Everybody loves to give or to get a book as a present, right? They are small, interesting, there is a wide selection in every price range. As gift giver, it is a way you can impose your will on others, which is always true for gifts, but specially so with books. As a recipient, you can easily get rid of it by claiming that you loaned it to your cousin Leo who just moved to Borneo.

Also, books are very easy to order on line. Well, you can order anything on line, but with books you know what you are getting.

The following is a list of books that I happen to have on hand (or recently held in my hands) that have something to do withs science, are good, and are current. If you are the author of a recent science book and you don’t see yours listed here, that is probably because you or your publisher were too cheap to send me a review copy (shame on you). Some but not all are already reviewed on this blog (here).

The first one on the list is by my friend and colleague Mark Borrello. I’ve just started reading it, and it’s quite good. It is extremely well written and very important, a scholarly work that is quite accessible to those with an interest in the subject: Evolutionary Restraints: The Contentious History of Group Selection

The next book, also written by a friend of mine (don’t worry, I only list good books … which means books written by friends that suck are probably books written by former friends, but whatever). This is NOT the type of book one sees on a list like this, as it is a textbook. This first year college or AP biology textbook is a completely new text, and thus has certain advantages over the usual tired old workhorses most people are accustom to. If you are interested in biology and stuff, having a good, current textbook hand is a good thing. I recommend, for this purpose, What Is Life? by Jay Phelan. Maybe you can find a cheap used copy.

One of the most important books to come out this year for readers of this blog is Genie Scott’s Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction, 2nd Edition. Well, maybe it came out last year, I can’t remember. In any event, there’s probably a new paperback edition. If you engage in the Evolution-Creation debate it is a must-have-on-your-shelf book.

There is sort of an order to the rest of the books, having to do with greatness of the book, how recent it is, how relevant I think it might be to the average reader of this blog (as if any reader of this blog would be ‘average’!) and so on.

What am I missing?



  1. #1 Tom_23
    December 10, 2010

    How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown, a professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology. I read a review on Kos and it looks fascinating.

  2. #2 JL
    December 10, 2010

    So, what books are on your list to read next?

  3. #3 Mike Haubrich
    December 10, 2010

    Brian Switek’s “Written in Stone.” Here is a radio interview he did.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    December 10, 2010

    JL: I”m currently reading the Alchemist on my Kindle. For the future, I’m not sure, I’d have to check my amazon.com wish list, which I recently cleaned up.

    Mike, I look forward to receiving a review copy of Brian’s book!

  5. #5 gwen
    December 11, 2010

    Bill Bryson, ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ Which is a great book to show people with little science and math background how the universe ties together. It is one of my son’s favorite books.

    Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre
    Catching Fire; how cooking made us human, by Richard Wrangham
    Death from the Skies, by Phil Plait
    I have ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ and ‘Bonobo Handshake’ in my Nook to read. Unscientific America is a must read. I’ll have to get ‘Written in Stone’, ‘The Wave’ and ‘Newton and the counterfeiter’.

  6. #6 Craig
    December 11, 2010

    Some of these aren’t particularly new, but they’re all good gifts regardeless:

    The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge

    Galileo’s Daughter, Dava Sobel

    The Mismeasure of Man, S.J. Gould

    The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker

    The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins

    Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!, Richard Feynman

    Twelve Easy Pieces, Richard Feynman

    The Lopside Ape, Michael Corballis

    From Hand to Mouth, Michael Corballis

    And a hearty second recommendation to Bad Science and A Short History of Nearly Everything

  7. #7 Grant
    December 11, 2010

    Deborah Blum – The Poisoner’s Handbook
    Bryson (Ed.) – Seeing Further
    Mukerjee – The Emperor of All Maladies

    and others 😉

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2010

    Excellent suggestions, keep ’em coming!

  9. #9 Craig Evans
    December 11, 2010

    Taking a break from non-fiction, and am reading:
    “Gravity’s Rainbow” by Pynchon…
    To be be followed by:
    “The Demon-haunted World” by Sagan
    “The Life of the Cosmos” by Smolin
    “The Human Zoo” by Morris

  10. #10 Susanne
    December 11, 2010

    You missed the How to Be a Scientist calendar for 2011.

    Obscure but great little calendar on CafePress.

  11. #11 Camille
    December 11, 2010

    Great. I’m all fired up to go get several of these books, but I can’t get out of my driveway. Note to Greg – entries like this should be saved for days when there isn’t 12 inches of snow on the ground.

  12. #12 Drivebyposter
    December 11, 2010

    Hey, does anyone have any suggestions that are chemistry based?
    It’s my weakest science based subject…actually may be my weakest subject overall. I had a poor high school chemistry teacher and never went near it in college.

    I’m hoping to find a book like Orzel’s How to Teach Physics to Your Dog…..but about chemistry.
    Anybody have any ideas?

