Inspired by a conversation yesterday, I’m posting a list of popular science books (i.e. science for the non-scientist reader) that I particularly like. Disclaimer: I don’t read lots of popular science — most of my non-fiction reading consists of travel writing.
The Trouble With Testosterone: And Other Essays On The Biology Of The Human Predicament — Robert M. Sapolsky, 1998. It’s about neuroscience, and human (and baboon) behavior, spanning things as diverse as schizophrenia and rubbernecking at car crashes. One of my favorite popular science books: entertaining, but also deep, with insights into everyday experience as well as the extremes of human behavior. http://www.amazon.com/The-Trouble-With-Testosterone-Predicament/dp/0684838915
A Short History of Nearly Everything — Bill Bryson, 2010. The strange histories of nearly all branches of science — it’s funny, exciting, accurate, and engaging.
Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman — James Gleick, 1993. An excellent biography of Feynman, capturing the drama of the Manhattan Project, the highlights of twentieth century physics, and Feynman’s famously colorful character. http://www.amazon.com/Genius-Life-Science-Richard-Feynman/dp/0679747044/
Chaos: Making a New Science — James Gleick. I assign this in my Scientific Revolutions course. Gleick describes chaos well and, more importantly, conveys the creativity and insights that led to our understanding of chaos and its significance. http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0143113453
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat — Oliver Sacks. I read this a very long time ago, and don’t remember it well, but I recall that it’s a stunning look at life with odd neurological disorders. (Popular opinion agrees that it’s great!). http://www.amazon.com/Man-Who-Mistook-His-Wife/dp/0684853949/ This is perhaps a good place to mention How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, a book I read a few years ago and loved, about the neuroscience of perception and decision making, reason and emotion. Unfortunately, Lehrer’s later work appears fraudulent, putting a cloud over everything he’s written (see e.g. http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/204136/jonah-lehrer-apologizes-makes-everyone-angrier/).
On graphic non-fiction, see my earlier post: