Cultures by C.P. Snow
    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Khun. I’m aware of the fact that the word paradigm gets thrown around too much because of that one, but it is still a classic.

    And it’d be a real surprise if they stocked Philospophy of Science: The Central Issues by Curd & Cover.


  75. says

    I compare the sizes of the religion/new age sections to the size of the science section…if I can find it. Typically, there’s at least a 10:1 disparity in the amount of shelf space dedicated,

    Is this hyperbole, btw? In England and in Portugal (the countries in which I have lived) big book shops have maybe a 3:1 disparity. There’s some extra woo scattered in “pop psychology” and “self-help” and some serious stuff dealing with religion filed as “philosophy” but I’m pretty sure you won’t see it worse than 5:1.

  76. says

    I see a lot of science books for adults on the list and most of them are great so I don’t have any to add to the list. But I remember loving books about science as a kid. Any bookstore has got to carry the Eyewitness Books, those fascinated me as a little kid and they are still in print with updated editions. The Magic Schoolbus was another series that I really loved as a kid and they’re still in print.

  77. David Schoonmaker says

    The Best of American Science Writing (current year here) is usually a mixed bag but always alerts me to wonderful writing I hadn’t known before.

    Peter Matthiessen’s Wildlife in America or The Cloud Forest.

    Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams.

    Bernd Heinrich. Ravens in Winter is a good start.

  78. Alverant says

    I can’t think of any books that haven’t already been recommended here but I would like to weigh in on the topic as a whole. I think part of the reason why the religion section is bigger is that it has more variety. There are dozens of established versions of christianity that have been rather static and old and as such had time to develop enough POV to generate more books. Science isn’t as conflicting and is more dynamic so there’s less internal conflict and less of a need to show v2.345 is really superior than v2.344.

    In Borders I noticed that the religion section does have a few shelves for Atheism so how does that factor into things? Also, in other stores, how do they separate religion from new age? How about philosophy? I’ve noticed that some of the eastern religions (like Buddhism) is left in philosophy and not really considered a religion. Either that or it’s shoved into New Age as if it was invented in the past 50 years. Also sometimes science books themselves are mixed in with other topics. Like “Guns Germs and Steel” I saw in history. And how does Computer Science fit into things? :)

  79. Tim H says

    “Atlas of the Prehistoric World” Douglas Palmer, Discovery Channel–Evolution and plate tectonics rolled into one piece of great eye candy for the advanced jr high student on up to adult layman.

    how about some old James Burke? Connections, The Day the Universe Changed, The Axemaker’s Gift

    absolutly anything by Richard Fortey- Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution—Life, A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth– Earth, an Intimate History

    The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes (a nice intro to the history of nuclear physics)

  80. says

    Another call here for Hofstadter’s GEB. Copies of that book need to be deployed innocuously in living rooms around the country so every twelve-year-old girl who hasn’t yet had mathematics surgically removed from her brain can pick it up and read it without being watched.

  81. says

    John Brockman What is You Dangerous Idea? , science / civilization, popular

    –, What We Believe But Cannot Prove , science / civilization, popular

    –, What are You Optimistic About? , science / civilization, popular

    Jared Diamond The Third Chimpanzee , human evolution, popular

    –, Guns, Germs, and Steel , science / history / civilization, essential

    –, Collapse , science / history / civilization, essential

    Michio Kaku Physics of the Impossible , physics, popular

    Steven Pinker The Blank Slate , psychology, essential

    –, How the Mind Works, psychology, essential

    –, The Language Instinct, language / biology, essential

    –, The Stuff of Thought, language / psychology, essential

    Carl Sagan, Cosmos, general science, essential

    –,The Demon Haunted World, general science, essential

    –, Pale Blue Dot, astronomy, essential

    –, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, biology, popular

    Matt Ridley, The Agile Gene , biology / human behavior, popular

    –, Genome , biology, popular

    –, The Origins of Virtue, biology / ethics, essential

    Neil deGrasse Tyson, Death by Black Hole general science / cosmology, popular

    Edward O. Wilson, Consilience natural sciences / humanities, essential

    –, On Human Nature biology / psychology, essential

  82. Mari says

    In the popular section: “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre

    I’d also recommend Schmidt-Nielsen’s “Animal Physiology: Adaptation and Environment”. That book was essential for me deciding to do a PhD in physiology.

  83. says

    An extremely under appreciated book that should (and practicably could be) required reading for everyone is _Scientific Laws, Principles, and Theories_ by Robert Krebs. The title sounds potentially scary to the layman and impossibly vague to the scientist, so I’ll describe what the book is all about. It lists a wide collection of the top players in the history of science (everyone from Pythagoras to Darwin to John Bell) in alphabetical order, and the entry for each scientist consists of BRIEF, NON-TECHNICAL explanations of the major discoveries of each scientist. I’ve spent hours just randomly flipping through it. It even contains discarded theories like luminiferous aether. This relatively short (~400 pgs) and very readable book (even makes great bathroom reading because each entry is about a half-page) gives the layman a fantastic idea of what science is all about, and it’s very fun reading for scientists too.

  84. Jeff Bell says

    Nobody mentioned Knuth, the Art of Computer Science.

    Are we looking for reading books? or reference books?

  85. says

    When I was in middle school and high school, I read a lot of the Isaac Asimov nonfiction science books. They were very accessible to teens.

  86. says

    Years ago, I had the pleasure to help a very good friend …. really, my best friend at the time …. start up a bookstore. I helped in a lot of different ways, but my main job was to stock the science section!!!!!!!! Wow, was that ever fun.

    History, too. I got to do history.

  87. rww says

    This one was great (to me), but it might be out of print now.

    Crucibles, the Story of Chemistry (Bernard Jaffe)

  88. American Godless says

    PLEASE don’t neglect the ethical side of science.
    Jacob Bronowski, “The Ascent of Man” is an essential for
    a general overview of science.
    (His “Science and Human Values” though probably little known today, is a close second.)
    For a good recent book on biology for the general reader,
    “Your Inner Fish” by Neil Shubin

  89. Alverant says

    Notorious P.A.T., I gave up on USAToday because of their anti-Atheist attitude and nasty columnists. But that was several years ago. Maybe they changed. (But upon reading the comments, I’m not so sure.)

  90. Sal says

    I would recommend Impossible Physics, by Michio Kaku. It has an enjoyable analysis of (almost) all sci-fi staples, like time travel, teleportation, UFOs, etc. with a probability and time line of the emergence of such technologies.

  91. JMartin says


    A Short History by Bryson: Essential for the layperson, and a delight.

    Uncle Tungsten by Sacks: A fabulous memoir which captures the essential joy in scientific discovery. Popular chemistry, per The Chemist above, is indeed a huge gap. I never understood the allure, until this book.


    Genome, by Matt Ridley: Gripping and readable chapters arranged by chromosome. Vat could be easier?

  92. Trevor says

    I consider this relevant for this topic: http://i37.tinypic.com/30b0f4j.jpg

    A picture I took in a bookstore, which I tagged on Facebook as: “What’s the difference?”… It made me lol a tiny bit.

    Bonus: If you look carefully, Colbert is smiling at you from the Humor Section.

  93. Mark Deering says

    I would suggest:
    Puncuated equilibrium, by S.J.Gould
    The Social Insects, By E.O. Wilson

  94. Beth B. says


    -The Big Bang, Simon Singh. Accessible/popular.

    -Origins, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Accessible/popular.

  95. Justin H. says

    I had a similar experience that you had PZ.

    I once went to a bookstore to find a book about a concept I saw online called hyperreality, which is basically the inability of the mind to distinguish between fantasy and reality. I went to a Waldenbooks store, and asked if they had a philosophy section because I didn’t know what section of the store something like that would be in. The clerk said that all the philosophy books were in the Religion section.

    I left thinking how I no longer needed a book to explain the concept.

  96. Cris says

    Not science, but Raymond Smullyan’s puzzle books of recreational logic deserve to be widely read. His classic What Is The Name Of This Book? is out of print, but Lady or the Tiger? is a pretty good second choice.

  97. Gregory Kusnick says

    I agree with Jason at #49. People don’t go into bookstores looking for science books, and people looking for science books rarely look for them in bookstores. Generally science-book shoppers have specific titles in mind, and the chances of finding those specific titles in a store, or even figuring out which section they’re likely to be shelved in, are close to nil. It’s just easier to buy them online.

    That said, for broad appeal I’d add Freeman Dyson and Oliver Sacks to the already mentioned pantheon of Gould, Dawkins, Dennett, Diamond, Feynman, Sagan, et al.

  98. Mexican atheist says

    Hello Pharyngula fans:

    I hope Mr. PZ Myers allows this post.

    I have a friend, he is a Biological and Pharmaceutical Chemist and he works the General Direction of Science Popularization at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

    He has a science blog and he posts every week, his posts are very good, short and sweet.

    If you would like to check it out and subscribe to the weekly notifications, we will appreciate it:



    At the moment there are few posts in English, but we’re working hard on translating the rest of the posts in Spanish.

    Thank you for allowing this post and have a great day,
    Adrián Robles Benavides

  99. Karen says

    Two that I enjoyed but haven’t seen mentioned for the Popular section:

    The Red Queen – Matt Ridley
    Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers – Robert Sapolsky

  100. skepsci says

    I’d like to second both Simon Singh’s The Code Book and Douglas Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. Both are extremely well-written, and have strong credentials to back them up: Simon Singh is a bestselling author, and GEB won a Pulitzer.

  101. Ericka says

    The next time you’re in Portland, go to Powell’s Bookstore. It’s huge and their science section is delightfully diverse.

  102. Al says

    The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson. Fantastic description of the bidoviersity crisis. Very accessible to the lay reader but based on solid science and nicely written.

    New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers. Robert Desowitz. A light hearted anthology of essays about parasites in society. Terrific read.

  103. Grendels Dad says

    A few authors come to mind;

    Richard Feynman: Although my personal favorite is Surely You’re Joking, it sticks in my mind mostly as biography. I would put The Pleasure of Finding Things Out into the popular category for its discussion of the provisional nature of knowledge, and how it is possible to become comfortable with uncertainties. But QED is definitely in the must have category. I have never encountered another book that captured the essential nature of its subject and communicated it in such an easily accessible way to a lay audience.

    Carl Sagan: As has been pointed out by several above, The Demon Haunted World belongs on everyone’s bookshelf. And if Cosmos doesn’t stir something wondrous in a person’s mind, then I suspect the problem lies in the mind and not the book.

    Jarred Diamond: Guns, Germs, and Steel would rate a “must have” for me. The balance of supporting details with the enormous scope was just right. I was less impressed with Collapse, but would still list it in a popular category.

    I’m sure as soon as I post I’ll think of others, but this is a decent start.

  104. Spiv says

    I guess I’m one of the few physics/chem people here.

    The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav
    In Search of Schroedinger’s Cat by John Gribbin
    The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio
    A Brief History of Time (already mentioned)
    Carl Sagan books
    Language and Mind by Noam Chomsky
    Principia by Isaac Newton

    Chris Turney books
    De Rerum Natura by Lucretius (ancient science/philos)

    This thread is giving me lots of books I need to buy now.

  105. says

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Stephen Pinker’s The Language Instinct yet. In the same vein, Mark Baker’s The Atoms of Language is an excellent introduction to theoretical and comparative linguistics, and it’s less of a slog than Pinker.

    If we’re counting mathematics, then definitely include The Magical Maze: Seeing the World through Mathematical Eyes by Ian Stewart. It introduces dozens of important mathematical and computational concepts — recursion, the halting problem, celllular automata, Fibonacci numbers, the list goes on — in the form of puzzles and games. Very accessible to the “math is hard” crowd, too.

  106. Stephanurus says

    Usually religious books are shelved next to Philosophy, istead of in Fiction. And, yes, the Religion section is usually larger than the Science and Nature sections combined—not 10:1, but more like 3:1. The Waldenbook Store inside the CNN Center in Atlanta has no science section at all. When I asked why, I was told that “They don’t sell”. Phooey.

  107. says

    I’ll be honest – I don’t know what the general consensus on Ray Kurzweil’s books is, but from the TED talk of his I watched, he seems OK.
    Anyone have any opposition to the Singularity is Near? Or any of his other books?

    Again: From a computer scientist’s perspective, I don’t have any major faults… but you biology folks might not be as easily impressed! :-)

  108. William says

    William Dunham’s book _Journey Through Genius_ influenced my decision to major in mathematics in college; I’m now a mathematician. It takes a number of real theorems, complete with proof, and even things like a critique of the proof structure of the _Elements_, and puts them all in historical context with the biographies of the mathematicians who came up with them. Very enjoyable, accessible read for a high schooler without anything but basic algebra and geometry.

  109. Erin says

    For the geology lovers out there (popular):

    Volcano Cowboys: The Rocky Evolution of a Dangerous Science by Dick Thompson, This book is a nice mix of the science behind modern USGS volcanological methods and tools and the hassel of dealing with people and politics around active volcanoes.

    La Catastrophe: The Eruption of Mount Pelee, the Worst Volcanic Disaster of the 20th Century by Alwyn Scarth, A nice human interest meets unstoppable deadly pyroclastic flow story.

    Annals of the Former World by John McPhee, The geologic history of the US as told from a roadtrip along I-80. His descriptions of the geology of the US are quite beautiful, enough to make even a fundie proud of their country’s geology.

  110. Steve says

    For Biology and Psychology:

    “Looking for Spinoza, Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain”

    Antonio Damasio (neuro-scientist)

  111. Diego says

    This could be both popular and essential:

    The language of the genes, by Steve Jones. It also won an award from the Royal Society in 1994.

  112. says

    One I forgot. I don’t know if there is an a version in English but “A matemática de coisas” (The mathematics of things) by Nuno Crato is a very good popular book (it really must be an easy read since I got through it with my less than great Portuguese and no dictionary to hand)

  113. Stephanurus says

    At the moment, I am reading “Song of the Dodo” by Quammen. This is a real page-turner–very well written and containing lots of biogeographical basics that everybody should be exposed to. I’d say it is pretty near essential.

  114. Steve says

    Also, I think Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” should be middle-school required reading.

  115. says

    Lots of good suggestions! I’d like to know why so many NON-Science books (aka god delusion, any ID book etc) make it into the science sections at so many bookstores.

    Making of the Fittest & Endless Forms most beautiful should be there.

    A Short history of time

  116. Anne says

    Invention by Design (Petrosky)is a great book about engineering, and I am NOT an engineer – the history of the paperclip is fascinating!

    Prairie (Candace Savage) is a great overview on the geology, biological history, and other aspects that created the prairies. Really cool pictures.

    The Eternal Frontier (Tim Flannery) is an excellent history of North American geology, biology, etc. Very entertaining. The Weathermakers should also be on the list.

    Climate change books to include are:

    A rough guide to climate change (Henson)
    What we know about climate change (Emmanuel)
    Global warming: the complete 3rd edition (Houghton)
    Field notes from a catastrophe (Kolbert)

    I think these are very accessible, and would sell reasonably well.

  117. JB says

    Richard Feynman’s QED: The strange theory of light and matter.
    Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene.
    The two science books that switched on the light for me.

    Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works.
    Very, very interesting.

    Paul Davies’ (Boo!) The Mind of God. Wonderfully argued and presented however much you (or I) may disagree.

  118. Grendels Dad says

    How about Larry Krauss? The Physics of Star Trek deserves a spot in the popular section.

  119. AndrewC says

    In a quick skim of the thread I didn’t see Hawkings On The Shoulders Of Giants. Pardon me if that was already there.

    Not sure if Guns, Germs, and Steel counts, but if it does, that is a great one.

  120. qwerty says

    Carl Zimmer reports on Amazon’s list of top ten science books.
    I bought and read this one:
    13 Things That Don’t Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time

    I did a litle research and look what I discovered !

    Arata-Zhang LENR Demonstration
    By Steven B. Krivit
    New Energy Times
    May 22, 2008

    OSAKA, JAPAN — Against a monumental backdrop of bad publicity for cold fusion since 1989, researchers in Japan on May 22 demonstrated the production of excess heat and helium-4, the results of an historic low-energy nuclear reaction experiment.

    The mastermind behind the demonstration is Yoshiaki Arata, a highly respected physicist in Japan who has been the recipent of Japan’s highest award, the Order of Cultural Merit, and is the first person to have performed a thermonuclear fusion experiment showing large amounts of d-d reactions in Japan.

