The Times' list of (possibly) the best (popular) science book ever written

Discussion in 'Bibliophile's Corner' started by naqshbandijamaati, Aug 9, 2009.

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  1. The best science book ever written? Eminent figures pick their favourites
    Director of the Royal Institution
    My favourite science book is The Prehistory of the Mind by Steven Mithen. It comes at the issue of what makes humans special from the stance of an archaeologist. It's always nice to see a different discipline's approach.

    Britain's favourite botanist
    My choice is Science and Music by Sir James Jeans. My dad took me to see his house set among the orchid-rich Downs near Dorking. I read the book - it made sense of science, but my mathematics was not up to it so I became a botanist.

    Creator of Discworld
    I was lent The Origin of Species by a kind science master just before I went down with flu, so I read it in a state of delirium. But despite, or maybe because of this, it all made sense. It fitted what I saw around me and the story was considerably more believable than Genesis.

    Bestselling author of A Short History of Nearly Everything
    Cosmos by Carl Sagan because it is solid and reliable as scientific reporting, but shot through with a genuine sense of wonder and excitement. Most science books offer either authority or awe, but this gives both.

    Historian and Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
    James Watson's The Double Helix is the story of Crick and Watson's discovery of the helical structure of DNA in 1953. It is guaranteed to make every clever young person want to be a scientist!

    Astronomer and author
    The science fiction novel Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon is immensely thought-provoking and I've read it time and time again.

    Sci-fi and fantasy visionary
    The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner: watching two gently obsessive biologists watch finches in the Galapagos for 20 years gives an exhilarating sense of the nobility of pure science and the endless revelatory power of Darwin's theory of evolution.

    Bestselling children's author
    John Carey's Faber Book of Science, simply because everything is there, and very well organised.

    Director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics
    I first read Foundation by Isaac Asimov as a teenager and was fascinated by its scale - a Galactic-wide war instigated by a megalomaniac; the development of “psychohistory”; aiming to use statistical prediction of humanity's actions to develop a plan to survive the impending Dark Ages.

    Award-winning novelist
    The Chimpanzees of Gombe by Jane Goodall is the product of a lifetime's astonishing, painstaking and revolutionary research. This book finally reveals the complex society of our closest cousins, wild chimpanzees. Wholly fascinating, absorbing and surprisingly moving.

    Author of the mathematical bestseller Fermat's Last Theorem
    One of the best science books of all time is Roger Penrose's The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe. Professor Penrose should be applauded for writing this 1099-page book that truly explains modern physics, mathematics, and the intricate relationship between the two, at a highly intelligent yet very accessible level--this is something that only Penrose, both an eminent scientist and one with incredible skills of exposition, could achieve.

    Leading English chemist
    The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins. One of the least known and most technical of Richard Dawkins' books, but eye-opening in its range and the imaginative explorations of a simple but far-reaching idea.

    Science and space writer
    James Gleick's Chaos: Making a New Science; a brilliantly accessible and genuinely thrilling look at how fractals influence every aspect of life, from the growth of leaves to the ups and downs of stock market prices. There are even hidden patterns inside what we would think of as the 'random' hiss of static on a phone line.

    Solar physicist
    I would nominate Flatland by Edwin Abbott. It’s a long time since I read it, but it made a big impact on me when I read it as a child and helped influence me to become a mathematician and astrophysicist. It’s a great read, which introduces some advanced concepts in mathematics and physics - the idea of dimensions beyond the obvious three - while also making the reader think about things like prejudice, perception and social conventions. It’s also an enjoyable, rather surreal adventure story.

    Philosopher of everyday life
    My favourite science book is Of a Fire on the Moon by Norman Mailer. Mailer spent a year studying the NASA space programme that led to the first moon landings and his book is a riveting study of the mentality of rocket scientists, astronauts and the scientific community more generally. He brings out the beauty, but also the horror (and even fascism) lurking beneath this great achievement.

    Medical Director at Newcastle University
    From childhood, The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle. Most recently I found Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything a delight!

    I guess, thinking back, it would have be Peter Medawar's The Art of the Soluble. This came out at a time when I was trying to work out in my mind whether linguistics was an art or a science - and then, thanks to him, realised I was asking the wrong question.

