The Frontal Cortex

Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, at least according to the Royal Institution in London.

The shortlist

Primo Levi The Periodic Table
Konrad Lorenz King Solomon’s Ring
Tom Stoppard Arcadia
Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene

Other nominations

James Watson The Double Helix
Bertolt Brecht The Life of Galileo
Peter Medawar Pluto’s Republic
Charles Darwin Voyage of the Beagle
Stephen Pinker The Blank Slate
Oliver Sacks A Leg to Stand On

All in all, not a bad list. I’d add some William James and Lewis Thomas, and replace A Leg to Stand On with An Anthropologist from Mars, and replace Brecht with Copenhagen, and substitute The Moral Animal for The Blank Slate. I’d also be tempted to add Damasio’s Descartes’ Error, if only because it’s been so influential. Last but not least, I’d want to include some Jonathan Weiner, either Time, Love, Memory or The Beak of the Finch.

What do you think?


  1. #1 John Wilkins
    October 26, 2006

    Sach’s Uncle Tungsten

  2. #2 RWW
    October 26, 2006

    One of my early favorites was Bernard Jaffe’s “Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry”

  3. #3 Warren
    October 26, 2006

    “Microbe Hunters” by Paul De Kruif. See the Amazon page.

    I read it decades ago (it was old then) and it provided context for everything I’ve since learned about disease.

    An absolute classic, terribly relevant in the age of AIDS.

  4. #4 Baratos
    October 26, 2006

    I second “Microbe Hunters”. I was impressed that a book 80 years out of date could be so educational.

  5. #5 chezjake
    October 27, 2006

    I’ll add a third for Microbe Hunters and add in another golden oldie — Rats, Lice and History by Hans Zinsser, probably the most literate work on science for the educated layman ever written.

  6. #6 rich
    October 27, 2006

    I like “A Natural History of the Senses,” by Diane Ackerman. I’m surprised Stoppard made the short list bu tnot Darwin.

  7. #7 Bill Planer
    October 27, 2006

    “Chaos”, by James Gleick. And a fourth vote for “Microbe Hunters”.

  8. #8 Shiller
    October 27, 2006

    Why are the only non-scientists playwrights?

  9. #9 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    October 27, 2006

    It seems there was a terrible oversight; the Book of Genesis didn’t even make the short list. Yet more evidence of the war on Christians.

  10. #10 The Cheerful Oncologist
    October 27, 2006

    Here’s one vote for The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes.

  11. #11 Robert Krulwich
    October 29, 2006

    I’d go for the James Watson’s Double Helix, then A River Out of Eden by Richard Dawkins, then The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas, then The Immense Journey by Loren Eiseley,
    then The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, then “The Naturalist” by E.O. Wilson, then “Natural Acts” by David Quammen and the rest of the list would be an uneasy tie among Brian Greene, Primo Levi, James Gleick and the cartoonist named Larson.

  12. #12 TheFallibleFiend
    October 31, 2006

    Excellent topic. I have my own ideas, though, and Gleick is thankfully not among them. However, I’m grateful to you for those other names and titles which I’ll may add to my list of ‘to reads’.

  13. #13 The Big Conductor
    November 5, 2007

    Not thinking far as books most influential to others, since most in my list are far too recent and *very personal* choices, but if I ‘was on a deserted island…’ “Road To Reality” Roger Penrose, “God Created the Integers” Stephen Hawking, “The New Cosmic Onion” Frank Close, “Enchanted Looms” Rodney Cotterill, “The Rainbow and the Worm” Mae Won Ho, a good textbook on brain anatomy.. John Nolte’s “The Human Brain” maybe, the “Brain Atlas” too, “Inward Bound” Abraham Pais.. btw, who the hell puts textbooks on their deserted island reading list?? can i get some highlighters, pens, and a few blank 5 subject notebooks?

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