    A lecture by Arata preceded the demonstration before a live audience in Arata Hall (named in his honor) at the Joining and Welding Research Institute at Osaka University. The demonstration took place in the Osaka University Advanced Science & Innovation Center with the help of Arata’s associate, professor Yue Chang Zhang of Shianghai Jiotong University.

    Professor Akito Takahashi of Osaka University was an eyewitness to the demonstration.

    “Arata and Zhang demonstrated very successfully the generation of continuous excess energy (heat) from ZrO2-nano-Pd sample powders under D2 gas charging and generation of helium-4,” Takahashi wrote. “The demonstrated live data looked just like data they reported in their published papers (J. High Temp. Soc. Jpn, Feb. and March issues, 2008). This demonstration showed that the method is highly reproducible.”

    Takahashi wrote that 60 people from universities and companies in Japan and a few people from other countries attended, as well as representatives from six major newspapers (Asahi, Nikkei, Mainichi, NHK, et al.) and two television stations.

    In an earlier conversation with New Energy Times, Arata offered his perspective on “cold fusion” research, which he calls solid nuclear fusion.

    “Some people say we have reached the end of science, that there are no more great discoveries that remain. In my view, nature always has more secrets to reveal,” Arata wrote. “I always stay on guard not to be too possessed by my own current knowledge. History has shown us repeatedly, for example, the foolishness of denying ‘heliocentricism,’ which resulted from individuals adhering too strongly to their own knowledge or to what was common sense in the past.”

  121. Grendels Dad says

    Oh, and Bob Zubrin’s The Case for Mars. His enthusiasm for his vision is infectious. Definitely a popular contender. .

  122. says

    I second the votes for anything by Richard Feynman, Richard Dawkins, Charles Darwin, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawkins, or Noam Chomsky.

  123. Matt7895 says

    Here in my UK, at my local Waterstones there are three science shelves, compared to one for religion. It is the same at Borders. And the science books are very good, all the classics like Hawking, Dawkins, Darwin, and also new books from the likes of Neil Shubin. There is a large amount of ‘Do Penguins Feet Freeze?’ kind of pointless trivia books, but there’s still a lot of good stuff there too.

    In all the times I’ve been in those shops, not once have I ever seen anyone at the religion section. But there are frequently people looking through the science books. One time I saw a young woman approach the religion shelves, but at the last second she swerved and hit the philosophy/sociology section, right next door. So that was good :)

    As for creationist/ID nonsense, there was one time when I was browsing through the shelves in Borders in a retail park in Coventry (next to the new football stadium), I saw Behe’s ‘Darwin’s Black Box’. I would have moved it to the religion section, had I not a football game to get to.

  124. Beth says

    I think this list could use some Lewis Thomas and some Oliver Sacks- I think they are good “gateway” science authors to hook people in.

  125. Grendels Dad says

    I don’t recall seeing it mentioned yet, but Antonio Damasio’s Descarte’s Error should be a popular title.

  126. abb3w says

    I’d like to add (by my count) the fifth recommendation for Godel, Escher, Bach. Logic and Mathematics are the foundation for self-consistent philosophy, and thus Science. GEB provides an lay-readable introduction to the formal construction of Mathematics. From mathematics, you can construct computability; and from the assumption of computability, you can derive science… but until they unwashed masses understand the bomb-proof unbeatable solidity of the underlying foundation of math, they won’t accept what’s built on top.

    I’ll also repeat the suggestions for Jared Diamond’s GG&S, and Pinker’s Blank Slate.

    I’d also suggest including a good book on Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics… except, I’m not sure there is any of suitable caliber.

  127. Randy says

    Lewis Carroll Epstein (2005 3rd edition), Thinking Physics: Understandable Practical Reality, ISBN 978-0935218084
    A wonderful book that explains physics from a conceptual POV with fantastic hand-drawn illustrations on every page.

  128. The Swiss says

    I tend to concur with Jason: “Typically these days, if someone wants a text book or a science based book it’s because they found some reference to recommendation to it on the web. From there it’s a simple hop to amazon to purchase the book.”

    Anyway, here are some classics which any *decent* library should have, if only to boost its own reputation. They may sell slowly, but IMHO they could still sell for quite a long time (I hope :-). They are all ESSENTIAL. I’ve ordered them roughly for decreasing appeal to the general (lay)public.

    Nigel Barley, The innocent anthropologist
    (anthropology / autobiography)

    Richard Feynman, The pleasure of finding things out
    (physics / autobiography)

    Richard Dawkins, The selfish gene

    G.H. Hardy, A mathematician’s apology
    (mathematics / autobiography)

    Steven Pinker, The language instinct
    (linguistic / biology)

    Steven Pinker, The blank slate
    (biology / politics)

    Richard Dawkins, Climbing mount improbable

    Jared Diamond, Guns, germs and steel
    (history / geography / biology / … )

    Douglas R. Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An eternal golden braid
    (math / computer science / philosophy)

    Erwin Schrödinger, What is life?
    (biology / physics)

    Bertrand Russell, The ABC of relativity

    Daniel Dennet, Darwin’s dangerous idea
    (biology / phylosophy)

    Gian-Carlo Rota, Indiscrete thoughts
    (mathematics / philosophy / biography … )

  129. says

    Some ideas:

    Alley, Richard. The Two Mile Time Machine. Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future.

    Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake.

    Bodanis, David. Passionate Minds: The Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment, Featuring the Scientist Emilie du Chatelet, the Poet Voltaire, Sword Fights, Book Burnings, Assorted Kings, Seditious Verse, and the Birth of the Modern World.

    Broecker, Wallace and Robert Kunzig. Fixing Climate: What Past Climate Changes Reveal About the Current Threat–and How to Counter It.

    Kahn, David. The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet.

    Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

    McNeill, John. Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth Century

    Monbiot, George. Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning.

    Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World.

    Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.

    Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.

    Romm, Joseph. Hell and High Water: Global Warming – the Solution and the Politics and What We Should Do.

    Simpson, Jeffrey, Mark Jaccard and Nic Rivers. Hot Air: Meeting Canada’s Climate Change Challenge.

    Singh, Simon. Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe.

    Singh, Simon. The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes and Code Breaking.

    Singh, Simon. Fermat’s Last Theorem.

    Singh, Simon. Trick or Treament? The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine.

    Stamets, Paul. Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.

    Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

    Weaver, Andrew. Keepimg our Cool: Canada in a Warming World.

  130. Kniffler says

    Nothing new to add, but I would like to second:

    Quammen’s “The Song of the Dodo” – nothing (since discovering Gerald Durrell) revitalised my interest in the natural world more than this book. It’s a history of island biogeography and extinction, and I can’t praise it highly enough. The writing is superb and the science is thorough, accurate, and important.

    Bryson’s History – is essential not because it’s an especially rigorous science book, but because it is thorough, and because it will sell.

    Simon Singh’s “Fermat’s Last Theorum” and “Code Book” are great.

    “Godel Escher Bach” – what j woodyat said.

    (It would be nice to include here some things like Lorenz’s “King Solomon’s Ring”, Fabre’s “Insect Life”, Wallace’s “Malay Archipelago”, but I fear they are important rather than profitable)

  131. Mari says

    @ Matt7895
    Don’t forget Blackwell’s! They’re even better on academic books than Borders and Waterstones

  132. Ian says

    I can warmly recommend the magnificent free physics textbook Motion mountain. Although it can’t actually be bought in a bookshop.

    As a kid I always enjoyed Asimov’s Guide to Science. Still do. I’ve literally read it to pieces.

    Ben Goldacre’s ‘Bad Science’ is a great intro to critical thinking and it’s a hilarious read to boot.

    Anything by Steven Pinker is essential reading. Especially ‘The Language Instinct’, ‘The Blank Slate’ and his latest ‘The Stuff of Thought’.

  133. says

    @151: Chomsky’s Language and Problems of Knowledge is quite good and introduces some important notions in linguistics (e.g., how to decide which rules to include in a descriptive ruleset). It’s a good follow-on to Pinker, and should be on the shelf in any well-stocked linguistics section.

  134. tms says

    An early favorite of mine:

    Animals Without Backbones
    by Ralph Buchsbaum
    Animals Without Backbones (University of Chicago Press)

    The University of Chicago Press (1938). Index. 371pp.

  135. Stu Minnis says

    Of course, the canon (Darwin, Newton, etc.)

    And some general-reader titles of which I’m very fond:
    The Beak of the Finch
    Wonderful Life
    The Devil’s Chaplain
    The Blank Slate
    Pale Blue Dot
    Guns, Germs & Steel
    The Seashell on the Mountaintop
    Einstein: His Life and Universe
    The Demon-Haunted World

  136. Jonathan says

    I think the following are essential:

    “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins
    “The Ancestor’s Tale” by Richard Dawkins. (after selfish gene is read, this book is essential for everyone)
    “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond
    “Moral Minds” by Marc Hauser
    “The Language Instinct” by Steven Pinker
    “How The Mind Works” by Steven Pinker
    “Non-Zero” (can’t remember author’s name right now)

  137. Father Nature says

    “The Discoverers” by Daniel J. Boorstin is a great book about the scientific foundations of modern life.

    Ever wonder why there are 60 minutes in an hour or 360 degrees in a circle? This book answers questions like that.

    This is one that I plan to re-read soon. Very enjoyable.

  138. Vorn says

    Chaos, by James Gleick – a layman’s introduction to non-linear systems.
    What Do You Care What Other People Think?, by Richard Feynman – includes “Appendix F”, Feynman’s addendum to the official Challenger disaster report, and a tour de force of Thinking Like A Scientist.
    On The Shoulders Of Giants, by Stephen Hawking – a review of several seminal physics papers.

  139. chezjake says

    As far as “standard works,” the library profession has for almost 100 years had what started out as “The Standard Catalog for Public Libraries.” It has now morphed into a couple products, including Public Library Core Collection: Non-fiction, which lists books that every decent public library should have. It’s now available in both dead tree and online versions — latest edition out this month. Most good public and academic libraries should have at least one version available for you to check out.


  140. Cafeeine says

    “The Science fo Discworld” books are an excellent addition, exactly because they do have a chance at commercial success and reaching an audience that they might otherwise not do so. I am evidence of that, as it was through this series that I finally understood the main concept behind natural selection, before I even heard of Dawkins. It reawoke my wonder for science that had been lost since high-school. It therefore has a strong trojan horse factr going for it.

  141. MS says

    I really enjoyed “Snake Oil Science” by Bausell. It explores the “controversy” between alternative medicine and western (evidenced based) medicine. He attempts to make an objective analysis and discern whether or not alternative medicines have any greater effect than a placebo effect.

    In addition he also explains with great clarity what constitutes a good study, what are the various forms of alternative medicine, and numerous ways that good intentions can come up with misleading results regardless of the study being done. Great book. Easy read.

  142. Phil says

    In addition to books by Carl Sagan, Neill DeGrasse Tyson, and E.O. Wilson, I would like to add the following:

    -Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, by Donald Prothero
    -Why Darwin Matters, by Michael Shermer

    What’s Science Ever Done For Us?: What The Simpson Can Teach us about Physics, Robots, Life, and the Universe, by Paul Halpern (This book deals with things that the show has gotten right, git wrong, and why. Topics include evolution, genetic mutation, time travel, alien life, and more. Great read and easy to grasp.)

  143. Colm says

    Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Things Happened, by Chris Turney.

    This is an essential book for all those who want to understand how we know how old things are.

  144. jhat says

    Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

    A beautiful novel that represents the scientific experience through art. Something that Lawrence Krauss has talked about. Also, recently featured as a play at the World Science Festival.

  145. Pete UK says

    I’m a chemist at heart, so I have to go for

    The Period Table – Peter Atkins (popular, chemistry)

    In addition to the many excellent recommendations above, I’d add or underline:

    Karl Popper – the Logic of Scientific Discovery (essential, don’t care what category)
    Stephen Pinker – the Blank slate (popularl)
    Sex, Death and Suicide – Nick Lane (popular, biology) (the amazing world of mitochondria)
    Jamie Whyte – Bad Thoughts (popular, general science)
    David Deutsch – the Fabric of Reality (essential, physics) mindblowing
    Nigel Calder – Einstein’s Universe (popular, physics)
    John Paulos – A Mathematician reads the Newspaper (popular, Maths)

    I like the series of books spun off the BBC Qi shows, hosted by Stephen Fry, especially:

    The Qi Book of Animal Ignorance – popular, biology or zoology.

    And, to add to the rather small childrens’ section:

    Mick O’Hare – How to fossilise your Hamster (popular, children)

    I would recommend most of Richard Feynman’s popular works, although sadly I don’t think the lectures would fit this particular bill.

  146. Crustacian says

    I’m just going to list good ones people have yet to mention. I’m surprised that these haven’t been mentioned yet

    Bold = Essential

    Hyperspace – Michio Kaku, lots of basic quantum physics, string theory, etc.
    Parallel Worlds, Michio Kaku, same
    Billions and Billions, Carl Sagan
    Descent of Man, Charles Darwin
    The Code Book, Simon Singh – extremely useful book about cryptography and its history

    I’ll add more when I think of them.

  147. dhacat says

    Richard Fortey: Earth: An Intimate History and Life: An Unauthorized Biography. Wonderfully written, very accessible to the lay person, solid science.

  148. LWA says

    As in post #39, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (essential) to see where we’ve come from plus Chris Mooney’s “The Republican War on Science” (popular) as a manifesto of where we don’t ever want to go again.

    I honestly can’t think of a reason to recommend any of Dawkins’ books over any other of his books. They are all outstanding examples of how to relate evolutionary biology and its processes (not to mention critical thought) to the public. ANY library should have a shelf full of them.

  149. says

    As a physicist, I will avoid mentioning physics books since I am not sure how well calibrated on them.

    “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”, by Sean Carrol

    This book convinced me that biology could be just as fascinating as physics.

    “The Language Instinct”, by Stephen Pinker

    “Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age”, by Duncan Watts

    A lot of the early work on the study of networked systems was done by physicists. I could be showing my biases here, but what appealed to me was their ability to generalize of disparate types of systems, physical, biological, computer.

    “The Great Influenza”, by John M. Barry

    There is a lot of history in this book, but one of the big themes is how US medicine became a scientifically based enterprise. There is also some nice straight science discussion of viruses and genetics.

  150. Hairy Doctor Professor says

    Wow. You guys just indexed a good chunk of my library, thanks. Serves me right for joining a thread late. I certainly endorse just about anything mentioned here by Sagan, Gould, Tyson, Feynman, Dawkins, etc., along with The Art of Electronics, Godel, Escher, Bach, The Code Book, and Your Inner Fish.

    David Brin’s non-fiction is worth the search, too, particularly Otherness and Tomorrow Happens.

    Here are a bunch of math books I’ve read that were very helpful to me, most of which came out of the stacks at Barnes & Noble:

    Imagining Numbers – Barry Mazur
    The Square Root of 2 – David Flannery
    Negative Math – Alberto Martinez
    The Mystery of the Aleph – Amir Aczel
    The Equation That Couldn’t Be Solved – Mario Livio
    Flatterland – Ian Stewart

  151. HappyHenry says

    Trevor (#131), I think The Singularity is Near definitely should be included now that you mentioned it. It’s a very important text concerning the possibility of a technological singularity occurring in the middle of the 21st century and provides massive amounts of insight and data. For this reason, I think it should be considered an essential book.

    The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil (Essential)

  152. pete UK says

    Update to previous comment:

    This sheepish chemist got the title wrong. It is, of course:

    Peter Atkins – the Periodic Table


  153. Andrew says

    The ULTIMATE essential and potentially popular book-

    I Am a Strange Loop, Douglas R. Hofstadter

  154. tripwire says

    I nominate:
    – The Fabric of Reality, David Deutsch
    – A Brief History of Time (illustrated or plain), Stephen Hawking
    – The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan
    And of course anything by Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer (even though the latter’s a NOMA adept :).

  155. octopod says

    DIRT by David Montgomery. Came out a couple of years ago, absolutely fascinating. If you haven’t read it you should. Discusses the topsoil of civilizations and its intimate link to their rise and fall.

  156. JackU says

    Another vote for some that have been mentioned:

    Flatland by Edward A. Abbott
    The Day the Universe Changed by James Burke

    A couple of first class science/technology bios might be good as well. I’d vote for Galileo: A Life by James Reston and The Electric Life of Michael Faraday by Alan W Hirshfield. Biographies can bring people into a subject area through the study of the people who created it. Both of these also provide counters to the idea that science and religion are incompatible.

