I often get asked to recommend good popular science books, so I’ve put together this list of some of my favourites. Click on image or book title to see on Amazon.
The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch
Imagine our civilisation brought to its knees by an asteroid impact, sending us right back to the Dark Ages. How would we rebuild society? What bits of science and engineering would be key? Dartnell dives into the post-apocalyptic world in a very enjoyable read.
Tegmark is one of the most colourful physicists of the modern age. Never afraid to think big, this book details his personal mission to grapple with some of the most fundamental questions you can ask. In his opinion, the story of Nature is written in the language of mathematics. Don’t be put of by the mention of maths though, this is one of the best popular science accounts of the current thinking on parallel universes.
Ever wondered how significant humans are in the grand universal scheme of things? Scharf’s well written and thought-provoking book is great place to find out the current thinking being sculpted by the latest astronomical research.
The Sun Kings
In 1859, the Sun unleashed the biggest solar storm on record. Astronomer Richard Carrington was the first to notice the coming onslaught that would see the Northern Lights pushed as far south as the Caribbean. Stuart Clark’s beautifully written account is a page-turner of a tale.
Bang!: The Complete History of the Universe
Chris Lintott, Patrick Moore & Brian May
Imagine the universe had an autobiography. This highly visual book, jointly written by some mighty names in both astronomy & rock music, is an excellent primer on the fundamentals of astronomy & cosmology. My signed copy has pride of place on my bookshelf.
With astronomers discovering more and more alien worlds, it seems, at least on paper, the chance of finding alien life is on the increase. But if extraterrestrial life is common, some civilisations should be well in advance of ours. Why haven’t we seen them yet? Stephen Webb offers up fifty possible solutions with much wit and humour. One of my favourites.
Time Travel: in Einstein’s Universe
J Richard Gott
If you’ve ever wondered about the possibilities of time travel then this is probably the book for you. It is a really good introduction to the wacky world of relativity. Over ten years old now, but not too much has changed over that time. Time travel to the past and future, along with the possibility they’ll invoke messy paradoxes, are discussed in a really accessible way.
Death from the skies!
There is a lot out there in space that has the potential to kill us. Asteroids might be the most famous example, but there are also solar storms, supernova explosions, black holes, gamma ray bursts and many more. In his own unique style, Plait weighs up the chances of these astronomical threats doing us any serious harm.
Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman
Not only was Richard Feynman one of the world’s foremost physicists, he was also one of the best at explaining his work to the public with boundless, child-like enthusiasm. This book tells both his story and that of his work.
The Universe Next Door
This book is more than ten years old now, but it has aged very well. One of the books that cemented my desire to study physics, it tackles twelve of the most outlandish questions is it possible to ask, including whether time can run backwards or whether our existence is really the result of alien engineering.
In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat
Like Chown’s book, this is a long standing favourite. Originally published in 1985, it has been updated many times. I think it is the go-to book if you want to understand just how weird and profound the world of quantum physics is. A visionary book at the time, a classic now.
The Sun and the Moon
The Sun in this case is not our nearest star, but a penny newspaper published in 1830s New York. The publication ran a series of stories recounting “discoveries” of life on the Moon, including walking “man-bats” and biped beavers that lived in chimneyed homes. The stories took the Big Apple by storm. This rip-rawing tale not only examines our relationship with astronomy and science, but is also a wonderful insight into 19th century New York. I couldn’t put it down.