During the valuable discussions we had (and are still having) over on The Greatest Physics Paper! thread, a number of people mentioned books which work better in another category (at least in my humble opinion). So I think it is of value to start such a new discussion.
Announcing Cosmic Variance’s search for …<drum roll>…
The Greatest Popular Science Book!
Furthermore, since a lot of the discussion on the other thread did get a bit technical, it might have frozen out several of the non-practicing physicists, or the people not trained in physics who nevertheless have an interest in science. In my view, a large part of the point of this blog is to interest you, and so major reader-participation driven posts should have something for you.
So: Do talk about some of the non-textbook science books (e.g. popular expositions, biographies of a life and work, etc. and not neccessarily just physics, but any area of science) that you thought really did a good job. Nominate some of them as your candidate for the Greatest Popular Science Book! Such a book would have done one or more of the following: excited you, interested you, blew your mind, intrigued you, drove you into science, blew your skirt up, made you appreciate something more, turned you on to learning more about science, made you change fields, caused you to see the world differently, clarified things that you did not understand the first time around, etc, etc…
Who should post comments on this? Everyone! Not just scientists. Everyone. We can then all use this discussion as a resource for looking for suggestions for bedtime reading.
Again: Passionate argument and discussion is expected…but let’s be polite too.
By the way, here are some relatively recent books I’ve read in recent years that fit into this genre, which I think are excellent:
Galileo’s Daughter – Dava Sobel
Leonardo : The First Scientist – Michael White
Rosalind Franklin : The Dark Lady of DNA – Brenda Maddox
Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World – Simon Garfield
Big Bang: The Origin Of The Universe – Simon Singh
But if I have to start naming (modern) out-and-out great ones, then here’ a couple to start out with:
Inward Bound: Of Matter and Forces in the Physical World – Abraham Pais
Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein – Abraham Pais
I think these two are some of the best accounts of the high-energy physics-type area of physics activity in the 20th Century. Either should be in a top five physics category in my opinion. Any young person thinking of working in those fields should read these–and then again, from time to time. (For the category of cosmology, Singh’s book is a contender to be a great one actually. I’d be happy to hear people’s thoughts on this.) I can talk about several others, but I’ll leave that for the comments.
Let’s not forget other areas of science too…
P.S. Coming soon: The Greatest Physics Textbook! Stay tuned.