    I tend to read more History of Science books and they tend not to be either essential or overly popular. 8^)

  157. Dave H says


    Please publish this list of books, I need to start hacking away at the ones I have not read yet.

  158. says

    I have a couple of books about mathematics, but no recommendation beyond ‘I read them and liked them’; since I’m a mathtype myself (heck, a grad student with delusions of adequacy) I try to read books like these in ‘dumb mode’ (also, ‘layman lick’), trying to think whether I’d understand the stuff if I knew next to nothing about maths; these following four seemed pretty understand-able.

    Two for the category of popular science and subject of mathematics:

    1) Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities, by Jeffrey Rosenthal, about probability (duh), and

    2) Innumeracy, by John Allen Paulos (not the pope), about how understanding maths equals good.

    Also, if biography laced with pretty snippets of number-stuff counts, there are two very good and lay-readable biographies of Paul Erdos, one by Bruce Schechter (My Brain Is Open) and one by Paul Hoffman (The Man Who Loved Only Numbers).

  159. tsg says

    Please publish this list of books, I need to start hacking away at the ones I have not read yet.

    Um, isn’t that what he’s doing now?

  160. BobC says


    Both of these also provide counters to the idea that science and religion are incompatible.

    That bugs me because it’s dishonest. Religion equals magic, and nothing is more incompatible with science than magic.

  161. phloopy says

    I’m really enjoying a book that I saw on your blog, “Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation” by Olivia Judson. (enjoy the amazon commission on that purchase :p)

    One of my favorite books of all time is a bit scientific I guess. Twenty-five years ago or so Douglas Adams traveled the world with zoologist Mark Cowardine looking for a set of specific endangered species and wrote “Last Chance to See” to chronicle the adventures. Stephen Fry is now touring with Cowardine to do a 25 years later revisit to each of the species featured previously…at least the ones that remain :/

    Both of these would fall under the popular categories.

  162. David C. Brayton says

    Just about anything by Carl Sagan, notably Cosmos, Billions and Billions, Broca’s Brain, and The Demon Haunted World (Science as a Candle in the Dark).

  163. Avi Steiner says

    “The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of it’s Greatest Inventors” by John Gribbin. –General history of science –popular (?)

  164. Timothy says

    Jim Endersby’s A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology. It’s more a History book than a Biology book per se, but it presents a really clear, honest view of the scientific process from just pre-Darwin forward. It’s an engaging work and really presents a lot of great scientific information in a way a layperson can understand.

  165. Arno says

    Popular, but nevertheless scientific psychology:
    – most books by Pinker (Stuff of Thought, Blank Slate, How the Mind Works etc.)
    – Jonathan Haidt’s “The Happiness Hypothesis”
    – Chris Frith’s “Making Up The Mind: How the Brain creates our mental world”
    – “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert.

    I have found all of the above to be both very accessible and an amazing read. I personally cannot advise the Happiness Hypothesis enough, for example, and have been known to try and use it to beat the demons of stupidity out of people.

    ..and for general science.. I cannot advise “The Demon-Haunted World” by Sagan enough (duh).

    …I will mention and recommend more when I can get a proper look at my personal library.

  166. CaladanGuard says

    I can’t pump out the numbers of others. Most of mine are textbooks, don’t sell well in bookstores.

    However, I am quite a fan of:

    A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology by Jim Endersby

    Written by a science historian, it is interesting and very readable to a non-scientific audience, mostly on the history of heredity and genetics as the title implies.

  167. Mike McKeown says

    Some not yet noted:

    Red Queen

    Beak of the Finch

    Time, Love and Memory

    8th Day of Creation

    consider also

    Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice for all Creation

    I haven’t read it but her articles in the NY Times are great.

  168. Jadehawk says

    Reading through this thread made me realize I’m waaaay behind on my sciencey reading, heheh. The last sciencey book I’ve read was Diamond’s Collapse. And before that, my mom’s collection of Ditfurths , when I was 13 or so :-p

    Is this hyperbole, btw? In England and in Portugal (the countries in which I have lived) big book shops have maybe a 3:1 disparity. There’s some extra woo scattered in “pop psychology” and “self-help” and some serious stuff dealing with religion filed as “philosophy” but I’m pretty sure you won’t see it worse than 5:1.

    no, not hyperbole at all. the B&N here in town doesn’t have a science section at all, whereas the Woo takes up maybe 1/3 of the store (with a separate section just for Jenny MCarthy!!). Woo sells; science, not so much :-(

    Though I think every bookstore should have at least a few “popular science’ type books, like Phil Plait’s books, for example.

  169. JM says

    Some I’ve not seen above:

    The Quark and the Jaguar
    Murray Gell-Mann

    The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments
    George Johnson

    The Long Summer – How Climate Changed Civilisation
    Brian Fagan

    The Seashell on the Mountaintop
    Alan Cutler

  170. Epinephrine says

    I’ll post a few now, maybe some more later, hitting one book per author and trying to get a few subject areas:

    The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks

    Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins

    Chaos, James Gleick

    Nature’s Numbers, Ian Stewart

    A Guide to the Elements, Albert Swertka

    The New Science of Strong Materials or Why You Don’t Fall through the Floor, by J. E. Gordon and Philip Ball

    Mauve: How One Man Invented a Colour that Changed the World, Simon Garfield

    Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky

    Six Easy Pieces, Richard Feynman

  171. Itzac says

    Two books by Chris Turney that I’ve meant to read for a while:
    Ice, Mud and Blood: Lessons from Climates Past
    Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Things Happened

  172. Avi Steiner says

    “Wonders of Numbers: Adventures in Mathematics, Mind, and Meaning” by Clifford A. Pickover. –Mathematics –popular (?)

    I’m sort of half-and-half on “God Created the Integers” by Stephen Hawking. It’s very in formative, but the style it’s written in is such that it’s difficult to sit down and read more than a few pages at a time before your brain starts hurting. It’s not that the materials all that difficult, it’s just there’s so much of it.

    Or maybe it’s just me. >_<

  173. Bad Albert says

    P.Z., why are you knocking book stores? They are a business not a public library. The 10:1 shelf space ratio is more indicative of the consumer’s state of mind. As soon as consumers start buying more science books than religion/new age books, the science section will be bigger. In the meantime, any science book needs can easily be filled by Amazon.

    On a related note, I just found out the 85 year-old lady who lives in the suite upstairs has been reading my copy of the Skeptical Inquirer that usually comes in the mail while I’m out of town. Even though she comes from a religious background and appears to be a believer, she loves it and happily took the old issues I had around.

  174. says

    Popular science — Darrel Huff’s How to Lie With Statistics: slim, entertaining and very educationary. (If one wants to educate people on the seemingly dull danger of unlabeled axes and dishonest diagrams, one has to do a bit of flashy titling to get people to buy a book about it.)

  175. Jennifer A. Burdoo says

    Isaac Asimov’s books are largely outdated, but very nicely written for the lay reader. His “How Did We Learn About …” (Photosynthesis, comets, etc) series is still mostly topical, and I recommend them to kids for science projects all the time. As a child, I devoured his F&SF essays. While the specific details are often wrong, the basic concepts are wonderfully laid out. More importantly, they are readable, witty and showcase the sheer joy you can get out of learning something new. Carl Sagan is always a good choice, too, but I dunno how well he would sell.

  176. deep says

    I second (third?) What Evolution Is by Mayr as an essential.

    Also, The Cartoon Guide to Genetics by Gonick and Wheelis should be a good popular selection. I remember reading it back in an intro bio course, and it was rather entertaining. I believe it’s a part of series so maybe the other’s should be nominated as well.

    The World Without Us- Alan Weisman as popular.

    Tomorrow’s Table- Ronald & Adamchack as a popular. This is rather interesting book on the literal marriage of a organic farmer and a plant geneticists, and the ways they can figuratively marry those two methods of food production.

    And as for a non-sciency fiction:
    His Dark Materials- Philip Pullman. Of course this has become rather popular of late due to the movie so most book stores already have it.

    Watchmen- Alan Moore, Essential for any book store that carries any graphic novels.

  177. Josh in California says

    It’s not popular and it’s probably not essential, but I must say that I enjoyed reading The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan more than anything else I’ve read this year.

    Maybe we need a third list of “Essential Authors” for which all of their works (or damn near all) are recommended.

  178. rtp10 says

    Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
    by Steven D. Levitt Psychology/Economics/Statistics/Research Methods

    Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart by Ian Ayres, Psychology/Economics/Statistics/Research Methods

    House of Cards by Robyn Dawes, Psychology/Research Methods
    How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff, Statistics/Research Methods

    Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence by Dale Peterson, Evolutionary Psych/Anthorpology

    Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud by Robert Park Science/Research Methods

    Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine by Richard P. Sloan, Psychology/Medicine/Research/Statistics

    A Matter of Degrees: What Temperature Reveals About the Past and Future of Our Species, Planet, and Universe by Gino Segre, Physics/Global Warming

    Measuring Intelligence: Facts and Fallacies by David J. Bartholomew, Psychometrics/Statistics

  179. says

    For popular science: Robert Park’s Voodoo Science, for entertaining and frustrating tales on what happens when people just aren’t skeptical enough.

    (Dear empty heavens, I get dizzy just looking at this mass of books! I wonder if I could live on just water and reading for a couple of months…)

  180. Jeb says

    The closest thing I have ever found to a science bible is Roger Penrose’s The Road to Reality which is a full, mathematical guide to the laws of the universe. Definitely over the head of many, but a quick study could use that and wikipedia to learn exactly how the world works from a physics perspective.

  181. madarab says

    Aeons by Martin Gorst. It’s a comprehensive story of the search for the beginning of time.

  182. Henrik says

    I enjoyed James Randi’s ‘Flim-Flam’ and have started reading Michael Shermer’s ‘Denying History’, and it has been really good thus far. Not hard for a non-native English speaker either.

  183. says

    “Advice for a Young Investigator”, Ramón y Cajal
    “Advice to a Young Scientist,” Peter Medawar
    “The Eighth Day of Creation,” Horace Judson

  184. Cephalopod says

    You are missing the mark entirely. Bookstores are BUSINESSES. They stock what sells. Science books are not very popular, except in Campus bookstores where professors force students to buy them.

    The Science of God by Gerald L. Schroeder is a very interesting read.

  185. Arthur says

    Most of my books are probably repeats, but that’s because they’re so good, and every bookstore that caters to rational readers should have them in stock (there should be a lot more here, but I probably haven’t read them yet):

    The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan (Skepticism)
    A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson (General Science)
    The Ancestor’s Tale, Richard Dawkins (Biology)
    Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond (History)
    Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman (Religion)
    The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker (Linguistics)

    I don’t think it’s quite fair to compare the Religion section with the Science section, because many of the books in the Religion section are books such as Misquoting Jesus, books that come from actual religion scholars who are explaining serious academic issues. I suspect that authors such as Ehrman would agree with us at Pharyngula more often than he’d agree with his fellow authors in the Religion section at Barnes & Noble.

    Also, one disappointment I have is that I haven’t seen anything by Isaac Asimov in the Science section of any bookstores I’ve visited. Supposedly he was one of the most gifted science popularizers, and the omission of his non-fiction works at bookstores seems strange to me.

  186. The Pale Scot says

    Poll alert!; I just recieved a wingnut email about a PBS poll on whether “Do you think Sarah Palin is qualified to serve as Vice President of the United States? ” Activate the Irony Militia immediately!

  187. Steve says

    I’d suggest “The Ring of Truth”, by Phil Morrison. I’d put it in the popular category of the list, though for me, I consider it essential for providing good, solid examples of the scientific method at work.

  188. says

    I’d recommend:

    Nature’s numbers by Ian Stewart
    Imagining Numbers: (Particularly the Square Root of Minus Fifteen) by Barry Mazur

    Essential? Not really. Popular? Probably not. Interesting? Fo sho.

  189. says

    Geology & Paleontology: Bob Bakker, Dinosaur Heresies
    Simon Winchester, Map that Changed the World
    Jack Repcheck, The Man Who Found Time
    Alan Cutler, The Seashell on the Mountaintop
    SJ Gould, Wonderful Life
    Simon Conway-Morris, The Crucible of Creation
    Neal Shubin, Your Inner Fish
    Peter Ward, Gorgon
    Peter Ward, On Methesuleh’s Trail
    Gabrielle Walker, Snowball Earth

  190. Richard Quick says

    I have just finished another book by E.O. Wilson called The Creation in which he takes the clergy to task for their positions on evolution and human dominion over the earth.

    Actually, any book by Wilson should be on the list.

  191. SplendidMonkey says

    Perhaps more history than science, but I loved reading Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel.

  192. says

    Aczel’s “The Artist and the Mathematician” is rather good popularization. And manages to be mathematics, biography and fiction all at once. (Well, in the sense that it’s the biography of someone who never existed…)

  193. Leukocyte says

    I would like to add another vote for Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel and The Third Chimpanzee. They are easy to understand even for a lay reader and I recommend to everyone.

    The book I most recommend for non-biologists who ask what I do is Sean Carroll’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful (also mentioned above). Even after working in evo-devo for years, I would never be able to so simply explain what is so freaking interesting about it better than Carroll does in that book. Also, his book From DNA to Diversity, while more technical, is also awesome.

    Any Oliver Sacks – Awakenings or The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat.

    I’ve been raiding the above postings to construct my early Christmas list…

  194. dorght says

    “Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA” by Daniel J. Fairbanks. Accessible, enlightening, and convincing.

    “The Lorax” by Dr Seuss. The start of the science shelves in the children’s section. Often mis-shelved in the Sneeds section.

    “The Voyage of the Beagle” by Charles Darwin. Wow, an exciting, thrilling journey sailing wooden ships across oceans, exploring wilderness, earthquakes, natives straight out of King Kong… If people knew he was this good of writer they would have read Origins by now. Don’t try the audiobook droned out by David Case. Droned out relentlessly and without regard to the safety of the surrounding non-comatose drivers. Someone alive please perform Voyage and Origins audiobooks. Suggestions of Scott Brick will be met with aggravated somnolence.

    “Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo” by Sean B Carroll. This book was like finally receiving my Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring. The clues reveled were awe inspiring. Never have I read a book that evoked such feelings of ‘I get it now’ and ‘I must know even more’.

  195. Sir Surfalot says

    History of Science Society

    Environmental Literacy Council

    Cabot High School

    Exploratorium: The Science of Cooking

    Nature: Which Science Book Should the Next President Read?

    Science Literacy Project, Recommended Reading

    Yale University: Faculty Recommended Reading in Science

    From an Amazon.com reader.

  196. Paul A. says

    I have an interest in Zen Buddhism. I was always annoyed that the Religion section was made up of only Christian books and the Buddhism was in the Philosophy section.

  197. jsmizzle says

    Essential Suggestions:
    * The Moral Animal (by Robert Wright)
    * The Selfish Gene (by Richard Dawkins)
    * The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (By Edward Tufte)

    Popular Suggestions:
    * The Case for Mars (by Robert Zubrin)
    * The Body has a Mind of its Own (by Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee … this is an awesome book…)

  198. says

    Nobody’s mentioned my specialty – ophthalmology, so my contribution is Eyes by Michael Glasspool. At the moment, I’m reading “in the blink of an eye : how vision kick-started the big bang of evolution” by Andrew Parker. That’s got eyes, and the Burgess shale in one book!

  199. says

    Arthur (#223):

    Also, one disappointment I have is that I haven’t seen anything by Isaac Asimov in the Science section of any bookstores I’ve visited. Supposedly he was one of the most gifted science popularizers, and the omission of his non-fiction works at bookstores seems strange to me.

    He’s been dead for a while; newer books have come along and pushed his off the shelves. It’s really too bad. I’d suggest Atom and The Exploding Suns as ones which might profitably be kept in stock.

  200. Kevin says

    I’ve long noticed that issues in finance — illustrated by so-called “bubbles” — involve some non-critical thinking eerily similar to that described in Skeptical columns such as this, JREF’s, etc. From my perspective, the parallels are exact. Also, the human psychology involved is always a significant factor. Creationism/ID supporters have a strong emotional involvement/attachment–and that factor is fundamentally no different than that involved in a variety of investing and management issues. If on consults those other disciplines the parallels become obvious — and they provide a less emotionally-charged topic from which underlying issues & themes can be understood.

    One person above mentioned ‘Extraordinary Delusions’ — the correct title is “Extraordinary POPULAR [word omitted] Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”….

