The Thousand Best Popular-Science Books

By Sean Carroll | August 29, 2008 11:17 am

Over at Cocktail Party Physics, Jennifer has cast a baleful eye on the various lists of the world’s greatest books, and decided that we really need is a list of the world’s greatest popular-science books. I think the goal is to find the top 100, but many nominations are pouring in from around the internets, and I suspect that a cool thousand will be rounded up without much problem.

We played this game once ourselves, but like basketball, this is a game that can be enjoyed over and over. So pop over and leave your own suggestions, or just leave them here. To prime the pump, off the top of my head here is a list of books I would nominate. A variety of criteria come into play; originality, readability, clarity, and influence — but just because a work appears here doesn’t mean that it scores highly on all four counts.

  • Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond
  • Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hoftstadter
  • Cosmos, Carl Sagan
  • Einstein’s Clocks and Poincare’s Maps, Peter Galison
  • How the Universe Got Its Spots, Janna Levin
  • Chronos, Etienne Klein
  • The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
  • The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen J. Gould
  • Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, Dennis Overbye
  • The Inflationary Universe, Alan Guth
  • The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
  • Warped Passages, Lisa Randall
  • The Astonishing Hypothesis, Francis Crick
  • The Double Helix, James Watson
  • Prisoner’s Dilemma, William Poundstone
  • The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins
  • One, Two, Three… Infinity, George Gamow
  • Warmth Disperses and Time Passes, Hans Christian Von Baeyer
  • Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point, Huw Price
  • A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
  • At Home in the Universe, Stuart Kauffman
  • Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman
  • Black Holes and Time Warps, Kip Thorne
  • The First Three Minutes, Steven Weinberg
  • The Mathematical Experience, Davies and Hersh
  • The Periodic Table, Primo Levi
  • Beamtimes and Lifetimes, Sharon Traweek
  • The Diversity of Life, E.O. Wilson
  • The Emperor’s New Mind, Roger Penrose
  • Longitude, Dava Sobel
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn
  • Flatland, Edwin Abbott
  • The Fabric of Reality, David Deutsch
  • Nobel Dreams, Gary Taubes

I didn’t peek at anyone else’s lists, but I admit that I did peek at my own bookshelves.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Society, Words

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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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