Quite often I find myself in a conversation with people that haven’t been trained in the sciences but are very much interested in learning more about some particular scientific topic. It always warms my heart to hear this. Inevitably our conversation leads to a discussion on what books are available for reading that a layperson could understand. There are plenty of them out threes Some are better on content and accuracy than others. Some are also easier to read than others.
Below is a list of books I would and have recommend to people for a casual read in science. The books are categorized according to their relative scientific subfield.
If you have suggests for other recommendations please add a comment to this page. Also, if you’ve read one of the books I’ve included and would like to contribute to what I’ve said, I also encourage a comment.
- Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology by Kenneth Feder (2011, 7th edition)
I haven’t had the chance to read this book yet but I’ve heard nothing but great things about this book. It has chapters the scientific method, the discovery of America, and ancient aliens amongst other interesting topics.
- Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy by Kip Thorne (1995)
This is one of my favorite books on science. The book describes the physics behind exotic astrophysical objects like black holes and worm holes. The writing has a nice balance between history and science that makes for an enjoyable read. The book is a bit long, but well worth the time.
- Discover the Stars: Starwatching using the Naked Eye, Binoculars, or a Telescope by Richard Berry (1987)
If you have the slightest interest in amateur astronomy then I would highly recommend this book as a starting place. It’s short, clear, and so useful. I still refer to it after many years of star gazing as a reference for what to look at in the night sky.
- Einstein’s Unfinished Symphony: Listening to the Sounds of Space-Time by Marcia Bartusiak (2000)
Einstein’s unfinished symphony is the music made by gravitational waves. The book is a little outdated now, but it’s a nice account of the history of gravitational wave astronomy and the buildup to the construction of LIGO.
- The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean (2010)
I haven’t had a chance to read this book myself, but my chemistry colleagues have suggested it to me. It’s now high on my To Read list.
- The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse by Jennifer Oullette (2010)
The Calculus Diaries is a very easy, quick read on the various ways that calculus finds its way into our daily lives. The writing is very inviting and the applications are interesting. Come on, all of us want to know how to survive the zombie apocalypse.
- How Everything Works: Making Physics Out of the Ordinary by Louis Bloomfield (2007)
I love this book because it teaches physics through examples so well. Each chapter is dedicated to a different physics concept which is demonstrated through an everyday motion or item. In the past I’ve used the textbook version of this book to teach a freshman course on conceptual physics.
- Touch This! Conceptual Physics for Everyone by Paul Hewitt (2001)
The book is short and clear and to the point. It covers mostly Newtonian mechanics and dances on the edge of being a textbook, but I would still recommend this as a great introduction to Newtonian mechanics.