    Where Are the Customers Yachts? Or, A Good Hard Look at Wall Street, by Fred Schwed, Jr.

    The Ropes to Skip and the Ropes to Know, by R. Ritti, etc.

    Influence: Science and Practice, by R. Cialdini

    The Power of Persuasion, by G. Ray Funkhouser (this is out of print, but addresses at a layman’s level some basic truth’s about human nature). This book addresses the same issue as M. Scott Peck did in “People of the Lie.”
    — In reviewing skeptical blogs such as this I keep noticing that the bloggers (many quite accomplished & credentialed) keep missing the fact that a subject like ID/Creationism is often NOT the proper focus, rather, in many cases those that endorse & use that topic & similar topics are in fact socio-pathic personalities exerting very toxic control over what can only be described as “victims.” ID/Creationism is just a convenient tool. An example of such personalities would be the Rev Jones (Jonestown), David Koresh, etc. NOT putting the focus on some of these sociopaths, and instead keeping the focus on the wrongness of ID is, in my opinion, a serious shortfall as it misses the larger, more disruptive, issue.

    Your Inner Child of the Past, by M. Hugh Missildine — this describes in easy-to-understand language the basics of psychological development. If you work with people, especially those with “quirks” this will give the best insight.

    The Games People Play, by Eric Berne — A classic. This presents a number of psychological games people play unconsciously using the construct/model of Adult, Parent & Child. Everybody falls into such behavior patterns under various conditions, and/or, encounters someone playing, or trying to play, such a game with them: Recall the “DC Sniper” some years ago taking random pot-shots & killing people? THAT was a good example of the game “Hide & Seek” — where the Child wants to get caught…in the Sniper’s case the police weren’t having much luck, so the sniper started communicating & giving clues (basically no different than a Child giggling when the Parent got close). I recall pulling this off the shelf & betting that the DC Sniper case would play out just like the book presented the basic model, and it did.

    Liar’s Poker, by Michael Lewis (this objectively & humorously describes issues in what was a powerful bond-trading firm and gets to basic human nature for endorsing ideas that are, ultimately, self-destructive; the same psychological dynamics involved there were involved in the endorsement of Eugenics, which the Nazis endorsed most fully, which we now call the Holocaust).
    Also by M. Lewis: Moneyball — about how the Oakland A’s used objective statistics to repeatedly build a successful ball team for a fraction of the cost of other teams that used subjective assessements of prospects. Even if you don’t like baseball, this conveys a good presentation of the scientific method (to a point) applied where it doesn’t seem applicable.
    Also by M. Lewis: Next — the first chapter addresses how some high school kids make $100’s of thousands in the stock market, ran afoul of the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) and one paid a six figure fine. Curiously, the author shows how the kid’s parents, teachers, and SEC regulators never figured out what they did or did wrong. A good illustration of how one can be duped by experts (or their credentials) and miss the substance entirely.

    “Appendix F”, Feynman’s addendum to the official Challenger disaster report — already mentioned, but worthy of emphasis. I was involved in that investigation & NASA then, and still, hasn’t addressed the underlying matters that let that disaster happen. Feynman’s write-up on that issue is exquisite.

    All of the above could fit in the “MANAGEMENT” category; the psychology books clearly fall in psychology.

    The Cosmic Mysteries of Mithras, by David Ulansey. Any Christian that reads this book and doesn’t see the parallels with Christianity (i.e. that it was basically copied) won’t be receptive to any persuasion on the matter you might try to apply. See: http://www.well.com/user/davidu/mithras.html

    Jesus Christ, Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism, by David Fideler — Anybody with a technical orientation will find this book appealing, and the presentation leaves one with the clear understanding that Christianity is derived from pagan & Pythagorean belief systems. It is not philosophical (& many who are non-technically inclined will like it), and does not make a case that Christianity is derivative…but that conclusion is inescapable. This book has put many Christians on the path to atheism; it & Ulansey’s book on Mithras complement each other nicely.

    Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into Its Laws And Consequences, by Sir Francis Galton — quoted by C. Darwin in his “The Descent of Man,” this work showed how various traits, such as intelligence, ran in families. He took this to an extreme & developing Eugenics, which the Nazis took to a further extreme (The Holocaust)…and modern nature vs. nurture studies have renewed interest in this same work. In other words, it was a milestone, discredited, and now has some new credibility. Thus, the history surrounding this single work is a good example of how science can be misapplied by “progressive” thought & the best of intentions unbeknownst to just about everybody….until its too late. Put another way, its history shows how people can get a little carried away before all the fact are in.

    The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, by by Richard Herrnstein, Charles Murray. Somewhat complements the above; some of its conclusions regarding heredity are highly controversial or debunked. It may be a good example of a bad example–how statistical data/facts can be misinterpreted.

  201. says

    JackU (#191):

    A couple of first class science/technology bios might be good as well. I’d vote for Galileo: A Life by James Reston and The Electric Life of Michael Faraday by Alan W Hirshfield. Biographies can bring people into a subject area through the study of the people who created it. Both of these also provide counters to the idea that science and religion are incompatible.

    . . . by describing the lives of people who have been worm-food for hundreds of years.

    Nope, sorry, doesn’t work.

  202. says

    Note that the Fermat book by Singh that Matt mentioned in comment 45 is actually titled “Fermat’s Enigma”.

    Since there has been some but not much mention of math books I’ll try to focus on that.

    Adam’s “The Knot Book” is a good introduction to an often obscure topic. One doesn’t need any real background in mathematics to read it.

    “Godel, Escher, Bach” has been mentioned but should be repeated. It is an excellent book that gives basic introductions to a lot of neat ideas.

    Martin Gardener’s “The Colossal Book of Mathematics” is full of all sort of delicious easy to understand mathematical ideas and puzzles all contained in short little chapters.

    Oyestein Ore has a number of very good books. “Graphs and their Uses” is an excellent introduction to graph theory for people with minimal or no math background. Ore’s “Number Theory and its History” is a delightful read that provides a comfortable introduction to classical number theory without too much trouble (I’m not sure this book is still in print).

    A more difficult but still highly readable number theory text is Davenport’s “The Higher Arithmetic”.

  203. Marit M. Simonsen says

    On a similar note; I was browsing the webpage of my local magazine-shop looking for Seed, and I found that under the header Science, was two categories: Science and UFO.

    And I thought most Norwegians had a clue about what science was. (I will not claim that most people use that clue, homeopathy and angel-talk still abounds. )

  204. Kurtis Rader says

    Isaac Asimov “Understanding Physics”. Sadly, this will never be popular but is essential. Anyone with at least a couple of years of college can get a lot out of this book even if they never took a physics course.

    Robert Parks “Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud”. General science and critical thinking. Essential and popular.

    Phillip Plait “Bad Astronomy”. Astronomy and critical thinking. Essential and popular.

  205. says

    I’m a manager at Barnes & Noble. I’d love to see whatever list might come out of this, but I won’t have much leeway to do anything about it. I could get a few titles in and put them on display, but they won’t have the real estate for long if they don’t sell. And, at least here in Houston, they don’t sell. Believe me, I try. It’s why I work there. I sell science with enthusiasm. Two weeks ago I built a “Thought Provoking” table with Dawkins, Plait, Hawking, and all in our “power aisle”–prime real estate. It has barely been picked through, and I can’t justify keeping it up any longer. In Houston, crap sells. New Age. Religion. Religious Fiction. Christianity. Christian Inspiration. Bibles. Bibles. Bibles. Children’s Bibles (Arg!). Right Wing nonsense. Romance. Manga. I’m doing what I can to change that. But science has to start selling better before we can devote much more space to it. Buy more science, especially the newest releases–they’ll automatically be reordered, otherwise, probably not. (It took two weeks of prominent display before we sold a single copy of Death from the Skies! That’s just not right.) And maybe write to our corporate buyers in New York. But, mainly, buy more science books.

  206. says

    Joshua@241: I believe it was “Fermat’s Last Theorem” in the UK and “Fermat’s Enigma” in the United States (where there all existed a book with the former name)

  207. says

    I hate to say this but as high school science teacher (whose job is to make uninterested interested), I don’t think most of these book would qualify as popular. These are wonderful books and books with great substance but meant for a highly scientific literate audience. Here are my suggestions of some books I have used to interest high school students in science:

    Anything by Ray Troll (believe it or not but his kids books have gotten more of my students excited about science than I can count!)
    “There’s a Hair in my Dirt: A Worm’s Story” by Gary Larson
    “The Hot Zone” by Richard Preston
    “Botany of Desire” by Michael Pollan
    “The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison” by John Emsley

    I know I have a list somewhere that I give to my students. I will see if I can find it.

  208. Ryan Cunningham says

    From DNA to Diversity

    Purchased based on your (PZ’s) recommendation. Brilliantly written, fanatically illustrated, TOTALLY eye opening. Thank you for the suggestion, and PUT IT ON YOUR LIST! :)

  209. Santoki says

    What books “ought” a bookstore carry?

    The ones that sell.

    The market’s never wrong. Funny post though.

  210. dorght says

    forgot to include

    “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations” by David R. Montgomery. An excellent mix of science, history, and sociology.

  211. Noam Zur says

    Running the risk of repeating several of these recommendations, here is my list of books and authors I enjoyed in the past year or two. I am deliberately leaving out the “classic” classics, like Euclid, Darwin, etc.

    douglas Hofstadter – GEB, and also The Mind’s I (co-edited with Daniel Dennett)
    Steven Pinker – The Blank Slate, The Stuff of Thought, and How the Mind Works
    Carl Sagan – Cosmos, Pale Blue Dot, and on a science-fictiony note Contact
    Richard Dawkins – Ancestor’s Tale, Blind Watchmaker
    Stephen Hawking – Brief History of Time
    Daniel Dennett – Breaking The Spell
    Edwin Abbott – Flatland
    Michael Shermer – Borderlands of Science, Why People Believe Weird Things
    Douglas Adams/Mark Cowardine – Last Chance to See
    Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia

    And currently I am reading A.G.Cairns-Smith’s “7 Clues to the Origin of Life”, which I also recommend for any layman like me who enjoyes thinking about strange questions.

    Seeing how I am in no way a scientist by training, and actually do hold a job that keeps me quite busy I am happy to see I have so many books to list. Of course I am also looking forward to the list you’ll write up eventually to see just how ignorant I actually am and how much more I still have to read :)

  212. says

    Oooh! I just remembered one:

    Good Natured: The origins of right and wrong in humans and other animals by Frans De Waal


    I remember reading this a few years ago and really liking it. In fact… this may have been one of my ‘gateway’ books into atheism.

    If anyone with more knowledge on the subject (primatology, etc) would second this, I’d probably be tempted to call it an essential.
    I know De Waal was in a few articles (maybe NY Times?) in the past year or so.

  213. says

    What books “ought” a bookstore carry?

    The ones that sell.

    Such profundity! The fact that the point of this exercise is to determine which books might sell is a mere detail, wholly beside the point.

    The market’s never wrong.


  214. Jeeves says

    Don’t know if I am seconding or thirding someone’s example but I would say anything by Loren Eiseley. But to be particular about it: The Night Country, Star Thrower, Invisible Pyramid and Darwin’s Century. I don’t know why he isn’t thrown out there with the other popular science writers. I’ll concede that some of the science isn’t up to date but still…people are missing out.

  215. Josh in California says

    @ Curt (#245):

    Maybe what you need to do to move science books is to juxtapose them with more popular material. E.G., if you’ve got a new, popular novel that involves some kind of science, stick some accessible books about real science next to in a display.

    @ Everyone else:

    Sounds like we need to stop ordering our science books from Amazon and start getting them in B&M stores. We won’t achieve parity with the nonsense, but we might be able to get better placement of science books in the chain stores.

  216. Jacob says

    Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science by Massimo Pigliucci would be a great book for the general public. A clever, easy read that spells out common fallacies in creationist and scientistic thinking.

  217. sabazinus says

    The Geese of Beaver Bog by Bernd Heinrich.

    Barren Lands: An Epic Search for Diamonds in the North American Arctic by Kevin Krajick

    Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie and John Geiger

    Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky

    The Cod’s Tale by Mark Kurlansky and S.D. Schindler (A version of the previous book illustrated for children–great for adults too).

  218. Jeff Satterley says

    Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas R. Hofstadter has to be for anyone interested in computer science, psychology, AI, consciousness… (and the list goes on)

    For those interested, Hofstadter has a new book called I Am A Strange Loop, which is a lot like GEB, but talks more frankly about consciousness, with a lot less metaphor (Hofstadter said many people didn’t quite understand the message he was trying to get across with GEB, so he wrote the new book). Its quite good, and I think more clearly written, and those of you who had trouble with GEB might be interested in it.

  219. Martin says

    Here’s my short-list:

    The Ancestor’s Tale
    A Short History of Nearly Everything
    The Origin of Virtue

  220. Eric says

    [Sarah Palin]All of them![/Sarah Palin]

    I saw that Gould was mentioned, but I couldn’t find anybody specifically saying The Panda’s Thumb.

    What about books by people like Michael Crichton? It may not be science per say, but he does introduce people to actual scientific concepts. I wonder how many kids got interested in dinosaurs (and biology) because of Jurassic Park versus a short segment in school. Especially if the teacher in question doesn’t actually understand science.

  221. Flex says

    I only read a about half the comments, and I’m certain that by the time I post this at least another hundred will be posted.

    But there are a few books I’ve not seen, along with a dozen or so I have.

    Many of the books I recommend are more of the history of science rather than science itself. Further, most of the ones on my list are selected because they also can be read by starting at many points in the text. I’ve found many people who only want to read the section they are interested in; then they end up reading the entire book.

    Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale already mentioned, but easy to read and each section can be read independently.

    Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, which I already find on many of the bookstores I frequent.

    Gardner, Science: Good, Bad and Bogus, the book which started me on the road to rationality on my 14th birthday.

    Park, Voodoo Science, easily readable.

    Levine, The Power of Persuasion, very readable discussion of how we are persuaded by ourselves and others.

    Burke, Connections, the companion book for the BBC television series. The DVDs are available as well, and are available on Netflix.

    Finally, I also recommend the book by Richards J. Heuer, Jr. Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, which will not be available at your local bookstore. This book is available for free on the CIA site, at https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/psychology-of-intelligence-analysis/index.html

    FTIW, I loved Hofsteder’s Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid but I’d suggest it would not be suitable as a popular book. I’ve started a few people on it, only to have them give it up rapidly. I think it’s great for people who express and interest in the subjects, but not as an introduction to science.

  222. says

    I haven’t seen them here, and maybe they are a bit old now-a-days, but any and all of George Gamow‘s popular science books are just AMAZING!

  223. Buford says

    I didn’t read the 252 comments that were here when I arrived, but I searched for “asimov” and got not hits.
    His works are a bit dated now, but there has never been anyone better at good science packaged for popular consumption. I grew up on compilations of his SF magazine columns and still collect hardcovers of all his work.

    Asimov’s Guide to Earth and Space
    Asimov’s Chronology of the World
    Guide to Physics (three volumes, sold separately)

    Jeff K said that Barnes & Noble relegates books to pets/nature, but I have several good finds lately in the form of B&N reprints in the special deals section: The Voyage of the Beagle and Origin of Species are just two of them.

  224. geezer says

    I would nominate Atom by Isaac Asimov and One, two three infinity by Geroge Gamow. Actually any book by Gamow is good. Also I remember an early book by Asimov explaining the new discovery of DNA. I feel it would still hold up as a good introduction. Both authors had the knack of explaining complicated ideas in layman’s terms.

  225. BJ says

    It’s good to see so many personal favourites mentioned here, the Goulds and Dawkins, the Hofstadters and Hawkins, not to mention newer discoveries like Zimmer and Ridley. For those who worry that these may not be “popular” enough or accessible to younger readers, may I suggest the output of G.T. Labs? http://www.gt-labs.com/ They specialize in producing biographies of scientists in comic book form. At the very least, “Dignifying Science” should convince some girls that science is something they can do too.

  226. says

    I think my dad’s field guides (plants, snakes, birds, insects, etc) were some of the first books that got me really interested in the natural processes of the world around me. I remember looking at illustrations of larval stages and being just fascinated. I think familiarising people with the natural part of the world is one of the first steps to getting them curious about science.

