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(see also the separate children's and the SF sections)

Click on the book's name or the summary to find out more. Most recent additions are printed in blue. To see just the very best, rated books, click here. For the still superb rated books, click here.

Natural Acts David Quamman Collection of beautifully crafted short pieces on science and nature, especially good on unexpected animal topics. Biology, overview
Natural Computing Dennis Shasha & Kathy Lazere Remarkable stories from the individuals working at the edge of what's possible with computers - just lacks a bit of 'is this realistic?' Technology
Nature via Nurture Matt Ridley A superbly balanced picture of the ages-old debate between nature and nurture, and the latest thinking to emerge from genetic science Human science
Nature's Robots: A History of Proteins Charles Tanford & Jacqueline Reynolds Accessible history of science textbook on proteins and their discovery, but not really popular science Biology
Neutrino Frank Close Small but totally fascinating book on the hunt for this most elusive of quantum particles. Superb insight into the way real science works. Physics
The Never Ending Days of Being Dead Marcus Chown A clear exploration of some of the big questions in physics, bringing in a range of weird and wonderful theories Physics, cosmology
The New Killer Germs Pete Moore Very effective if depressing account of our battle against bacteria and viruses, and how things are likely to get worse in the future Human science
New Theories of Everything John D. Barrow Hard to read, but insightful exploration of the nature of theories in science and how they are constructed, particularly around physics and theories of everything. Physics
The Northern Lights Lucy Jago Kristian Birkeland, the Norwegian scientist who first uncovered the secret of the Northern Lights Biography, physics
Not a Chimp Jeremy Taylor Convincing exploration of the very real differences between humans and chimps, overlooked by simply comparing genes Human science
Not Exactly Kees van Deemter A study of vagueness in language, logic, computing, and everyday life. Highly original but often abstract, and could be more cohesive. Overview
Nothing: a very short introduction Frank Close Turns out to be more 'basic ideas in modern physics', often well presented, though very compact - but not quite what the title promises. Physics
The Nothing that Is Robert Kaplan An enjoyable tour around that most significant gap in our counting system, zero Maths
Not Even Wrong Peter Woit Stunning but hugely difficult book describing the failing of string theory and why it perhaps isn't even science. [UNRATEABLE] Physics
No Two Alike Judith Rich Harris A real page turner as the author explores how personalities differ, with a style that owes as much to a murder mystery as a science book Human science
Number Freak Derrick Niederman Goes through every number from 1 to 200 trying to find interesting things to say about it. A bit like counting sheep. Maths
Number Freaking Gary Rimmer Entertaining book of strange statistics. The format (guess the answer from three) gets a little tedious Maths
Numbers: a very short introduction Peter M. Higgins Pocket introduction to the nature of numbers. A mixed bag - some bits interesting, some rather dull.. Maths
On Being Peter Atkins Interesting attempt to apply scientific thinking to the 'great questions of existence' - specifically the beginnings and endings of everything. Overview
Once Before Time Martin Bojowald Explanation of loop quantum gravity, the main competitor to string theory. Knows his stuff, but not how to write about it. Physics, cosmology
The One True Platonic Heaven John L. Casti Cleverly written fictional encounter between key physicists and mathematicians at the IAS - with some politics thrown in for fun Overview
The Origins of Meaning James R. Hurford A detailed and scholarly, but accessible, survey of the evolution of linguistic meaning. Human science
Our Cosmic Habitat Martin Rees A clear and well-written guide to the universe from the Astronomer Royal Cosmology, astronomy
Our Inner Ape Frans de Waal The affection the author feels for chimps and bonobos comes through strongly as he explores the behaviour of our closest relatives, and what it can tell us about ourselves Biology
The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing Richard Dawkins Interesting collection of extracts from many great science writers and scientists. Excellent sampler. Overview
The Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations W. F. Bynum and Roy Porter Absolutely brilliant collection of quotations from scientists and about science. An absolutely must-have reference. Overview
Oxygen Nick Lane Not, as it may seem a book on the element, but on its complex relationship with life. Great content but very hard work for the reader. Biology, human sciences
Packing for Mars Mary Roach Not a lot of science and technology but a fascinating and often hilarious at what the experience of space travel is like for real astronauts. Technology
Pandora's Breeches Patricia Fara Interesting exploration of women's early role in science Biography
Paradox Jim Al-Khalili Using ten mind-bending paradoxes, we are introduced to some remarkable physics. Writing style a little plodding, but content great. Physics
Parallel Worlds Michio Kaku Fascinating ideas on parallel universes, cosmology and string theory only slightly let down by oversimplification and mixed writing. Cosmology, physics
Pathfinders Jim Al-Khalili Fascinating stories of the amazing figures of Arabic science who built the foundations of the renaissance. The analysis is less effective, but that's not important. Overview
Pavlov's dogs and Schrödinger's cat Rom Harré Rather strained and low key book on the use of animals and plants as scientific instruments and experimental equipment. Overview
Perfect Copy Nicholas Agar Good introduction to the working of cloning and exploration of the ethical implications and uses Human science
Perfect Rigour Masha Gessen The remarkable story of how Russian mathematician Gregory Perelman solved one of the biggest problems in maths, then withdrew from everything, ignoring his accolades. Mathematics
Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track Richard Feynman Absolutely fascinating collection of letters from one of the greatest scientists ever Biography
The Periodic Table Eric R. Scerri An in-depth exploration of the birth and development of the periodic table. Too technical and not enough context for the general reader. Chemistry
Periodic Tales Hugh Aldersey-Williams Entertaining exploration of the elements with lots of stories about their use and discovery, plus the author's personal experience of accumulating elements. Chemistry
Personality Daniel Nettle Using a series of quasi-Jungian personality type measures, psychologist Daniel Nettle looks at how our personalities differ and why we may have evolved this way. Human science
Phantoms in the Brain Sandra Blakeslee & V. S. Ramachandran The workings of the brain cleverly explored through mental problems and the effects of brain damage Human science
Physics and Technology for Future Presidents Richard A. Muller Excellent as a textbook for a physics course for arts majors, but if you want great popular science, turn to its sister, Physics for Future Presidents.. Physics
Physics for Future Presidents Richard A. Muller One of the cleverest concepts we've ever come across - the physics you ought to know if you are going to be US president - and wonderfully delivered too. Physics
The Physics of Star Trek Lawrence M. Krauss How much can real science make the wonders of Star Trek possible? TV, physics
The Physics of Superheroes James Kakalios One of the better 'science of'/'physics of' books, using the exploits of superheroes to explore everything from mechanics to electromagnetism.. Physics
Physics of the Future Michio Kaku As futurology goes, pretty impressive - but it's not a subject that makes for readable books and even Michio Kaku can't really deliver. Physics
Physics of the Impossible Michio Kaku Remarkable span of ideas, pulling together everything from robots and phasers to time travel and teleportation. Looks at why they are currently impossible and how they make become possible in the future. Physics
The Piltdown Forgery Joseph Weiner Fifty years after it was discredited, OUP publish an updated version of Weiner's still very readable account Human science
Plan B 2.0 Lester R. Brown Disappointingly dull and uninspiring plan to save the world from eco-disaster, though does have a good survey of the problems.  Earth science
The Planets Dava Sobel Highly poetic and personal exploration of the solar system - enjoyable reading but a little weak on science Astronomy
Planets - a very short introduction David A. Rothery Despite the limitations of the compact pocket format, this proves a surprisingly readable and informative summary of the planets and their moons. Astronomy
The Planet in a Pebble Jan Zalasiewicz Absolutely brilliant concept of exploring the history of the planet geologically from a single pebble, and very well told - but a shame that some of the geology is a touch dull. Earth science
Plastic Fantastic Eugenie Samuel Reich The gripping story of the biggest known fraud in physics, but could have been told better. Physics
Pleasurable Kingdom Jonathan Balcombe Can animals feel pleasure? Pet owners will say "yes" - this book shows they're probably right, and explains why it happens and why we should consider it in animal welfare. Biology
Pleasure [The Compass of Pleasure] David J. Linden Good, readable exploration of the nature of pleasure in its impact on the brain, plus vice and addiction, but is just occasionally a bit slow when dealing with the detailed workings. Human science