    I belong to the scientifically lost generation that started science at twelve years old and gave it up at fourteen. So Joseph Needham's Science and Civilisation in China re-awakened my interest and inaugurated my adult self-education in the sciences, as well as revolutionising my understanding of the history of the world.

    Consultant Haematologist and Medical Oncologist
    This changes all the time, but at present my vote would go to Cosm by Gregory Benford. It's good old fashioned "hard Sf," with real science that is directly relevant to what is happening at the Large Hadron Collider this year!

    Science Editor of The Times
    Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. This book will change the way you think about science and history, proposing a compelling theory that geography and ecology can explain the rise and fall of civilisations, migrations and conquests.

    Scottish writer and broadcaster
    David Suzuki & Peter Knudston’s Genethics. It helped me in my scientifically illiterate way to get my head round genetics. “A gene is life's way of remembering how to perpetuate itself. That memory is chemical”. Eureka, I thought, I can understand that.

    Former Director of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich
    I am always looking for books that provide bridges between the arts, humanities and sciences. The Existential Pleasure of Engineering by Samuel C. Florman is a gem: learned, witty, wise, great fun to read – and full of useful quotes from a wide variety of authors just aching to be re-used.

    Fibre optic engineer
    My favourite science fiction book is The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. I love it because it is a gripping story of revenge, with elements of The Count of Monte Cristo in it. Bester describes a future world that is vivid and plausible despite the fantastic nature of the characters, their situations and surroundings. I think it’s incredible that it was first published in 1956, as it does not appear to have dated a day.

    Author of The Science of Dr Who
    One that always stays with me is Ian Stewart’s Does God Play Dice. I read it when I was a student and it laid bare the tricky subject of chaos theory so clearly but at the same time conveyed so much of the technical detail – everything a popular science book should do

    Award-winning children's author
    My favourite science book has to be Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl and F.H.Lyon. In it, Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl builds a raft of balsa wood and sets out with a crew of five to cross the Pacific Ocean, hoping to prove his hypotheses that the Polynesian Islands may have been settled by South Americans travelling west rather than (as was commonly assumed) Asians travelling east. The joy of the book lies in the vivid description of his hundred days spent on a primitive raft, hundreds of miles from shore, just a few inches above the water. Thirty years after reading it (admittedly hundreds of times), I can still vividly recall Heyerdahl's descriptions of visitations by strange and magical sea life, and the terror of weathering storms on the tiny craft.

    Author of the bestselling Longitude
    I will recommend a beautifully expressed classic in the field, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. This was a book true to itself and powerful enough to change the world. It awakened an unaware public to the dangers of pollution.

    Author and physicist
    Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman! by Richard Feynman. I read about Feynman's extraordinary scientific and personal adventures when I was a teenager, and it helped fuel my love of physics.

    Chief Executive of the Eden Project
    The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. This is a great book about the power of language. It blows your mind!

    Environment Editor of The Times
    The Velvet Claw by David Macdonald. It’s a fascinating read about the evolution of the carnivore and the variety of forms they have taken.

    Professor of Mathematics at Warwick University
    My favourite science read is Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach. It's a highly original examination of self-referential structures in science, mathematics, art, and music, including dialogues between Achilles and the tortoise, and there is nothing else that is remotely like it.

    Science-fiction author, and critic for The Times
    Mother Nature: Natural Selection & the Female of the Species by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. A fascinating study of the evolution of motherhood, and the effects of maternal behaviour on evolution.

    Travel writer
    Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth Century by John McNeill. This brilliant, deeply challenging book calmly unfolds the biological consequences of cheap energy and spectacular population growth in the era – which one chemist has called the anthropocene – in which more and more people acquire greater and greater leverage over the environment. What a piece of work is a man . . .

    Acclaimed novelist
    Anything and everything by Michio Kaku, Steven Pinker or James Lovelock. All very different thinkers and writers, but each lights up the world, the universe, the brain.

    Developmental biologist, author and broadcaster
    V.S.Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain. A wonderful and startling account of brain function and its abnormalities.

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