  227. says

    Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States
    (History). This book goes a long way towards explaining how things got as screwed up as they are now, and my honors 11th-graders like the feeling of outrage they get from reading it. I like to think they’ll take those feelings and do something about them.
    Also Al Gore’s
    The Assault on Reason. Recommended not for partisan reasons, but instead for the idea that we should, you know, apply rational thinking to the social and political sphere. (Imagine that!)

  228. Erik A. Kruger says

    –Anton, Mauricio, and Alan Turner: The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives.
    –Bakker, Robert T.: The Dinosaur Heresies: New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of the Dinosaurs and their Extinction.
    –Bell, John Stewart: Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics (2nd ed.).
    –Blakeslee, Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee: The Body Has a Mind of Its Own.
    –Brooks, Rodney A.: Cambrian Intelligence: The Early History of the New AI.
    –Chiappe, Luis M.: Glorified Dinosaurs: The Origin and Early Evolution of Birds.
    –Damasio, Antonio: The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness AND Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain.
    –Darwin, Charles: The Origin of Species AND The Descent of Man.
    –Dawkins, Richard: The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design.
    –Diamond, Jared: The Third Chimpanzee AND Guns, Germs, and Steel.
    –Edis, Taner: Science and Nonbelief (Prometheus Books ed.) AND An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam.
    –Einstein, Albert: Ideas and Opinions AND Relativity.
    –d’Espagnat, Bernard: On Physics and Philosophy.
    –Everhart, Michael J.: Oceans of Kansas: A Natural History of the Western Interior Sea.
    –Gardner, Martin: Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.
    –Gee, Henry: In Search of Deep Time: Beyond the Fossil Record to a New History of Life.
    –Greene, Brian: The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory.
    –Grünbaum, Adolf: The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique.
    –Hardin, C. L.: Color for Philosophers: Unweaving the Rainbow (expanded ed.).
    –Holtz, Thomas R., and Luis V. Rey: Dinosaurs.
    –Jackendoff, Ray: The Architecture of the Language Faculty AND Foundations of Language.
    –Kauffman, Stuart: At Home In the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity.
    –Kida, Thomas: Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking.
    –Loftus, Elizabeth: The Myth of Repressed Memory (with Katherine Ketcham).
    –Margulis, Lynn: Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution.
    –Monbiot, George: HEAT: How to Stop the Planet from Burning.
    –Novacek, Michael: Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs; Time Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs and Ancient Mammals from Montana to Mongolia; AND Terra: Our 100-Million-Year-Old Ecosystem–And the Threats That Now Put It At Risk.
    –Pfeifer, Rolf and Josh Bongard: How the Body Shapes the Way We Think: A New View of Intelligence.
    –Pinker, Steven: The Language Instinct; Words and Rules; AND The Blank Slate.
    –Randi, James: The Truth About Uri Geller AND Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions.
    –Rundle, Bede: Why there is Something rather than Nothing.
    –Russell, Bertrand: The Problems of Philosophy.
    –Sagan, Carl: The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark.
    –Santayana, George: The Life of Reason.
    –Schmidt, Jeff: Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System That Shapes Their Lives.
    –Segerstråle, Ullica: Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate.
    –Singer, Peter: An Ethical Life AND A Darwinian Left.
    –Smolin, Lee: The Trouble with Physics.
    –Sokal, Alan, and Jean Bricmont: Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science.
    –Stenger, Victor J.: Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses; The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology; God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist; AND The Comprehensible Cosmos: Where Do the Laws of Physics Come From?
    –Unwin, David M.: The Pterosaurs: From Deep Time.
    –Walter, Henrik: Neurophilosophy of Free Will: From Libertarian Illusions to a Concept of Natural Autonomy (German; trans. Cynthia Klohr).
    –Ward, Peter D.: Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future.
    –Wegner, Daniel M.: The Illusion of Conscious Will.
    –Weisman, Alan: The World Without Us.

  229. Dior says

    I agree with bryson’s history of everything, but my all time favorite book is sagan’s The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

  230. ChrisGose says

    One of my local bookstores carries an ASTRONOMY book in the New Age section of the store.

    The fucking horror…

  231. wombat says

    While not strictly a science book, Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy should be required reading. It covers the philosophical grounding of modern scientific exploration and the hurdles it has had to overcome.

  232. says

    Principles of Geology: by Charles Lyell (geology)

    I’d throw it under essential. At the same time, seeing as how the unabridged is a 3 volume set (and costs big $$$), I would suggest bookstores carry the abridged (Penguin classics has a nice paperback for about $15 when I bought it).

    This is also one of the books that inspired Mr. Darwin.

  233. Michael Kingsley says

    Wow! A heckuvalot of posts. Here are two which weren’t mentioned, but which I think are great science books. I’m not sure if they’re still in print, though.

    COMING OF AGE IN THE MILKY WAY by Timothy Ferris – features some great stories about scientific pioneers and discussed how mankind’s perception of the universe has changed with increased knowledge.

    DANCING NAKED IN THE MIND FIELD by Nobel Prize winner, Kary Mullins – contains some great anecdotes of his experiences as a graduate student, not to mention his alleged encounter with an extraterrestrial, his LSD experiences, and the fun of blowing things up with his first Gilbert chemistry set as a kid.

  234. Zak Kroger says

    There are a lot of great books listed here!! However, I would also recommend:

    Next Of Kin by Roger Fouts

    Making Up The Mind by Chris Firth

  235. Hamsterpoop says

    “The Chemical History of a Candle” by Michael Faraday (Physics/Chemistry)

    “On The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin (Biology)

    “The Architecture of Molecules” by Linus Pauling & Roger Hayward (Chemistry)

    “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan (General Science/History)

    “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out” by Richard Feynman (General Science)

    “QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter” by Richard Feynman (Physics)

  236. Yoshi says

    OT, but:

    I know you play a bit of teh WoW, PZ, as do a few of the readers here, so I thought that given the date, you’d like this YouTube video, in which players are polled/interviewed to determine if Azeroth is a red or blue state.


  237. says

    I would have to say

    A Brief History Of Time by S. Hawking


    A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

    Those were the two I bought when I last went into a bookstore.

  238. DaveG says

    Zimmer: Parasite Rex – like sticking your hand into a bowl or worms

    Wilson: Evolution for Everyone – extremely accessible and relevant

  239. meh1963 says

    William Calvin’s “The River That Flows Uphill” has an awkward title but it’s a really reader-friendly exposition of evolutionary mechanisms. His other books are also general-reader friendly, and he writes very well (IMHO).

  240. Wowbagger says

    In Australia we have Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, science popularist and proud Ig Nobel recipient. There are two I’d recommend – as much for the titles as anything else:

    Bumbreath, Botox and Bubbles and other Fully Sick Science Moments
    Munching Maggots, Noah’s Flood and TV Heart Attacks and other cataclysmic science moments

  241. Bob Vogel says

    This a short list of books I recently recommended to my brother I have on my bookshelf.

    The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History: Stephen Jay Gould: Books

    Punctuated Equilibrium: Stephen Jay Gould: Books

    The Structure of Evolutionary Theory: Stephen Jay Gould: Books

    The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould: Stephen Jay Gould, Oliver Sacks, Stephen Rose

    Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Things Happened: Chris Turney: Books

    The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition–with a new Introduction by the Author: Richard Dawkins: Bo

    The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design: Richard Dawkins

    The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution: Richard Dawkins: Books

    Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder: Richard Dawkins: Books

    Why Evolution Is True: Jerry A. Coyne: Books (coming out in January)

    Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body: Kindle Store: Neil Shu

    The Age of American Unreason: Susan Jacoby: Books (not exactly about science… but surely attached to this topic)

    The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution: Sean B. Carroll: Books

    Ice, Mud and Blood: Lessons from Climates Past (Macmillan Science): Chris Turney: Books

    Hope this helps.

  242. Another Primate says

    “The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan is a very good book for the lay person. I have brought about ten friends and family members to their senses recommending this book as a starter to rational scientific thinking.

  243. says

    Carl Sagan’s “The Varieties of Scientific Experience”. A scientifically spiritual read…or a spiritually scientific read…

  244. CJO says

    What about books by people like Michael Crichton?

    What about them? I don’t know about “people like” him, but he himself is a hack, a pseudo-science enthusiast (AGW denier), and a boring, derivative writer of limp, formulaic “thrillers” devoid of taste or even a rudimentary sense of style whose tepid output just happens to be a favorite of his similarly creatively endowed peers in Hollywood. Other than that, I guess his books fit right in here where we’re trying to discuss serious literature with a shelf-life longer than the next news cycle. /sarcasm

    Oh, and it’s per se. Latin.

  245. says

    Gould’s whole canon.
    Pretty much anything by Paul Shepard.
    Same-same for Michael Pollan
    Anything by Feynman
    Embodied Mind by Varela, Thompson & Rosch
    The End of Certainty, Prigogine
    Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff & Johnson

  246. natasha says

    I work in a chain bookshop in Sydney, and I’m proud to say that our science section is twice the size of our religion section, and has a higher turnover. They’re actual science books too, mainly popular stuff, but with a respectable amount of more academic books too. It’s heartening to see how many people out there are fascinated by science and want to know more about it.

  247. Crockstar says

    Some great books. An oldy but a goody is A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, 1949. The book that popularized the conservation movement before it was cool.

    Good quote from the book:

    The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not television, or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little we know about it. The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.

  248. Captain Ricard says

    There are so many comments here already, but in case nobody has said otherwise, Robert M. Sapolsky’s books “Why Don’t Zebras Get Ulcers,” “A Primate’s Memoir,” “Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals” as well as others are easy reads. The collections of essays are especially good for the ADHD set.

    Dorothy L. Cheney’s and Robert M. Seyfarth’s book, “Baboon Metaphysics” is a good read for the mostly, like myself, Scientifically illiterate.

    “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters” by Donald R. Prothero is a very basic guide to understanding the evidence behind ebolution. It also goes after creationist lies – the value of this I’ll leave unstated.
    Another book by Prothero, “After the Dinosaurs: The Age of Mammals (Life of the Past)” is another fairly general exploration of the fossil record with a focus, of course, on the most recent 65 million years.

  249. Elyse says

    Steven Pinker’s “How the Mind Works” and “The Language Instinct”. Psychology and psycholinguistics.

  250. Stenotrophomonas says

    I was fortunate enough to manage a bookstore for a small chain in Dallas 1977-80, and my science section, such as it was, was three times the size of the religion section (including Alan Watts, and a few Swamis and Gurus). Unfortunately, some of the books that were on the shelf when we opened the store were still there when I decided to start making a living. I sold a lot of Sagan, but more people bought it than read it.
    A bookstore is stuck with its customer base, and very few are left in any case.

    I concur with the previous comments about Dover titles. When I was peddling books, however, I wouldn’t stock them. At the time, they sold their books to retailers outright. Almost all publishers sold books to stores that could be returned for credit. A reasonable deal, considering the relatively low markup and the fact that the retailer paid the freight each way and often bought a book before the author had even finished writing it. Even 4th class mail adds up with that tonnage.

  251. Will Von Wizzlepig says

    The other end of the stick is: you can fill the science book section to the brim with great books, but if people aren’t coming in to buy them, it won’t matter, as the books will later just be removed to make room for more ‘tales from the bible’ adventures.

  252. Tlowe3 says

    I’m mainly only read biology, so here’s a list of my favorites:

    -The Selfish Gene // The Origin of the Species (without reading the other comments, I assume these were mentioned 99% of the time)
    -Genome by Matt Ridley
    -Microcosmos by Lynn Margulis

    -A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
    -The Red Queen – Matt Ridley
    -The Agile Gene – Matt Ridley
    -Mary Roach’s books (Bonk, Stiff, and I assume Spook although I haven’t read that one).
    -Richard Preston (The Hot Zone, Demon in a Freezer)
    -Carl Zimmer

    Psychology (popular)
    -Proust was a Neuroscientist – Jonah Lehrer

  253. TheBlackAtheist says

    A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson

    The Best of American Science Writing series

  254. El Pruno says

    For the popular section I recommend a series, broadly titled ‘Great Moments in Science’ by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, an Australian pop-sci personality. They are great for younger people, and he’s got about 6 or 7 of them out. They’re not hard, deep stuff like Dawkins or the original Darwin, but unlike those, Dr Karl’s books actually stand a chance of being read, understood, and enjoyed by younger teenagers before they start thinking science is too hard and boring.

  255. Otto says

    Bridges to Infinity by Michael Guillen,
    handles math themes, can really open your
    horizon about infinity and other math themes.
    Books by James Gleick, Chaos, Richard Feinman,
    Isaac Newton and more.

  256. says

    John McPhee: Annals of the Former World (Geology — popular)

    Charles Lyell: Principles of Geology (Geology — essential)

    Richard Feynman: The Feynman Lectures on Physics (Physics — essential)

    Lynn Margulis: Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth (Biology — popular)

    Charles Darwin: Collected Writings (Biology — essential)

    Richard Dawkins: The Selfish Gene (Biology — essential)

    Stephen Jay Gould: Ontogeny and Phylogeny (Biology — essential)

    Paul Feyerabend: Against Method (Philosophy of Science — popular)

    Karl Popper: Conjectures and Refutations (Philosophy of Science — popular)

    Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Philosophy of Science — popular)

  257. Tlowe3 says

    Also, I have heard good things about “Godel Escher Bach” — I believe that’s a Math book?

  258. Anonymous says

    Other Biology books not listed above:

    Sociobiology: The New Synthesis – E. O. Wilson
    A Natural History of Homosexuality – Francis M. Mondimore
    Biological Exuberance : Animal homosexuality and natural diversity – Bruce Bagemihl
    An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology – J.R. Krebs & N.B. Davies
    Mother Nature – Sarah Hrdy

  259. Jeff Chamberlain says

    The two books about how science “really works” which I regularly give as gifts are The Unnatural Nature of Science (Wolpert) and Uncommon Sense (Cromer).

  260. El Pruno says

    Ooh, I’ve got a followup question. What books have you seen in the ‘science’ section of a bookstore that you really think should not be there (to be fair to the bookshop, let’s say should be put into a different section)? There’s nearly always a few pro-ID books or cleverly disguised new age books mixed in there.

  261. Medusa says

    I also nominate Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas R. Hofstadter.

    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. It is a classic exolanation of how science works for non-scientists.

  262. John A Anderson says

    I’ve worked for a couple of bookstores, one a small mom-and-pop store, the other a gigantic Barnes & Noble. Good science books sell poorly, and booksellers know it. It’s hopeless.

  263. Jack Flynn says

    YAY Books!

    The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
    The First 3 minutes by Steven Weinberg
    Cosmos by Carl Sagan

  264. Tervuren says

    These are my initial suggestions for the popular list.

    Sagan: Demon Haunted World
    Bryson: A Short History Of Nearly Everything
    All of Gould’s essay collections
    Diamond: Guns Germs and Steel; Collapse

    A full line of field guides on all subjects.

  265. Rudi says

    Brian Greene’s ‘Fabric Of The Cosmos’. Science as intellectual confectionary – more gripping than Agatha Christie, more tantalising than the Twilight Xone, more (apparently) fantastical than the Narnia books.

    Sorry to gush, but as a primer to difficult scientific ideas, it is utterly exceptional.

    Dickie D’s ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’ is awesome too.

  266. butterflyc says

    A second vote for Jonathan Weiner’s Beak of the Finch. Any of his books is both informative and entertaining enough for a non-scientist. (They’re equally accessible to scientists and laypeople, and very well researched.)

    Jared Diamond writes accessibly as well, but not all of his books have been equally well-received.

    Most anything by Dawkins should be on the shelf at any given time.

    A bit off the beaten path, but May Berenbaum has some very amusing and fact-laden books about insects (Bugs in the System is a recent one).

  267. Jennifurret says

    Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation by Oliva Judson
    The Red Queen: Sex and Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley

    As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl by John Colapinto

    The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene

  268. ihateaphids says

    Grimaldi and Engel, “Evolution of the Insects” Massive tome with great pics and extremely useful stuff on insect evolution for anyone interested in the group.

  269. says

    “Stars & Planets” by Ridpath and Tirion.

    “Sky & Telescopes Pocket Sky Atlas” by Roger Sinnott.

    Those are two Astronomy guides that quite a few amateur astronomers (including myself) use and recommend.

  270. ExitB says

    I just picked up “The Music Of The Primes”. It’s time to get to know Marcus du Sautoy.

  271. Stuart Ritchie says

    Not sure if anyone’s mentioned this yet:

    Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran.

