Stranger Fruit

The Great Pop-Sci book Project

Via Cocktail Party Physics, a list of popular science books. Rules are simple: Bold those you’ve read in full, asterisk those you intend to read, add any additional popular science books you think belong on the list (I’ll try and do that next weekend, class prep allowing), and link back to Jennifer (who has never read Origin, horror!). Here we go:


  1. Micrographia, Robert Hooke
  2. The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin – oh, so many times
  3. Never at Rest, Richard Westfall
  4. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
  5. Tesla: Man Out of Time, Margaret Cheney
  6. The Devil’s Doctor, Philip Ball
  7. The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes – this is great history, highly recommended.
  8. Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, Dennis Overbye
  9. Physics for Entertainment, Yakov Perelman
  10. 1-2-3 Infinity, George Gamow
  11. The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
  12. Warmth Disperses, Time Passes, Hans Christian von Bayer
  13. Alice in Quantumland, Robert Gilmore
  14. Where Does the Weirdness Go? David Lindley
  15. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
  16. A Force of Nature, Richard Rhodes
  17. Black Holes and Time Warps, Kip Thorne
  18. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
  19. Universal Foam, Sidney Perkowitz
  20. Vermeer’s Camera, Philip Steadman
  21. The Code Book, Simon Singh
  22. The Elements of Murder, John Emsley
  23. Soul Made Flesh, Carl Zimmer
  24. Time’s Arrow, Martin Amis – pop-sci? Not so sure about that.
  25. The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, George Johnson
  26. Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman – I’ve been teaching this one for years now. Excellent stuff. A book to come back to again and again.
  27. Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter
  28. The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, Lisa Jardine
  29. A Matter of Degrees, Gino Segre
  30. The Physics of Star Trek, Lawrence Krauss
  31. E=mc<2>, David Bodanis
  32. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, Charles Seife
  33. Absolute Zero: The Conquest of Cold, Tom Shachtman
  34. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, Janna Levin
  35. Warped Passages, Lisa Randall
  36. Apollo’s Fire, Michael Sims
  37. Flatland, Edward Abbott
  38. Fermat’s Last Theorem, Amir Aczel
  39. Stiff, Mary Roach
  40. Astroturf, M.G. Lord
  41. The Periodic Table, Primo Levi
  42. Longitude, Dava Sobel
  43. The First Three Minutes, Steven Weinberg
  44. The Mummy Congress, Heather Pringle
  45. The Accelerating Universe, Mario Livio
  46. Math and the Mona Lisa, Bulent Atalay
  47. This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin
  48. The Executioner’s Current, Richard Moran
  49. Krakatoa, Simon Winchester
  50. Pythagorus’ Trousers, Margaret Wertheim
  51. Neuromancer, William Gibson
  52. The Physics of Superheroes, James Kakalios
  53. The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump, Sandra Hempel
  54. Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Katrina Firlik
  55. * Einstein’s Clocks and Poincare’s Maps, Peter Galison
  56. The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan
  57. The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins
  58. The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker
  59. An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
  60. Consilience, E.O. Wilson – I actually have to reread this for a workshop in October.
  61. Wonderful Life, Stephen J. Gould
  62. Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard
  63. Fire in the Brain, Ronald K. Siegel
  64. The Life of a Cell, Lewis Thomas
  65. Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris
  66. Storm World, Chris Mooney
  67. The Carbon Age, Eric Roston
  68. The Black Hole Wars, Leonard Susskind
  69. Copenhagen, Michael Frayn
  70. From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne
  71. Gut Symmetries, Jeanette Winterson
  72. Chaos, James Gleick – loved this book when I read it back in grad school.
  73. Innumeracy, John Allen Paulos
  74. The Physics of NASCAR, Diandra Leslie-Pelecky
  75. Subtle is the Lord, Abraham Pais – not so sure how “pop-sci” this is.

Pass it along.

(Oh, and yeah, I think *everyone* should read Principia … or at least get a feel for it)


  1. #1 NJ
    August 27, 2008

    Basin and Range, John McPhee.

  2. #2 SLC
    August 27, 2008

    1. “What Evolution Is,” 2000 edition, by Ernst Mayr.

    2. “Bad Astronomy,” by Phil Plait

  3. #3 SLC
    August 27, 2008

    3. “Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries,” by Neil Tyson.

  4. #4 llewelly
    August 27, 2008

    I’ve only read about 15 of these (hangs head) but I’ve read dozens of popular science books that aren’t on this list. Many by Asimov, many by Gould, a number of dinosaur books …
    wait a minute.
    WTF is Neuromancer doing on there? Yeah, it’s good fiction, but it’s no more ‘science’ than Lord Of The Rings.

  5. #5 Pineyman
    August 28, 2008

    1-2-3 Infinity is a great book. I read that back in elementary school and started my love of science. Gamow explained several concepts lucidly, plus, being a smart ass I loved his explanation of the time it took a photon to move from the center of the sun to the surface….

    I am reading Pythagoras’ Trousers now. I’m about halfway through and so far I think it’s a bunch of crap. Granted, there has been (and is) sexism in science, but her postulating that if women had been more involved in science over the centuries then physics would have softer gentler edges….phaugh.

  6. #6 mike stahl
    August 29, 2008

    You pushed a button, I am forgetting a lot of good books but below is my recommended list. I was surprised to see I had only read 9 on your list and only had 4 in my plans. As a historian (mainly of science) I would have guessed bigger numbers. Here goes:
    76. Origins Reconsidered, Richard Leakey & Roger Lewin
    77. Physics and Philosophy, Werner Heisenberg
    78. The Pleasure of Finding things Out, Richard Feynman
    79. Charles Darwin, Geologist, Sandra Herbert
    80. Ecology and Evolution of Finches, PeterGrant
    81. Our Inner Ape, Frans DeWaal
    82. This is Evolution, Ernst Mayr
    83. Evolution, Carl Zimmer
    84. The Canon, Natalie Angier
    85. Dr. Tatania’s Guide to Sex, Olivia Judson
    86. Any Book he has written, Matt Ridley
    87. Any book he has written, David Quammen
    88. Any book in the Cambridge History of Science series

New comments have been disabled.