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Another manual ping:

Hmmm, the trackbacks are getting emailed to me, but don't seem to be showing up in the comments. I'll look into it! In the meantime, thanks to all for the great suggestions. We are organizing an Inner Cabal to narrow things down to a reasonably balanced Top 100, but I plan to maintain a master list of ALL the suggestion as an ongoing resource for curious readers....

Wonder-filled book list. I am going to adapt mine from yours and your contributors. Couldn't help but notice the Iain Pears book "An Instance Of the Fingerpost". An odd, yet compelling book, I despised most of the characters, loved the story. (Check out "The Dream Of Scipio" brilliant portrayals of the transformative powers of love and the destructive force of arrogance.)Otherwise everyone else has suggested the books I would have recommended and extended my list into the impossible. Great Blog!

The best science book I've ever read as a non science person was A Brief History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. His whitty humor punctuates a who's who of the science world digging up great facts and stories of how discoveries really got discovered. It was very approachable and held my attention the whole way through. My wife loved it too.

In addition to "Zero" by Charles Seife, surely the list should include "Non-Zero" by Robert Wright.

"The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin (prhaps more history than science)

"The Biological Universe" by Steve Dick (all the astrobiology you need under one roof)

"Cosmos" by Carl Sagan

"The Whole Shebang" by Tim Ferris (not as good as Coming of Age in the M.W. but still very good)

"The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston (you said you liked narrative, this one's a pulse-pounder)

I'd add any of Richard Fortey's books. His "Trilobite" is great, just the right balamce of personal recollection and science.

"The Song of the Dodo" by David Quammen, as well as his collections of essays.

"Godel, Escher, Bach", Richard Hofstader's masterpiece, might be a bit much for the "general reader". The Aesop-ish fables interspersed between the chapters should be published separately.

"The Beak of the Finch" was mentioned, and I concur.

Alfred Russel Wallace's "The Malay Archipelago" is a great read, an account of the Malaysian natural world during the golden age of naturalistic personal exploration.

Traums: I also loved Asimov's science/SF books, especially "The Left Hand of the Electron".

I second Traums on the Asimov. If I recall the were "Asimov's Guide to..." I personally have in storage somewhere "...Chemistry" and "...Physics".

Oh, and: Is that a new picture? Did you cut your hair? Anyhow, looks good

(There, thought ought to get some Asimov on the list...

I wonder what it says about me that I've only read 6 of the books on that list (and I never finished Gödel, Escher, Bach -- the second half is very longwinded and tiresome). I refuse to read anything more by Lightman -- I used his textbook on Radiative Transfer (w., Rybicki), and I was bugged by a number of math errors, weird organization, and an astoundingly poor index. I'm a big fan of S. J. Gould, although I thought some of his collections were significantly better than Wonderful Life.

The Curve of Binding Energy, by John McPhee
The opening essay in Boojums All the Way Through by N. David Mermin (but not the rest, which is too damned esoteric).

oops.It should be "Asimov on..."

And SciTim - I've also only finished 6 on the orig list. and haven't finished GEB for the same reason.

Well, if Neuromancer and Snow Crash make the grade, I would throw in Cryptonomicon also by Neal Stephenson as well. Good math/cryptography, Perl coding, and a really good chocolate chip cookie recipe all in one book.



Overlooked again.


We highly encourage authors to nominate their own works for the master list... :)

I'll add a few more, which are ostensibly about food but actually explain science well.

How To Read A French Fry, by Russ Parsons, explains thermodynamics and organic chemistry in detail in the context of cooking, with a number of delicious recipes illustrating the principles discussed. The book is brilliant, and the most interesting cookbook I own.

The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan, goes into detail on the history of man's interaction with the potato, the apple, the tulip, and marijuana. It's botany, history, and symbiotic evolutionary biology all in one, and a great read.

On a non-food note, Henry Petroski's The Pencil begins with a riff on Milton Friedman's famous pencil lecture to discuss the history and practice of engineering and its social effects. Petroski is the rare engineer who explains the attraction of his practice in great prose.

BTW it's "LIVES of a Cell."

"The Fractal Geometry of Nature" Benoit Mandelbrot can best be understood by going back to this work after messing with fractals for a while on one's own. His style is dense.

"Ontogeny and Phylogeny" Stephen J. Gould's most difficult work, but if one can follow his earlier work, one can gain so much from this one.

I'd like to echo others' recommendations for:

"Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond

"The Science of Discworld" by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen

The Cartoon History / Cartoon Guide series by Larry Gonick. Gave "The Cartoon Guide to Physics" to my nephew when he went off to college. He thought the idea was silly, but later admitted it was very useful.

Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos
M. Mitchell Waldrop was absolutely great. Unfortunately it is easily confused with Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos by Roger Lewin which while good, is different from Waldrop's excellent book. And I recommend Artificial Life by Steven Levy. None of these, nor A New Kind of Science by Wolfram, probably rate top 100. But I recommend them!

Just nine, and two started but not finished. Very physics-heavy list. I may try yo make my own list later....


Waldrop is actually working on a second edition of Complexity, updated with material since it published (early 90s).

Excellent suggestions for additions to Jennifer's list. I don't think that I saw these two which I think would also be useful addtions.

The Double Helix by James Watson
The Measure of All Things by Ken Adler

The latter is the telling of how the measurements were made which originally determined the length of the meter. It also contains anecdotes of some famous French scientists of the late 18th early 19th century.


Just throwing some good pop-sci books I read and enjoyed quite a lot:

- Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea by Carl Zimmer
- The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins
- Frozen Earth: The Once and Future Story of Ice Ages by Douglas Macdougall
- Boltzmann's Atom by David Lindley
- Bully for Brontosaurus by Steven Jay Gould
- Mapping Mars by Oliver Morton
- Venus Revealed by David Grinspoon

here are a few that I would add

The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature by Heinz Pagels (unfortunately it's out of print, but an excellent read)
Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman
Evolution: What the fossils say and why it matters by Donald Prothero
In Search of Schrodinger's Cat by John Gribbon

So, novels can be considered popular science? In that case there are many novels that are way more qualified than Neuromancer. The Janna Levin novel I can sort of understand, but in that case any (more or less fictionalized) biography of scientists can make the list. I guess that's how Surely You're Joking... made it.

Hmm, yes: you do have biographies. Well. Anyway, for sciency fiction I recommend, which you already have in your link list. Their book list is not bad.

Two I've read in the last month that I thought were excellent:

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin

Only a theory: evolution and the battle for America's soul by Kenneth R. Miller

So many books... so little time.

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.