    A very stimulating introduction to Neuroscience, using some very cool examples. Like Oliver Sacks but with more science.

    Not that I don’t think Oliver Sacks is brilliant. His last book, Musicophila, should probably be included here too as it may grab people who haven’t thought about music in a psychological/scientific way before.

  272. says

    I read a lot of science books for the layman, and see that many I would suggest already have been suggested by others. There is one I read recently that was brilliant and thoroughly entertaining: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson. It’s about the devastating 1854 cholera epidemic in the famous Soho neighborhood of London. It’s a fascinating lesson in history, biology, epidemiology, culture, evidence vs. popular superstition, and also partly a biography of the scientist/physician John Snow, who discovered the source of the cholera outbreak and its waterborne nature through rigorous scientific inquiry. Great book.

  273. MWells says

    I’ll throw in Mayer’s This is Biology, anything E.O. Wilson and Carl Zimmer, and for a coffee table type book, The Smaller Majority by Piotr Naskrecki. The latter has probably the best photographs of small organisms I’ve ever seen, including velvet worms, and has an impassioned plea for the preservation of biodiversity.

  274. Mark says

    The following are all general interest books in various disciplines, all interesting.

    Peter Ward “The Life and Death of Planet Earth” The long view of life on earth.
    Peter Ward “Rare Earth, Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe”
    Walter Alvarez “T Rex and the Crater of Doom” Asteroid impacts.

    Phillip Morrison “Powers of Ten” Scale in nature from smallest to largest.
    Dana Mackenzie “The Big Splat” The formation of the moon.
    Timothy Ferris “The Whole Shebang” The formation of the universe.

    Konrad Spindler “The Man in the Ice” Ice mummy from 8,000 years ago.
    Brian Fagan “The Long Summer” Climate change in history.
    Luigi Cavalli-Sforza “Genes, Peoples, and Languages” The spread of humanity from Africa.
    Bill Bryson “The Mother Tongue” History of the English language.

    Colin Tudge “The Variety of Life” Taxonomy
    Matt Ridley “Nature Via Nurture” Gene environment interaction.
    Matt Ridley “Genome” Human genetics.
    Ernst Mayr “What Evolution Is”
    Bernd Heinrich “Chasing the Antelope” Physiologic adaptation for endurance in humans and birds.
    Martin Brookes “Fly” Fruit flies and genetics.

    Albert Stwertka “A Guide to the Elements”
    John Emsley “Nature’s Building Blocks” The elements again.
    Cathy Cobb “The Joy of Chemistry” Chemistry lab at home.

    Tim Harford “The Undercover Economist” Human response to incentives.

    Mario Livio “The Golden Ratio” Survey of use and misuse.
    Robert Kaplan “The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero”
    Jan Gullberg “Mathematics, From the Birth of Numbers” History and survey of mathematics.

    Applied Math
    George Shaffer “The Arithmetic of Life” Practical application so basic math to daily life.
    Derrick Niederman “What the Numbers Say” Uses of mathematical ideas.
    Gerd Geigerenzer “Calculated Risks: How to Know When Numbers Deceive You”
    Colin Bruce “Conned Again, Watson” Use of math in crime puzzles.

    John Rigden “Hydrogen” Spectral lines and quantum explanation.
    F David Peat “From Certainty to Uncertainty” The end of determinism.
    George Johnson “The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments”
    Richard Feynman QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter”
    Graham Farmelo “It Must Be Beautiful” Elegant mathmatical descriptions of natural phenomena.
    Robert Crease ” The Prism and the Pendulm” More experiments.
    Marcus Chown “The Magic Furnace” The creation of the elements in the big bang and in stars.
    B. S Chandrasekhar “Why Things are the Wy They Are” The solid state explained in quantum mechanical terms.

    Martin Seligman “What You Can Change and What you Can’t” The limits of psychotherapy.
    Helen Fisher “The Anatomy of Love” Human attraction at the neurotransmitter level.
    Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” Why scientists are usually happy.

    Broad surveys
    Peter Watson “The Modern Mind” A tremendous amount of material briefly summarized, usually accurately.
    Isaac Asimov “Asimov’s Guide to Science”
    Bill Bryson ” A Short History of Nearly Everything” somewhat uneven but entertaining.
    James Trefil “1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Science”
    Gerard Piel “The Age of Science” Scientific American publisher surveys science.

    Biography of scientists.
    Craig Venter “A Life Decoded”
    Walter Isaacson “Benjamin Franklin, An American Life”
    Richard Westfall “The Life of Isaac Newton”

  275. Brian says

    essential: the selfish gene (aaaaaand another vote).
    a brief history of time–hawking, physics.
    steven pinker’s “the blank slate” –psychology.

  276. Mr Twiddle says

    I certainly don’t have anything new to add to the list.
    Every book that I would recommend has been memtioned at least twice. While I have purchased several science books from a Chicago loop bookstore,I buy most of them from Amazon. I suspect that most mall book stores can’t afford to stock a wide range of science books because of the low demand and consequently most people don’t go to the mall bookstore to buy a science book because they know that their choices are limited (Catch-22). It’s probably more important for a bookstore to stock general science books for the layperson than an esoteric volume written for a scientist. Excuse me, I off to order a copy of “A Short History of Everything” by Bill Bryson.

  277. Canuck says

    There are a lot of titles that I could recommend, and I haven’t read the comments at all. But I’ll recommend a few and perhaps more tomorrow. I have shelves full of them in my office. Here are a few.

    The Dreams of Reason – Heinz Pagels (Physics)

    Grammatical Man – Jeremy Campbell (a marriage of information theory, genetics, linguistics, and thermodynamics – a really good read that catches the common thread among these seemingly disparate disciplines)

    The Fractal Geometry of Nature – Benoit Mandelbrot (geometry, mathematics)

    Gödel, Escher, Bach – Douglas Hofstadter (mathematics, formal systems, and what a “proof” means; this is a brilliant book, even 30 years on)

    Silicon Dreams – Robert W. Lucky (Digital Information; more engineering than science, but very relevant for this age)

    Chaos – James Gleik (a fluffy introduction to the topic, but one that is good for those who are weak at math, or afraid of math, or who want a superficial introduction)

    Fractals, chaos, power laws: Minutes from an infinite paradise – Manfred Schroeder (a more mathematical substantial feed in this subject, and goes way beyond Gleik)

    From Being to Becoming – Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers (deals with Chaos and how order arises from it in systems pushed far from equilibrium. There is an even more scientific book by Prigogine, but it’s for specialists)

    Mind From Matter? – Max Delbrück (a sweeping book that addresses the way consciousness can arise from an evolutionary perspective. A must read. But not a light, easy read.)

  278. Rahn says

    Canada Rocks: The Geologic Journey
    by Nick Eyles & Andrew Miall

    A well-written geologic history of Canada for non-geologists (and geologists) with lots of “extras” on topics such as mining, water resources, climate change……

  279. says

    I haven’t read through all 347 comments above this, so my list will probably be a hopeless duplication of many others’ offerings. But what the heck:

    Neil Shubin Your inner fish
    Carl Zimmer Microcosm, At the water’s edge, & Parasite rex
    Carl Sagan The demon-haunted world
    Tim Flannery The eternal frontier, The future eaters, & The weathermakers
    Steve Jones The language of the genes & Coral
    David Quammen The song of the dodo & The reluctant Mr Darwin
    Stephen Jay Gould Wonderful life & the earlier compilation volumes of his Natural History columns (to me the later volumes are a bit too turgid, but things like Hens’ teeth & horses’ toes, Eight little piggies, Ever since Darwin & The panda’s thumb are excellent
    Alan Walker & Pat Shipman The wisdom of bones
    Richard Fortey Life: an unauthorised biography
    J. Ackerman Sex sleep eat drink dream
    & of course Bill Bryson’s wonderful book :-)
    & I won’t add any more in case anyone gets the (partly correct) impression that all I do is buy & read science books…

  280. monica says

    I’m so glad that you brought this up! I’ve often lamented to friends about this. It could also be noted that some of the books in the science section truly belong in the new age section. I take guilty pleasure in stealthily relocating books on intelligent design. Heh.

    “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” “An Anthropologist on Mars” – Oliver Sacks
    popular, psychology

    “My Uncle Tungsten” – Oliver Sacks

    “Systema Naturae” – Carolus Linneaus
    classic, science history

    “Treatise of Elementary Chemistry” – Antoine Lavoisier
    classic, chemistry, science history

    I agree with many of the suggestions above (Jared Diamond, Carl Zimmer, Stephen Jay Gould, etc.), so I won’t repost them. I would like to point out two areas that I would love to see expand:

    1. biographies of scientists
    2. primary sources, such as the Linneaus and Lavoisier texts above

    I think it’s silly to have to order a biography on Lavoiser but can find at the bookstore biographies for Tori Spelling, the Olsen twins, and Johnny Depp.

    I look forward to seeing the list! Having a list of recommended books – even books to order online – will be exciting!

  281. Feynmaniac says

    Here’s my list (in no particular order):

    The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins : A nice popular account into the mechanisms of evolution. Here Dawkins coins the term meme .

    Ancestor’s Tale – Richard Dawkins : While The Selfish Gene explained the mechanisms of evolution this focuses more on the history. Gives the lay audience a greater appreciation for the common ancestry of all life on Earth.

    Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman -Richard Feynman : Explores the life of a curious character (in both sense of the word) through amusing anecdotes. While relatively thin on actual science puts to rest the stereotype that all scientist are boring, emotionless robots. How many people come here and complain ‘this isn’t the tone I’d expect from a scientist’ as if falsifying your preconceptions is an argument?!
    /end rant

    Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond : Gives a persuasive argument of something all Civilizations players already know: accidents of geography was the prime factor in determining who got conquered and who conquered. At times Diamond can be repetitious, however the ideas are so strong it’s very hard to put down.

    The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA – James Watson : Pop. accounts and textbooks tend to oversimplify the history of science (after all they’re teaching science, not the history of science). It ends up sounding like a series of steps approaching an ultimate goal. It’s not.
    Here is a first hand account of how many dead ends, false leads,back steps and half-ass guesses that out turn to work there was to discovering the structure of DNA. Captures the spirit of science brilliantly.

    A Brief History of Time Stephen Hawking : An “unread bestseller”. I don’t know why. I managed to finish it in high school. Well worth it.

    The Mystery of the Aleph – Amir D. Aczel : Gives an nice, intuitive, non-technical story of ‘infinity’. Makes you appreciate why the mathematician best known for his investigation of infinity,Georg Cantor, ended up going crazy.

    In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat – John Gribbin : I’m putting this here somewhat half reluctantly. While it gives a good history and explanation of quantum mechanics it gives too much credence to some absurd ideas. To its credit it gives alternatives and can be quite interesting to the lay man.

    A Mathematician’s Apology – G.H. Hardy : A nice account into the mind of a mathematician and their raison d’etre. Shows the enthusiasm for finding proofs and the despair of Hardy whom, at his late age, felt that his mathematical creativity was drained.

  282. Saint Gasoline says

    I have wayyyy too many to list, so I’ll try to restrain myself.

    Phantoms in the Brain by Ramachandran
    Ancestor’s Tale by Dawkins
    Godel, Excher, Bach by Hofstadter
    1, 2, 3 … Infinity by Gamow
    The Blank Slate by Pinker
    What Evolution Is by Mayr

    Most of these could probably be found in most bookstores already, though.

  283. says

    P Z Myers, when are YOU going to write a book? If you cut down on your blogging and instead focused on writing science books, you’d make a lot more money.

    Hey, a book about you getting expelled from the EXPELLED preview, and all the events leading up to it and following that would be great drama. You could also detail why that movie is so bogus.

    Expelled from EXPELLED
    by P Z Myers

  284. Skwee says

    This is a dilemma I face when I buy books. I try to support independent bookstores, but the only one in my area is a fledgling with a mostly out-of-date science section. You posted this at just the right time, PZ.

    Hyperspace and Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku
    Warped Passages by Lisa Randall
    Field Notes From a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert
    Autism’s False Prophets: Because public health is just that important.
    I’m not sure if this would go under science or medicine, but Oliver Sacks’ An Anthropologist on Mars is worthwhile.

  285. says

    Wow – nobody’s mentioned Mark Perakh’s “Unintelligent Design.”

    Here’s others on my list that haven’t been mentioned:

    Intelligent Thought – Science versus the Intelligent Design Movement, edited by John Brockman

    Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism, by Matt Young (Editor)

    Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design by Barbara Carroll Forrest and Paul R. Gross

    …and of course everything by Carl Sagan.

  286. says

    Recommendation: Gaining Ground by Jennifer A. Clack

    Why? I’m biased. And it’s a good look at how early lobe-finned fish evolved into tetrapods, and at how researchers learned what happened.

  287. TalentedChimp says

    Under Popular:

    The Cartoon Guide to the Environment: Larry Gonick & Alice Outwater
    The Cartoon History of the Universe: Larry Gonick

  288. Nes says

    Most of mine have been mentioned already, but I’ll add support to them:

    – Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation
    – The Selfish Gene
    – Bones, Rocks, and Stars
    – The Demon-Haunted World

    I haven’t finished this one, but it’s definitely an easier read than A Brief History Of Time:

    – The Universe In A Nutshell

    And, as geeky as this makes me, I can probably credit this show with my strong scientific interest, even if, as this books shows, they didn’t exactly get all (any?) of their science right:

    – The Physics of Star Trek

    If it’s still in print, The Human Body by Jonathan Miller is a cool pop-up book. It intrigued me to no end as a kid. Great demonstrations of the internal layout of the body, as well as how many of the parts work, like the heart and muscles.

    Another one that probably isn’t in print anymore is How The Earth Works. It has a ton of simple experiments to demonstrate how various things work, like soil erosion or plate tectonics. You don’t really need to even do the experiments (though that would be much more fun) because it’s chock full of pictures demonstrating various stages of the experiments.

    I also have Why People Believe Weird Things and How We Believe by Michael Shermer sitting on my bookshelf, but I don’t remember ever actually reading them, so I’m not sure how good they are.

  289. Molly says

    The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios, The Science of Star Wars: An Astrophysicist’s Independent Examination of Space Travel, Aliens, Planets, and Robots as Portrayed in the Star Wars Films and Books by Jeanne Cavelos, The New Way Things Work by David Macaulay, Icarus at the Edge of Time by Brian Greene, The Best American Science and Nature Writing (an annual compendium of good stuff), The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next by Lee Smolin

  290. Dave Kilcrease says

    I would suggest “The Feynman Lectures on Physics” all three volumes.
    And Watson’s “molecular Biology of the Gene”

  291. Corey PS says

    1. ‘Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid’-Douglas Hofstadter (Popular)

    2. ‘Silent Spring’ – Rachel Carson (ABSOLUTE ESSENTIAL!)

    3. ‘Elegant Universe’ – Brian Greene (Popular)

  292. says

    when I visit a bookstore, I compare the sizes of the religion/new age sections to the size of the science section…if I can find it.

    I do this, also (as well as the “metaphysics” section, whatever it’s called), and the results are often depressing.

    To state the obvious choices, I think Carl Sagan’s A Demon Haunted World should be there. It’s a wonderful introduction to the ideas and methods of science. Michael Shermer’s Borderlands would be another good one. These two books do a great job of explaining the difference between real and fake science, with, to borrow a term from railroad enthusiasts, some “spotting features” for each.

    Speaking of Sagan, how about the book version of Cosmos?

    A really good science section would also have a copy of Halliday and Resnick’s (and Krane’s) Physics. It was the introductory physics text back in the day, and still seems to be some places.

  293. says

    Re: my last @350, forgot to mention the categories:

    Demon Haunted World – popular
    Borderlands – popular
    Cosmos – popular
    H,R,&K Physics – essential

  294. says

    I highly recommend Carl Zimmer’s Evolution and his At the Water’s Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs and his Parasite Rex. All of them explain evolution and show how inevitable it is and show how interesting it is.

    Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish and David Sloan Wilson’s Evolution for Everyone are my favourite recent books. Both are very accessible, unthreatening, and explain basic principles. The latter brings evolution out of the science lab and into everyday life.

  295. norm walsh says

    What wonderful lists of the best in science. I’m in a position to compare Chapters science section here in British Columbia and B&N in Bellingham wn. I believe chapters is more complete, especially if you include astronomy. It was a long hot summer for reading and I completed 10 Arthur C Clarke books, just for a change of pace. One book I would recommend is “Trials of the Monkey” by Matthew Chapman. It’s the story of the Dover trials. Great web site.

