Top 25 science books

Discover is doing a "25 Greatest Science Books of All-Time" list. The great thing about stuff like this is it gets you thinking, talking, and exposes what your priorities are. There isn't a canonical list with a clear rank order. I mean, yeah, Principia is the bomb, but people can make a case for The Origin of Species. Below is the list from Discover, and below the fold my quick & dirty re-order. Hope it tells you something about me.

1. and 2. The Voyage of the Beagle (1845) and The Origin of Species (1859) by Charles Darwin [tie]
3. Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) by Isaac Newton (1687)
4. Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems by Galileo Galilei (1632)
5. De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres) by Nicolaus Copernicus (1543)
6. Physica (Physics) by Aristotle (circa 330 B.C.)
7. De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body) by Andreas Vesalius (1543)
8. Relativity: The Special and General Theory by Albert Einstein (1916)
9. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976)
10. One Two Three . . . Infinity by George Gamow (1947)
11. The Double Helix by James D. Watson (1968)
12. What Is Life? by Erwin Schrödinger (1944)
13. The Cosmic Connection by Carl Sagan (1973)
14. The Insect Societies by Edward O. Wilson (1971)
15. The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg (1977)
16. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)
17. The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould (1981)
18. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks (1985)
19. The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (1814)
20. The Feynman Lectures on Physics by* Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, and Matthew Sands (1963)
21. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male by Alfred C. Kinsey et al. (1948)
22. Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey (1983)
23. Under a Lucky Star by Roy Chapman Andrews (1943)
24. Micrographia by Robert Hooke (1665)
25. Gaia by James Lovelock (1979)

And now, switcheroo....

1. Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) by Isaac Newton (1687)
2 The Origin of Species (1859) by Charles Darwin
3. Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems by Galileo Galilei (1632)
4. De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres) by Nicolaus Copernicus (1543)
5. Physica (Physics) by Aristotle (circa 330 B.C.)
6. De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body) by Andreas Vesalius (1543)
7. Relativity: The Special and General Theory by Albert Einstein (1916)
8. What Is Life? by Erwin Schrödinger (1944)
9. Micrographia by Robert Hooke (1665)
10. The Insect Societies by Edward O. Wilson (1971)
11. The Feynman Lectures on Physics by* Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, and Matthew Sands (1963)
12. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976)
13. The Double Helix by James D. Watson (1968)
14. The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg (1977)
15. The Cosmic Connection by Carl Sagan (1973)
16. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks (1985)
17. Gaia by James Lovelock (1979)
18. and 2. The Voyage of the Beagle (1845)
19. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male by Alfred C. Kinsey et al. (1948)
20. The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (1814)
21. Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey (1983)
22. Under a Lucky Star by Roy Chapman Andrews (1943)
23. One Two Three . . . Infinity by George Gamow (1947)
24. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)
25. The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould (1981)

Caveat, I haven't read all the books here, and a few I haven't even heard of (e.g., 'Under a Lucky Star'). My list is probably biased toward the books I have read.

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I haven't read all of these books, but the only one I'd object to that I know is The First Three Minutes. Not because it's uninteresting, but because Weinberg may very well be the worst writer ever.

OK, so you came up with your own list of books. Let's see you match the introductory essay to that list from Discover, written by Nobel laureate Kary B. Mullis.

By Friend Fruit (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

I'm suprised you didn't omit or replace "The Mismeasure of Man" on that list.

By moonenite (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

For the life of me I can't figure out why after listing Darwin's great book (ok two books, one distinctly less great in my view) as number one, they can't give the numero uno biggie it's full title. It's not like it goes on for pages. After all they didn't adopt the shorthand 'Principia Mathematica' for that work, and it's not even at the top of the list.

To set matters right it's:

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

Or maybe I can.

Given that the elevation of this undoubtedly very high ranking work to the number one spot in the annals of scientific influence owes something to the desire of the current science loving community to defend the scientific worldview from encroaching rightist religious dogmatism, is it perhaps ironic that this same scientific community has a tin ear re: defending scientific findings from leftist censorship or window dressing, at least when broadcasting to the public at large?

Or is that just me?

Oh, and it wasn't just the rhetoric or prejudices of the time that lead Darwin to include the word "races" in his title. He viewed consequential natural variation within species, that clumped due to ecological separation and niches into races in the mammalian world, to be a preliminary step often leading to speciation and the further differentiation of life through evolution.

Rather it's the prejudices of our own time that close our minds to this reality, at least as applied to humans.

Razib--

Where's Archimedes? Wasn't he one of the first to combine natural philosophy (science and math) with great leaps in engineering - such as the Archimedes screw, which was the first pump that could lift water great heights? His method of measuring the volume of irregular solids was also mighty impressive - and still used today (guy in a bathtub anyone?) Demonstrating the usefulness of math and science was crucial to society eventually devoting great resources to scientific study.

Or is it all because Archimedes wrote lots of shorter scrolls rather than a single magisterial "book"?

Also what's with Gould's 'Mismeasure of Man' on your list?

As for the list you're responding to, I think Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" has about as much right to be on the list as Erlich's "The Population Bomb". Actually probably less right. It's just that Carson's hysteria remains fashionable. Erlich's was premature, but much more important for it's loss of status, it conflicts with Third Worldism, since that's where his bomb has in fact continued.

Thought-provoking, but what a garble. There are major scientists' popular expositions of some of the major scientific ideas of all time, and there is virtually-journalistic stuff. The first 8 on both lists look like gimmes, totalling 9, and after that only a few look like sure things.

I'm surprised that Lovelock ranked that high in the re-ordering.

The Double Helix I haven't read, but it's discussed as autobiography, not science.

I was gratified to see that the lloney Caery Mullis liked Barbour's "The End of Time" and Bohm "Wholeness and the Implicate Order", because I didn't. Actually I liked Bohm for awhile but changed my mind.

Remember the role of "epochcentrism," the bias of over-emphasizing the importance of the recent past. E.g., how many news items from last year will make history books? The last 65 years apparently account for three-fifths (15/25) of the greatest works of science "of all time"! BS. One of them *might* last (Selfish Gene), but even that's doubtful. Scrapping those, you get a more believable list.

The list (in either form) mixes up two completely different types of 'scientfic' book: those which actually contain new scientific theories or research (e.g. Principia, Origin, De Revolutionibus) and popularisations (e.g. The First Three Minutes, and even Einstein's 'Relativity', which is his own attempt at popularisation). There's nothing wrong with popularisation, of course, but you really need two separate lists to do justice to either genre.

Just a question. Is there anywhere on those lists (not just yours) On chance and necessity, by Monod?

Marco

By Marco Ferrari (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

In fact, all the 20th C books are popularizations, since peer reviewed journals took over around the turn of the century. Einstein's 1905 papers, for example.

The only *book* book from the 20th C that would show up on such a list would be Fisher's _Genetical Theory of Natural Selection_ ...