I recently got a request to recommend some popular science books that don’t assume any scientific knowledge on the part of the reader. I was surprised at how hard it was to think of books, because to be honest, most pop science books do seem to assume that you have some fluency in science ideas or jargon, if at a lesser level than a scientist would. I’ve read some very popular books about biological topics that I found dry or hard to get through, because even though I’m a scientist I don’t know very much biology. But I came up with the following ten books, which explore different aspects of science in strongly accessible ways:
- Feynman, Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick: A graphic novel about an amazing and weird physicist, which collects a lot of the best things he wrote while telling his life’s story.
- A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson: Essays rambling through any and every scientific topic, lots of wonder, very accessible and easy to read.
- Connections, James Burke: The role of technology and chance in history, and thus the practical importance of science in shaping our world.
- The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean: Stories about chemistry and the scientists who discovered some of the elements, bite size!
- Cosmos, Carl Sagan: The history of the universe and our civilization, plus a lot about the place of science in society. A classic, especially relevant given the current reboot of the Cosmos tv show!
- Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality, Manjit Kumar: An account of what quantum physics actually is, along with the stories of the people who figured it out and the controversies surrounding it.
- Welcome To Your Brain: The Science of Jet Lag, Love and Other Curiosities of Life, Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang: Up-to-date neuroscience, very readable and engaging. I wouldn’t recommend reading their other engaging neuroscience book, Welcome To Your Child’s Brain, unless you want everyone to think you’re having a baby.
- Big Bang: The Most Important Scientific Discovery of All Time and Why You Need to Know About It, Simon Singh: What the Big Bang Theory is, plus stories of its scientists, all expertly woven together.
- The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers About Danger, Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter: A graphic novel that gets into risk, statistics, and psychology. It’s math but in a very applied way!
- Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software, Charles Petzold: Combining tech, math, and communication to spell out how computers communicate.
- Asimov’s New Guide to Science: It’s probable that this book is dated by now, but Asimov really was the best at explaining things, and his gigantic popular science book is amazing.
These books will give a nice overview of some of the great stuff that’s out there in popular science reading. (Note: the links above are affiliate links, just something we’re trying out!) Of course, I’m always interested in other people’s recommendations too, so have at it in comments if you like!