  296. Nes says

    Oops! Cross off The Selfish Gene and replace it with The Blind Watchmaker. I haven’t actually read, nor owned, the first, while I have read, and own, the second. I just got the titles mixed up.

    I also forgot to mention Blood And Guts. It’s another that’s aimed at kids and is full of drawings and (mostly) simple experiments to help convey what they’re describing.

  297. says

    The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next by Lee Smolin

    Ick. No. The story Smolin tells about physics in the 1990s is just not true.

    And with every new paper on the application of gauge/gravity duality to quark-gluon liquids or condensed matter physics, everything said before 2006 about the philosophical place of string theory within science grows increasingly obsolete.

  298. Sean Cherney says

    I second “Rare Earth” by Peter Ward. He’s a fun individual who gave some really interesting lectures when visiting Princeton.

    I’d also like to add to the mountain of votes for “Brief History of Time” also I’d like to to throw in there “The Universe in a Nut Shell” also by Hawking. After my copy of “Brief History of Time” fell apart from too many reads (literally) I happened across a copy of the two of them being sold together in a rather well illustrated book and the illustrations really do help.

    And to add to the mountain of votes for “Demon Haunted World” by Carl Sagan

  299. Quidam says

    The New Science of Strong Materials or Why You Don’t Fall Through the Floor – JE Gordon

    Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body – Neil Shubin

    Holmes’ Principles of Physical Geology – Arthur Holmes (updated P. M. Duff)

  300. DianeG says

    Seconding a few that were already briefly mentioned:

    “Longitude” — by Dava Sobel

    “The Medusa and the Snail,” AND “The Lives of a Cell” — by Lewis Thomas

    And throwing in:

    “The Control of Nature” — by John McPhee

    “Facing Up” — by Steven Weinberg


    “The Secret House” — by David Bodanis

    All the above would be “popular.”

    Also, ATM I’m reading and really enjoying “Beyond the Hoax,” by Alan Sokal; but I don’t know how universal its appeal would be…


  301. Snoof says

    Who Discovered What When by David Ellyard. It’s a great overview of The Important Bits Of Science[1] from the last 500 years.

    [1] Your mileage may vary.

  302. Leigh McGarvie says

    General science and commercially viable: “A Brief History of Nearly Everything” Bill Bryson.

    Essential: physics and cosmology : “The fabric of the Cosmos” which is the clearest and best written summary of where physics is today that I’ve read, aimed at the general reader.

  303. says

    “Out of Gas” by David Goodstein has a discussion of thermodynamics.

    “Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train” by Brian Czech, is about both ecology and economics.

    “The Counter-Creationism Handbook” by Mark Isaak.

  304. Savage says


    Two books that might have been missed:

    The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynman
    Almost like a Whale by Steve Jones (I think it is published under the name Darwin’s Ghost in the USA

  305. Crudely Wrott says

    “Relativity for the Millions” by Martin Gardner, published by Popular Science Press about 1958, give or take. I had a copy back then. Excellent description of Einstein’s thought experiments and an unexpected ending: a poignant story about Atlas, who once bore the world on his shoulders.

    And pretty much all of Asimov’s non-fiction; we should keep the limericks for ourselves.

  306. says

    DianeG (#359):

    Also, ATM I’m reading and really enjoying “Beyond the Hoax,” by Alan Sokal; but I don’t know how universal its appeal would be…

    I think it’d go over quite well with Pharyngula readers, despite (or because of) the high footnote density.

  307. whomever1 says

    I second “The Double Helix”. Also, though, I don’t think anyone mentioned books like Ravens in Winter, or Desert Solitaire. In some bookstores these would be in a “Nature” section rather than “Science”. Some biographies of scientists would be nice. Then finally, I read The Republican War on Science (Mooney) and thought it okay, but not that memorable. What are some good books on science policy, or “The World of Tomorrow” or discussions of scientific ways of looking at the everyday world. That may be a bit meta, but some people need convincing science isn’t just a hobby for nerds.

  308. William says

    The “Rare Earth” book should be crossed off the list, as Ward and Brownlee had been strongly influenced by the creationist Guillermo Gonzalez. (See Chapter 6 of David Darling’s book “Life Everywhere”.)

  309. andyo says

    I can’t say I’m a big reader, but Brian Greene and Dawkins have captured my imagination like no others. Hawking was good, but Greene was much better.

  310. Chuck says

    The book I want to nominate is one which can’t possibly be commercially successful, simply because only people already interested in my field would like it (even though even someone from outside the field could understand it). It’s a textbook, but it’s seriously what I recommend to ANYONE who wants to understand my field:

    Contemporary Linguistics, An Introduction (5 ed.)
    O’Grady et al

    Even for you people that don’t care about human language, it has very good discussions on genetic linguistics (anthro), linguistic evidence for human origin theories, and non-human language (or, whether it IS language)

  311. says

    I nominate my own book, The Rough Guide to Evolution, which not only contains over hundred recommendations for further reading and recommends this blog, but also acts as a one-stop shop for all aspects of evolution, with features that include:
    • The life and works of Darwin.
    • The growth of evolutionary thought.
    • The evidence for evolution.
    • The evolutionary history of life on Earth and human evolution
    • How Darwin’s breakthrough is still denied by creationists.
    • The wider impact of evolutionary thinking on science and society–from physics and cosmology to Guinness ads and The Simpsons.

    Will be on sale in a few weeks time. Ask your bookstore to order it now!

    Mark Pallen

  312. Puredragon says

    I’d say that for Neuromedicine you couldn’t get better than Oliver Sachs’ “The man who mistook his wife for a hat”

  313. scooter says

    Kaku, Michio (1999)
    Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century and Beyond.

  314. David Harper says

    As an astronomer, may I put in a word for H.A. Rey’s superb guide to the constellations, “The Stars: A New Way to See Them”. It was first published over 50 years ago, and it is still in print.

    Most beginner’s guides to the constellations join the stars with random lines, but Rey’s act of genius was to join the stars in, say, Leo, to make it look like a lion. Once you see the lion outlined in the stars, it makes it much easier to recognise Leo in the sky.

    Rey also explains basic astronomical concepts like the rotation of the Earth, why we see different stars at different times of year, and the structure of the Galaxy with great clarity and wit, as you might expect from the author of “Curious George”.

    I was given a copy of Rey’s book as a small kid, and I’ve given copies to nephews, nieces and my friends’ kids. It’s perfect for adults too.

  315. SoMG says

    Relativity, a Simple Explanation Anyone Can Understand by Einstein. Essential.

    The section of Feynman’s WHAT DO YOU CARE WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK entitled “Mr. Feynman Goes to Washington”. Popular. Also QED–THE STRANGE THEORY OF LIGHT AND MATTER, essential.

    Rhodes’ book about the history of the atomic bomb, I forget the title. Both.

    THE MISMEASURE OF MAN by SJ Gould. Essential.

    FLATLAND by Edwin Abbot. Essential AND Popular.

    LIFE STORY by Virginia Lee Burton. Popular.

    WARPED PASSAGES by Lisa Randall. Essential.

    The Molecular Probes Catalogue. Essential.

    The METHODS IN ENZYMOLOGY series. Essential.


    Netter’s Anatomy. Essential.

    The Tom Lehrer record that includes his setting of the chemical elements to the tune of “Modern Major General”. The Flanders and Swann record that includes their song about the First Law of Thermodynamics (“Heat won’t pass from a cooler to a hottah. You can try it if you like but you’d far better nottah!”)

  316. csrster says

    A book that really made me think is David Deutsch’s “The Fabric of Reality”. It’s “popular” in the sense of having a mass-market paperback edition, but very challenging in places.

    Another recent read I found highly admirable was Judith Rich Harris’s “The Nurture Assumption”. She not only tackles a very important, sensitive, politically- and morally-charged topic, but also beautifully and elegantly discusses the logic of scientific inference. In other words, its a book about both science in general and child-psychology in particular.

  317. Michael says

    I’m surprised these three haven’t yet been mentioned (all are easy reads):
    Essential: “How We Know What Isn’t So, The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life” Thomas Gilovich
    Popular: “Love at Goon Park, Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection” Deborah Blum
    Popular: “Three Scientists and their Gods” Robert Wright

    By way of emphasis I’d repeat these already mentioned books because I consider them popular and maybe essential to understanding the fun of science.
    “The Demon-Haunted World” Carl Sagan
    Longitude” – Dava Sobel
    “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” – Sean Carroll
    “The Blank Slate” Pinker
    “Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman” James Gleick

  318. Santoki says

    Hi Blake,

    I was poking fun at PZ for noting that bookstores tend to carry more fiction than science books. To me, this is a lot like asking why Baskin Robins serves so much ice cream and no vegetables.

    Cheers :)

  319. Gavin McBride says

    I was also going to recommend the Science of Discworld. They are heavy on the science interspersed with comedy from pratchett. The third one is specifically dedicated to Darwin theories I believe but I am currently in the second one myself.

    Wouldnt mind actually hearing what Dawkins and Myers thing of them books. They poo-poo some ideas in it that Dawkins builds in the Selfish Gene and put forward alternate but just as well thought out theories.

  320. Kitty says

    I haven’t the time to read all of the above so apologies if this has already been said.
    PZ asks for books that a doting grandmother might notice and I wondered if books aimed at teenagers would also apply?
    The Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness series has some good science titles, eg Great Scientists .
    There are many titles, well illustrated and well written, with the sort of cover which would attract the attention of granny!
    They flew off the shelves in my school library and were the most read (and replaced) books in my stock.
    The most popular were, Dinosaur, Mummy, Insect, Volcano,Human Body,Astronomy, Inventions, Whale and Shark.
    So far, DK have no title on Evolution in this series. Perhaps a nudge from a prominent biologist could rectify this? :)
    Getting kids reading these books stimulated interest in the natural world like no others in my library. Many then went on to try harder reads, appetites thoroughly wetted.

  321. Penguin_Factory says

    A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Defintetely far on the “popular” side of the spectrum, but it’s what got me into science when I previously had absolutely no interest in the subect.

  322. Martin says

    Struck by Lightening: The Curious World of Probabilities by Jeffery S. Rosenthal. An excellent account of probabilities, their meaning, and their significance to everyday life. It’s explained rather well for people who are not always mathematically inclined.

  323. Logicel says

    Perhaps not a book a grandma would buy, but I could see an older sister or brother buying this gem:

    Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to all Creation: the definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex by Olivia Judson

    Excerpt from the Amazon review:

    Finally, a how-to guide, in the guise of a Q&A advice column, for marching, flying, or slithering into the battle of the sexes, whatever your species. In this entertaining and informative book, evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson presents “letters” from sexually frustrated animals, birds, and insects who ask “Dr. Tatiana” to explain some sexual oddity. For example, “Don’t Wanna Be Butch in Botswana” writes, “I’m a spotted hyena, a girl. The only trouble is, I’ve got a large phallus. I can’t help feeling that this is unladylike. What’s wrong with me?” Each question leads Dr. T. into a fascinating explanation about the sex life of this species, sprinkled with sprightly stories about other species with similar attributes or behavior.

  324. JoeB says

    I am really surprised this one was only recommended twice (perhaps I missed others):
    Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation by Oliva Judson
    Suspect that should be Olivia;
    Grandma might not be enthusiastic, but granddaughter will be.

  325. jasontimmer says

    When I was a kid I always loved James Trefil’s “1001 things everyone should know about science.”

  326. A.Willoughby says

    First off,at least you have some science books.Here in China the only “science” books have titles like “150 unsolved mysteries about outer space” and there are NO books promoting scientific ways of thought.Not much religion either,though.
    Books I second (or 222nd):
    Richard Dawkins-Selfish Gene and Ancestor’s Tale(essential and popular)
    John Gribbons-In Search of Schroedinger’s cat.One of the clearest explanations of quantum physics I’ve ever read.(popular)
    Douglas Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (popular)
    Richard Fortey-Earth. And probably anything else by him.He just writes amazingly well.I would say Earth was essential(there must be some geology,after all,the Theory of Evolution would not have come into being if geology hadn’t paved the way).
    Anything by Richard Feynman.
    The Faber Book of Science,an anthology edited by John Carey.The science writing in this book was chosen in part for it’s accessability and the quality of the writing.It covers a huge range of topics,and the pieces are quite short,but might make an interested reader search for more information on the subject.having said that,I don’t actually know if it’s published in the US.

  327. B_Edmans says

    Some good ideas here. My favourites are:

    Pinker, The Blank Slate – human nature, behavioural genetics, science and politics

    Philip Ball, Critical Mass – a fascinating collection about applying physical/mathematical models in the social sciences, ranging from complex systems to game theory to stock market fluctuations to phase transitions

    Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained – philosophy and neuroscience. Bit harder though.

    Sam Harris, The End of Faith – not just for the obvious, but for the excellent chapter on experiments in consciousness – spirituality and profound thoughts for atheists via neuroscience

    BTW I’m in computational mechanics so these are for a general readership

  328. Zetten says

    • Black Holes, Wormholes and Time Machines
    • Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed

    Both by Jim Al-Khalili, a lecturer at the university I attended.

    These two books cover the bits of physics that people most like to twist and contort to suit their own beliefs (namely relativity and quantum mechanics), but they’re explained in a neat, concise way.

    He’ll describe an experiment (thought or otherwise), and then explain the results and how they’re applicable to the concepts of the science in question.

    In Black Holes he explains the twins paradoxes of special relativity, the evidence for general relativity (gravitational lensing, precession of the perihelion of Mercury, etc.) and other nifty features of relativity such as the effects of a black hole, and the possibility of wormholes.

    In Quantum he runs through Millikan’s experiment to find the unit of electric charge (which I’m proud to say I recreated in the lab with some measure of success), the classic two slit experiment, and other such fundamentals of the subject, all with pretty pictures.

    There’s very little sensationalism, as is so often the case in pop-sci books about these subjects. It’s just well-written science which can be understood by anyone with a basic understanding of high school physics (and possibly not even that). As a testament to the quality, I’ve even seen these books on the recommended reading lists for Physics courses at other UK universities.

    He’s simply a very good author, and I recommend these books to anyone who’s looking to get a general overview of either relativity or quantum physics.

    Also on the physics note, Stephen Hawking’s books A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell are excellent books on astrophysics. I can envisage better pop-sci approaches to the subject (Hawking’s writing is a bit dry and textbook-like in places), but these are the two that any bookshop worth its salt should stock as a minimum, of only because they’re likely to sell with his name attached.

  329. bsk says

    I think all of my favourites have already been mentioned, but for the sake of reinforcement:

    Everything by Steven Pinker
    Everything by Carl Sagan
    Everything by Richard Dawkins
    Everything by Matt Ridley
    Everything by Stephen Hawking

  330. Maja says

    Nothing shockingly new from me, i did ctrl+f search and saw that Pinker, Ramachandran and Oliver Sacks have all been mentioned. I’m just putting my vote in for them. :) Oh, and also Ridley’s Genome. But i see this has also already been mentioned.

  331. AdrianT says

    Don’t know if this has been on the list so far, but:
    * Barbara Forrest – Creationism’s Trojan Horse – People have to understand why intelligent design has no place in any scientific argument, and this history of the ID movement, the brainchild of a lawyer who turnhed to Christ because of his dovorce, does the job. This is a necessary addition to any store collection until this stops being a controversy, and I hope the book gets updated to include its latest tawdry attempt to appeal to the masses in cinemas.

  332. BigBob says

    For Astronomy / Cosmology (sizeable introduction for students)
    ‘Universe’ by Roger A. Freedman, William J. Kaufmann

    It has bags of detail yet is also readable.

  333. warren@wdbonett.com says

    If you want to see them all try the science bookstore in Australia called Embiggen Books.

  334. warren says

    If you want to see them all try the science bookstore in Australia called Embiggen Books. Its in Noosaville.

  335. John C. Randolph says

    Kepler’s books, Menlo Park, California, had a fairly decent science section the last time I checked. It’s difficult for a bookstore though, because they tend to operate on rather thin margins, and science books are likely to stay on the shelf far longer than even history or biography titles.

    I get most of my books either from Amazon or direct from the publishers these days. Web ordering and overnight delivery beats the heck out of ordering at a store, and waiting a month for them to call and tell you it’s arrived.