  13. #13 gwen
    December 11, 2010

    The Song of the Dodo- David Quammen and Kris Ellingsen is a great book on island extinctions. They include a disaster which took place on an island where I once lived-Guam, where a snake had been accidentally introduced during WWII. We occasionally saw them in the 1960s, and the bird population had undergone a huge reduction, but the snake had been misidentified until someone thought to take it to a herpetologist. There are now very few birds on Guam–and an extimate of 10,000 snakes/acre. The entire island is only 108 sq miles in size… 32mi long and 8mi at the widest point 4mi at the narrow middle.

  14. #14 Barry
    December 12, 2010

    Hard to believe that Mooney crap is on your list. “Unscientific America” is an abomination to science.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    December 12, 2010

    Driveby: http://xrl.in/6t71

    Barry, I included it because I think its important. If you read my review of it, http://xrl.in/6t72 , you’ll see that I think some of it should never have been written. Also, much of the criticism of it is cultish, coming from those who haven’t read it but somehow know it is evil.

  16. #16 Rorschach
    December 12, 2010

    I’ll second the request for chemistry recommendations…I have a cousin just finishing high school who’s kind of interested in it, and if there’s a good book that would encourage his interest I’d like to get a copy of it for Christmas.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    December 12, 2010

    Chem: http://xrl.in/6t71

    And within that page is a link to another good chem book.

  18. #18 someone
    December 12, 2010

    Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks

    Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Dan Dennett

  19. #19 Drivebyposter
    December 12, 2010

    Thanks Greg!

    Definitely going to check into it.

  20. #20 Craig
    December 13, 2010

    More chemistry:

    The Periodic Table, Primo Levi. A lot of it is only tangentially related to chemistry, but a damnfine book nonetheless.

    And, not a book, but this is a good place to drop a recommendation for Derek Lowe’s awesome “Things I won’t work with” blog posts: http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/things_i_wont_work_with/

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    December 13, 2010

    OH, this is a great chemistry “theory” book as well that is very readable:

    The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey Into The Land Of The Chemical Elements (Science Masters Series)

  22. #22 TheBlindWatcher
    December 15, 2010

    Those asking for Chemistry based science books; note that

    Deborah Blum – The Poisoner’s Handbook

    is chemistry based – http://tinyurl.com/2eoyeme

    This book was just the right combination of story and theory for me. Highly recommended (I’m not a scientist)

  23. #23 Djinna
    December 15, 2010

    Been meaning to say, and this seems like as appropriate a place as any, that I got a little thrill out of seeing your name in the acknowledgements section of Catching Fire (Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
    ) – looks like my copy was procured right before the paperback edition came out, as it was still hardback only when I got it a couple months back. You know it must be an interesting book if someone was so annoyed to find it over that she actually read all of the acknowledgements!

    Just finished (last night, even) reading The Disappearing Spoon, a great chemistry book, and that came out only in July.

    Got a lot of great science reads for my birthday a couple months back, my partner felt guilty for “only buying a bunch of text books!” Books are my crack, and science books, oh my, be still my beating heart.

    I think the author of the book mentioned in 21 wrote my college Phys Chem text. Wasn’t a bad text, considering the subject matter. Shall have to double check on that, but will probably get it either way, as it’s the theory that was my favorite part.

  24. #24 Greg Laden
    December 15, 2010

    Glad you like it! (Your link wasn’t working so I fixed it)

  25. #25 Pete Dunkelberg
    December 19, 2010

    Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway. This important book explains professional, industrial strength science denial, linking climate change denial to other large scale denial campaigns.

    Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain by Antonio Damasio this looks to me like the best treatment of the subject so far.

    Darwin in Galopogos by Thalia Grant, daughter of the Grants – fine book, good for yourself and good for a gift.

    Older books: The High Frontier – A beautiful book on adventurous canopy research.


    For a group of people who supposedly keep up with science, commenters are curiously disinterested in the big scary science topic of your lives: Climate Change.

  26. #26 Walkingmap
    December 20, 2010

    The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements” by Sam Kean

    … finding out about Lanthanoids, Rare Earth Metals, Bromine, and the Mercurial personalities that distilled, condensed, fused, and spilled their way to knowledge makes for a great, thrilling read. It should be on everyone’s list.

  27. #27 Monado, FCD
    December 24, 2010

    I’m currently reading Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins, but I noticed that a book he edited, The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, is described as a “must have” by the New Scientist: “If you only ever read one science book, this should probably be it.” I love that “probably.”

    I’m also reading Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist. It’s full of lovely, clear atheist writings from just about everyone, including the poet Shelley, most of them completely new to me.

  28. #29 Monado, FCD
    December 24, 2010

    I’ve posted a couple of books about climate but they’re being held for approval, I guess because they have links to amazon.ca.

    …and this was rejected for being too often, so there will be a pause now.

  29. #30 Greg Laden
    December 25, 2010

    A long pause … we were out visiting Santa Clause.

  30. #31 AntalyaFine
    April 24, 2011

    I’ll second the request for chemistry recommendations…I have a cousin just finishing high school who’s kind of interested in it, and if there’s a good book that would encourage his interest I’d like to get a copy of it for Christmas.
    gooo thank blogs scienceblogs hii