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Five non-intimidating, entertaining, and educational books about science

surely youre joking mr feynman coverI am results oriented, and so I usually think of myself as some sort of Encylopedia Brown of remedial science.

Then I crash into a book or concept of hard science and my ego gets “flung down and danced upon”, as Mark Twain put it when discussing Fenimore Cooper’s flaunting of the rules of proper writing.

It is during these dark times that I wind up reading 15 Jack Reacher novels in a row to pretend that I’m no dummy.

But I do love science, I’m just behind the curve in a lot of areas. This is actually fun because there’s always something new to discover.

Like these books, which are books about science that didn’t intimidate or baffle me. They were challenging but accessible, and taught me a lot.

1. Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick

2. The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

3. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

4. The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence

5. Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman (Adventures of a Curious Character) by Richard Feynman

And that’s it from yours truly. How about it? What can you add to this list?


PS: Rumor has it that my RSS Feed reverses the aging process.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Keith Lau April 12, 2011, 10:51 am

    Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins.

  • Jez Davis April 12, 2011, 10:57 am

    Great list Josh. Additionally, I’m in complete agreement with Keith and would like to suggest ‘Deep Time’ by Henry Gee.

  • Tony April 12, 2011, 11:52 am

    “Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation” ticks all three boxes I reckon and is filled with some truly mind blowing information about how the rest of the life on our planet goes about getting-it-on.

    • Josh Hanagarne April 12, 2011, 12:35 pm

      Awesome. On that note I’d also like to add Mary Roach’s Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

  • DC5 April 12, 2011, 12:13 pm

    One of the more interesting aspects of science is its method of discovery. Some of the best writing on this method is contained in “The Demon Haunted World” by the regrettably late Dr. Carl Sagan. The book is a treasure-trove of critical thinking coolness.

    I’d also recommend anything by the anthropologist/poet Loren Eiseley. Beautiful writing.

  • Marleah April 12, 2011, 1:42 pm

    Anything by Mary Roach (I see Bonk was already recommended). She’s very witty, and you learn while you’re laughing.

  • Pim April 13, 2011, 1:10 am

    The Science of Discworld parts I, II and III by Terry Pratchett and two scientists whose names I can’t remember.

    Very entertaining and you feel like you really understand evolution, time and other big important ideas. Right up to the point when you try to explain them to a third party.

  • Big Will April 13, 2011, 4:51 am

    Anything by Dr. Robert Sapolsky.

  • Mike April 13, 2011, 6:36 pm

    Historical Fiction:
    David Leavitt, “The Indian Clerk”. Very unusual story of the early 20th century mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. The book is historically accurate but the author does imagine (fictional) character interaction as a means of telling the story. No one could make this up this story.
    Historical Biography:
    Graham Farmelo, “The Strangest Man”. The life of the theoretical physicist Paul Dirac. Also set in the early 20th century. Anyone interested in the development of quantum mechanics would like this book. Even Einstein read Dirac.
    K. C. Cole, “Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens”. The life of the experimental physicist Frank Oppenheimer – the younger brother of the famous Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb. Frank has a role in developing the atomic bomb but is later blacklisted during the McCarthy era for refusing to name names. In his later years he develops very innovative ways to teach science using amazing interactive experiments and exhibits. He established the Exploratorium in San Francisco.
    Robert Buderi, “The Invention that Changed the World”. The development of radar during WWII and all of the spinoff science and technology. The same physicist who develop radar during the war later go on to event radio astronomy, masers and lasers, and modern semiconductors. The need for unmanned (early warning) radar detection systems during the cold war drove the development of the first computers – since manned radar operators tend to fall asleep.

  • Gustavo April 15, 2011, 9:35 am

    If you’re interested in marine science, anything by Rachel Carson would fit the list perfectly.