  336. Joe@yetter.us says

    Erica wrote: “The next time you’re in Portland, go to Powell’s Bookstore. It’s huge and their science section is delightfully diverse.”
    The last time I was in Powell’s, the “clerk” was some sort of polymath who knew the location of every book I was interested in, was familiar with its contents, and was able to recommend additional books with which I was unfamiliar.
    A trip to Portland is incomplete without a trip to Powell’s.

  337. John C. Randolph says

    #157 Randy,

    I love that book. I think it must be over 20 years ago since I first got my hands on Thinking Physics, and I’ve given quite a few copies of it to my friends and their kids over the years.

    I’d love to see high schools use it for a textbook. It sure would blow away the insipid crap we were issued in Fairfax County public schools.


  338. Stephen Welch says

    Stardust: Our Cosmic Origins
    This is an accessible overview of scientific development over the last 200 years. It is designed as an antidote to creationism and ID but it is not a negative book. It presents science as far more amazing and awe inspiring than any fiction. (see the web site at http://www.stardustorigins.co.uk)
    Available in the UK, coming soon in the USA, see amazon.

  339. rusty robot says

    Richard Feynman – QED, 6 Easy Pieces, and the rest…

    Lee Smolin – The Trouble with Physics

    Stephen Hawking – On the Shoulder of Giants, And God Created the Integers

    Bill Bryson – Short History of Everything

  340. Mike Fox says

    Question: If one wrote a book for the general public, what processes are there by which they can certify the degree of scientific accuracy before publication?

  341. Anonymous says

    Here’s something scary: I was at my local Barnes & Noble recently (In Manhattan, no less) and found a copy of “Of Pandas and People” stocked in the Science section. Yikes.

  342. Stephen Burrows - Math Teacher says

    My students hate me! Reading in math class, that is just plain silly. As part of my Geometry and Algebra 2 classes students are required to read all or part of the following.

    An Abundance of Katherines — John Green
    Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea — Charles Seife
    Letters to a Young Mathematician — Ian Stewart
    Flatland — Edwin Abbott
    Math Doesn’t Suck — Dannica Mc Kellar
    Codebreakers — Simon Singh

    Donations of any of these books to my school would be greatly appreciated. Grant money is tough to get.

    This is a great idea PZ!

  343. Kile says

    Gödel, Escher and Bach by Hofstadter
    Chaos by Glieck
    What is the Name of This Book and by Smullyan
    The Discoverers by Boorstein
    All the popular books by Stephan J. Gould.

  344. Andrew says

    The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters, by Ardea Skybreak

  345. says

    Just in case it hasn’t been mentioned already:

    Atom by Piers Bizony – great history of atomic theory.

    Also there should be at least one picture-heavy book of space and/or planet Earth pictures, for example:

    Images of the Cosmos by Jones, Lambourne & Rothery (an OU book)

    And don’t forget dinosaurs:

    Dinosaur! by David Norman

    The Planets by Nigel Henbest

    Orbit by Apt, Helfert & Wilkinson (National Geographic)

  346. Vadjong says

    Proper and popular science books are a hard sell for commercial bookstores, but what about (public) libraries ?
    Anybody still going there ?

    Anyway, for you lot here, I’d recommend :

    THE COLLAPSE OF CHAOS : Discovering simplicity in a complex world.


    FIGMENTS OF REALITY : The evolution of the curious mind.

    Both by Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen and far superior to their Discworld/Pratchett collaborations (fun as these are). They also wrote some fairly decent science fiction together.

  347. deadmind working says

    Bill Bryson:A Short History of Nearly Everything
    Bill Bryson:A Short History of Nearly Everything
    Bill Bryson:A Short History of Nearly Everything
    Bill Bryson:A Short History of Nearly Everything
    Bill Bryson:A Short History of Nearly Everything

  348. RamblinDude says

    Yes! Thinking Physics by Lewis Epstein


    Also, another vote for Brian Greene’s – The Fabric of the Cosmos.

    Hyperspace by Michio Kaku, also holds up well.

  349. whomever1 says

    A couple of science history books: A World on Fire (Jackson)–the history of the discovery of oxygen. And Soul Made Flesh (Zimmer)–the history of the idea that brains are an organ of thinking, with a focus on Thomas Willis.

  350. Zetten says

    One more physicsy suggestion from me: The Mr. Tompkins series by George Gamow.

    They’re a bunch of short novels detailing dreams of the titular character in which fundamental constants of physics are greatly modified, making their counter-intuitive effects all the more pronounced.

    For example, the first book (Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland) deals with a universe in which the speed of light has been reduced to just 30 miles per hour. Now all the effects of Special Relativity become apparent at everyday speeds.


  351. says

    Some suggestions:

    Unweaving the Rainbow – Richard Dawkins
    Conscilience – Edward O Wilson
    The Moral Animal – Robert Wright
    The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins
    The Naked Ape – Desmond Morris
    On Human Nature – Edward O Wilson
    The Elegant Universe or The Fabric of the Cosmos – Brian Greene
    The Universe in a Nutshell – Stephen Hawking
    A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
    A Natural HIstory of Rape – Randy Thornhill & Craig Palmer
    Your Inner Fish – Neil Shubin
    The Mating Mind – Geoffrey Miller
    The Black Swan – Nassim Talib

    I’m into Evolutionary Psych/Sociobiology (honestly one of the best weapons in an atheists pocket!), but these are good all around reads. Plus you gotta have some random astrophysics in there!

  352. H Yakin says

    “How to think about Weird Things” — Schick & Vaughn — marvelous intro to critical thinking.

    “The Canon,” Natalie Angier — just read this. Her prose is both elegant and funny.

    “Collapse,” by Jared Diamond (I have Guns, Germs & Steel but haven’t read it yet).

    “Uncle Tungsten” by Oliver Sachs.

    “Demon-Haunted World” — Sagan

    And of course Mackay’s “Madnes of Crowds” — got it for like $7 during the run-up to Iraq and the housing boom. Made for very interesting perspectives.

    The Coming Plague — Laurie Garrett. A little out of date, but a detailed accounting of disease outbreaks, investigations and research in the 1970s to very early 1990s.

  353. says

    “Why We Get Sick” (Williams and Ness on Darwinian Medicine)
    There were two other copies on the special-order shelf when I picked up mine, so maybe it could qualify as popular.
    As I hope my agricultural version:
    “Darwinian Agriculture: Where Does Nature’s Wisdom Lie?”
    will be when it comes out next year.

  354. katie says

    I know it’s more pop than anything, but Douglas Adams’ Last Chance to See is one of my favourite books of all time. Lots of conservation bio + ruminations on the species.

    “The great thing about being the only species that makes a distinction between right and wrong is that can make up the rules for ourselves as we go along.”

  355. Arg768 says

    Popular –

    What it means to be 98% chimpanzee – Jonathan Marks
    Deep Time – Henry Gee
    Genome – Matt Ridley
    Life – an Unauthorised Biography – Richard Fortey
    The Code Book – Simon Singh
    Parasite Rex – Carl Zimmer
    Right Hand, Left Hand – Richard McManus

  356. Mobius says

    It’s a bit dated now, but “Asimov’s Guide to Science” is an excellent review of the basics of practically every field of science at a layman’s level.

  357. says

    Nobody has mentioned to beloved favourites of mine:

    “What If The Moon Didn’t Exist?”, by Neil Comins, which is out of print but shouldn’t be; it’s a series of essays examining the universe by positing possible alternate Earths (how would life have evolved if there were no moon to give us tidal basins? What would humans be like if the Earth were one quarter of its present mass?) or speculating on astronomical events in relation to our planet (what if a black hole pierced Earth? What if a supernova detonated fifty light-years from us?).

    “The Five Ages of the Universe”, by Fred Adams and Greg Laughlin, which traces what we know of the universe from the Big Bang to the various possible end scenarios, devising a logarithmic scale to give a sense of just how long eternity really is.

    I suppose these two books would qualify as “speculative science”; you could even call the first one “counterfactual science”, in line with counterfactual history. But they’re fantastic popular-science books, practically guaranteed to 1) increase the reader’s scientific literacy and 2) spark the desire to read more on astronomy and science in general.

  358. Ferrous Patella says

    In my own experience, it was the Time/Life science series that got me hooked on science. Best investment my parents made. Lots of illustations, sidebars gave brief descriptions and examples of concepts, while the main text went into pretty good detail at a level understandable for the general public. The editorial style meant one could keep coming back to the books and gain more knowledge as one’s understanding increased. (It even gave an explanation of the Theory of Relativity that I could get my head wrapped around as a kid.)

    Is there a more up to date product available today?

  359. SteveJR says

    I’ll throw Junk Science by Dan Agin into the popular category. An excellent exploration of the ways in which science is misused and misrepresented, both accidentally and intentionally, in culture and the media.

    I’d also argue they should include “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” ( http://www.amazon.com/Misquoting-Jesus-Story-Behind-Changed/dp/0060859512/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225824712&sr=1-1 ) into the religion section. For perspective :)

  360. JackU says

    That bugs me because it’s dishonest. Religion equals magic, and nothing is more incompatible with science than magic.

    I’m sorry that my statement bugs you, but it’s not dishonest. Both Galileo and Faraday were devout men of religion while being among the greatest scientists of their time. Both were great experimenters, who also popularized science through written works and public demonstrations. If that upsets you I’m sorry.

  361. GPPlascencia says

    Pale Blue Dot – Carl Sagan (Preferably the hardcover because of the images)
    Demon Haunted World – Carl Sagan
    Broca’s Brain – Carl Sagan (and probably “Dragons of Eden”)

    The Scientists – John Gribbin

    Asimov’s Guide to Science – Issac Asimov

    Universe in a nutshell – Stephen Hawking (Hardcover)

    Physics of Star Trek – Lawrence Krauss

    Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond (also, check the documental)

    Darwin’s Dangerous Idea – Daniel Dennet

    How we believe – Michael Shermer

    Emperor’s New Mind – Roger Penrose (No so easy to read, but very good ideas)

    Most of Feynman’s books, specially “You must be joking Mr. Feynman!”

    Alpha and Omega – Richard Seife (I would also recomend “Zero”, although I lost my copy and haven’t finished reading it)

    Naked Ape – Desmond Morris (I read this one a long time ago… I think there are more recent ones dealing with the same subject better. I also wanted to read “The Human Zoo”, but haven’t done it yet)

    Those are the ones I can think of.

  362. Skwee says

    And PZ- There used to be a bookstore in my area with a 1:1 ratio. Behe’s books was in science, but The God Delusion was in religion, as were most members of the godless canon. Just thought I’d warm your heart with that tidbit.

  363. kyle fenner says

    I work in a large block bookstore in the mid-west, and yes our religious books outnumber the science based, however, the self help and our copies of the “Secret” outnumber religion. Some of you will be happy to know that my store carries about 80% of the suggested titles, we also sell more titles from the science section than religion.

  364. Tim says

    Richard Rhodes “The making of the atomic bomb” and “Dark sun” were enjoyable (As previously mentioned), ditto on Stephen Jay Gould’s essay collections. H. G. Wells “The outline of history”, not for science as much as perspective, and perhaps, humility. The few SF works that excluded known impossibilities, Clarke’s “The songs of distant earth”, “The fountains of paradise” and Hogan’s “Voyage from yesteryear” (Of late, James P. Hogan has been indulging in baiting orthodox science, very entertaining, but more heat than light.).

  365. Tom says

    I think the 400+ previous comments must have covered all the worthy books. I would like to suggest a periodical or two. Science is alive. Dare we say, evolving? If one is to be scientifically literate, one has to keep up with new developments. Scientific American works for some. I like Discover.

    The hook for your local bookseller is that both of these magazines recommend books for those seeking more depth. I have numerous times bought books suggested by these magazines.

  366. Mr Twiddle says

    John Atkeson #27 and Crudely Wrott #364 both recommended “Relativity for the Millions” by Martin Gardner. I was lucky enough to find a copy (1962) with a dustjacket at my local resale shop for $1.00. It now resides on my bookshelf right next to “Realm of Numbers” (1959 + dustjacket) by Isacc Asimov (also purchased from said resale shop for $1.00) and is optimistically waiting to be read. It looks a fun read. Troll those resale shops folks -there’s gold in them thar hills.

  367. bartkid says

    I weep to see that at 430+ comments, I am the first (unless my mistaken eyes had skipped over a previous mention) to nominate Lewis Thomas’ Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.

    Double that for Jamie Whyte’s Crimes Against Logic. I think I was about 20 pages in by the time I got through the line to get to the checkout clerk. I didn’t care that my few outbursts of “Ha!” annoyed the customers in front and behind me.

    I see David Bodanis has a few mentions above, but I must jump up and down, yelling for e = mc^2 and Electric Universe : The Shocking True Story of Electricity.

    If Michael Pollan gets a few shout-outs, I must also put forward Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, And Fair by Carlo Petrini and Alice Waters. I read most of it Halloween evening, and I finished it off Sunday (November 2). I think this would be a good grandmother-to-give-to-precocious-teen-granddaughter tome.

    I second the Martin Gardner nominations. For me, Jinn from Hyperspace fired all my synapses like nothing else, excepting King Crimson tunage. The Annotated Alice might be a good back-door book for a grandmother to give her granddaughter to get her hooked on Gardner.

    Hearty “Hear, hear”s to the above nominations of Robert Wright’s Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Simon Winchester’s The Map that Changed the World, Darrel Huff’s How to Lie With Statistics (illustrated by Irving Geis, who illustrated many chemistry and biology texts), and Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. I turn my head to the right, and I can see How to Lie and Visual Display sitting there on my desk.

    Word up, also, to the G.T. Labs’ nomination. I just checked their homepage. I have read 6 of the 8 titles. I will have to put Wire Mothers and Charles R. Knight higher on my “To read” list. I think Dignifying Science: Stories About Women Scientists is my favourite of the bunch.

    Larry Gonick’s wonderful Cartoon Guides have been mentioned multiple times. I concur. And, I must add that any of the volumes in the … Demystified, A Short Introduction to, and … for Beginners (now going by the name Introducing …) series have had short but wonderful tenures in my hands.

    I’m puzzled by the non-mention of David Shenk’s Data Smog.

    I am surprised Greg Benford’s Deep Time hasn’t gotten a mention compared to Jared Diamond’s books on the long view.

    And, speaking of Mr. Diamond, as I read through this deep, entertaining posting (I’ve copied and pasted 11 pages’ worth of “Oh, I’ will read these eventually” listings I’ve gleaned from this posting), I have an email notification that my local bookseller has 1000 Events That Shaped the World on sale. I’ve have to get that one, too. I’ll use the excuse that it will be my Dad’s Christmas present, like I did with Collapse.

  368. JBlilie says

    My (limited) suggestions:

    The Ancestor’s Tale (Dawkins) – pop
    The Selfish Gene (Dawkins) – pop and essential
    Parasite Rex (Zimmer) – pop
    Why We Get Sick (Nesse, et al) – pop
    The Third Chimpanzee (Diamond) – pop
    Your Inner Fish (Shubin) – pop
    Genome (Ridley) – pop
    The Origins of Virtue (Ridley) – pop

    I guess I’m mostly a popular sort of guy (engineer, not a scientist; yes there are atheist engineers and engineers very interested in and at least somewhat informed about science.)

  369. Kevin says

    Here’s one you might not like…but…maybe you will. So far its observations, factors & conclusions have been unassailable; for the psychology category:

    THE LIBERAL MIND: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness, By Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr., M.D.

    The author is a PhD forensic psychiatrist with some 30 years practical experience. In defining “liberal” he is focusing almost entirely on those that desire entitlements and think they are ‘owed’ & ‘deserve’ entitlements and would choose to live entirely (more or less) in state of dependency — with the State/government acting in a parental role. This tends to apply to those at the lower strata, economically.

    A true skeptic & critical thinker would be able to get past the superficial impression the title, etc. make to see a much more complex and serious issue.

    While one might be inclined to endorse some ‘socialistic wealth redistribution’ — and that is clearly good to some degree– the book points out (in a very tedious & repetitive fashion) that those that assume the positions in government to serve as the “parental” figure are almost always sociopathic and use their power over the dependent person in, ultimately, a toxic manner.

    Not addressed in the book are basically the same pattern recurring with governments over vassel states (e.g. Soviet Union over those it initially supports with economic trade & support; police over informants, and the list can go on & on).

    In other words, there’s a recurring human tendency to trust too much and concede too much and become exploited victims. It happens over & over & over. This book touches on one aspect and is unique in getting to a very key reason for that outcome.