I thought it would be a good idea to do a summer science reading list. There are a lot of books that have changed me profoundly after reading them. All of these science books are that kind of book; the ones that make you go ‘wow’ more than a few times before you finally put them down. Some of these books have been around a while, but the science remains relevant today. They’re also all books that have a permanent spot on my book shelf.
1) The Trouble with Physics, by Lee Smolin; Mariner Books (2006).
For anyone interested in String Theory, M Theory, or cosmology this is a must read. It’s not a light read, by any means. I found myself often going back and forth to keep up, but it remains one of my favourite books written about physics.
2) 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense, by Michael Brooks; Doubleday (2008)
Tackling subjects from cold fusion to the placebo effect, this book is a roller-coaster of scientific head scratchers that make you realize what an incredible universe we all live in. It also addresses the problems dealing with the missing mass of the universe we all live in.
3) Chaos: Making a New Science, by James Gleick; Penguin Books (1987)
Chaos is a classic, but the content discussed is germane to current science. This was the first book ever written about Chaos Theory that grabbed the public consciousness. It’s the story of the development of Chaos Science and the story of how a science developed that had a profound effect on every other field of science. If you’ve ever wanted to learn about the butterfly effect or fractals, this is a great introduction.
4) Britain BC, by Francis Pryor; Harper Perennial (2003)
I’ve read a lot of books on British history and archaeology, about the pre-Roman period. This is by far my favourite book on this subject. Francis Pryor is an engaging author and an archaeologist with a fresh perspective in his field. Whether you’re a history buff, have an interest in the archaeology of the British Isles, or are fascinated by the period, this is a must read. And yes, there is considerable discussion in this book about Stonehenge and other well-known stone monuments.
5) Oxygen: the Molecule that made the World, by Nick Lane; Oxford University Press (2002)
You’ll never think about oxygen with the same casual regard after reading this book. In the examination of this chemical compound, the author takes us on a journey through Earth’s geography, chemistry, and biological evolution, before giving us a glimpse into the future of medicine. This book gives an incredibly detailed account of how oxygen has shaped our biological evolution. It also explains how while oxygen has driven evolution it’s resulted in more than a few design flaws that plague our current existence. Regardless of your scientific field of interest, you’re doing yourself a disfavour if you haven’t read this book.
6) Coming of Age in the Milky Way, by Timothy Ferris; William Morrow & Company (1988)
If you were going to pick one book about the history of cosmology, this would be that book. It takes us through the earliest recorded thoughts about night sky, then forward to the greatest shapers of our own modern cosmology (Kepler, Newton, and Einstein) and finally to modern physics and the construction of CERN. One of the things I loved about this book is the attention to detail and how it dedicates so much time to the science of astronomy as practiced by the ancients. Considering how few shoulders the earliest astronomers had to stand on and the tools they had, it’s truly amazing to read about how they calculated the size of our solar system and the distance to the stars.
7) The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb; Random House (2007)
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a well-blended mixture of chaos theory, economics, and philosophy. He’s also one of the few economists who didn’t get surprised during the crash in 2008 and had a lot of grateful clients in the aftermath. After watching him do a couple of interviews on economics, it was abundantly clear that this was someone with an amazing mind and not just someone spouting other people’s catch phrases. The Black Swan is an engaging read about the probabilities of the improbable. If you weren’t already warmed up to chaos theory, this book will have you treating the improbable not as a shocking surprise, but as something to be expected in your day to day life.
8) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jayness’s Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited, edited by Marcel Kuijsten; Julian Jaynes Society (2006)
This revised edition is a series of later writings by several authors, along with the original writings about Bicameral Mind Theory by Julian Jaynes. This is the theory that our brains have evolved since ancient times, when our minds were more like those of schizophrenics (the bicameral mind). Over time we have evolved into our current state of consciousness. I discovered this book after coming across numerous other books that quoted extensively from it. When enough good books do this, it’s a good indication that this is a book worth reading. It’s a theory that shakes the foundations of what we know about the ancient world and human evolution.