The Pluto Files Neil deGrasse Tyson Glossy book on Pluto that falls down by not being sure what it is, and having a bit of a dull subject. Astronomy
The Poison Paradox John Timbrell Comprehensive but rather repetitive and weakly edited guide to the nature of poisons, both natural and synthetic Biology, chemistry
Polio: An American Story David M. Oshinsky A masterful job of bringing to life the struggles to develop a vaccine against polio. Not as US-centric as the title suggests. Human Science
Possessing Genius: The Bizarre Odyssey of Einstein's Brain Carolyn Abraham Occasionally gory but fascinating account of what happened to Einstein's brain after his death Biography, human science
Postcards from Mars Jim Bell Great photographs of the Martian surface taken by the rovers, with good explanatory text, but after a while the pictures are very similar to each other. Astronomy
Power, Sex, Suicide Nick Lane It sounds like a political thriller, but it's a fascinating if fat exploration of the role of mitochondria, the invader power packs of complex life. Biology
Powering Up Rebecca Mileham Thought-provoking exploration of the effects computer games have on us. Sometimes over-enthusiastic, but mostly good. Technology
Predictably Irrational Dan Ariely Great demonstration of how flawed the conventional economics assumption that humans make rations decisions is, with a string of experiments. Human science
The Presence of the Past Rupert Sheldrake Interesting idea of 'morphic resonance' shaping everything from crystals to human beings, but rather dull reading and in the end not convincing. Overview
The Prism and the Pendulum Robert P. Crease The ten most beautiful experiments in science (well, physics), with good insights into the people behind them. Physics
Prisoner's Dilemma William Poundstone Interesting biography of John von Neumann plus introduction to game theory and its cold war significance Maths
Programming the Universe Seth Lloyd An attempt to make quantum theory and quantum computers more approachable by using information theory just makes things harder Physics
Proust and the Squid Maryanne Wolf Wonderful concept - looking at how the brain copes with reading - not very well executed as a popular science book.  Human science
Pythagoras Kitty Ferguson A difficult task in writing a book on a person we know almost nothing about (and not much more on his theories) - but instead we follow his influence through the centuries in a fascinating fashion. Biography
Pythagoras' Revenge Arturo Sangalli Popular maths, mostly from ancient Greece, presented in a novel. Brilliant idea, execution not so good.(*) Maths
Q&A: Cosmic Conundrums and Everyday Mysteries of Science Robert Matthews Lots of fun and some significant surprises in this selection of answers to the scientific questions we'd all like to ask, but haven't Overview
Quantify! Göran Grimvall Subtitled 'a crash course in smart thinking' this book takes a look at how numbers should best be used. Mathematics
Quantum Manjit Kumar Long, rather dull and too technical history of the development of quantum theory. Physics
Quantum Enigma Bruce Rosenblum & Fred Kuttner Not so much physics as metaphysics in this exploration of the interpretations of quantum theory and their implications (if any) for consciousness. Good if you're interested in quantum interpretations. Physics
Quantum Man Lawrence M. Krauss On the surface a biography of Richard Feynman, the book is much more an explanation of his science. Some intriguing stuff, but could have been better explained. Physics
Quantum Physics: A Beginner's Guide Alistair I. M. Rae Worthy if dull introduction that is reminiscent of a university lecture. Strangely omits some key aspects of quantum physics. Physics
Quantum Physics for Poets Leon Lederman & Christopher Hill A workmanlike introduction to quantum physics but not great at explaining to the general reader. Better for physics students than poets. Physics
Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You [The Quantum Zoo] Marcus Chown The best introduction to quantum physics and relativity we've seen with some superb examples and great explanation Physics
Quantum Reality Nick Herbert Stodgy and impenetrable trip around the metaphysics underlying quantum theory Physics
The Quantum Universe: everything that can happen does happen Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw A superb primer on quantum physics for anyone about to start a physics degree, but incredibly hard work for a general reader. Physics
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter Richard Feynman Great insight into Feynman's genius in these transcribed lectures, in not popular science Physics
The Queen's Conjuror Benjamin Woolley The remarkable John Dee and his fascinating mix of science and magic Biography
The Quest for the Quantum Computer Julian Brown Very good exploration of the weird world of quantum computing. Five star for techies, but actual rating reflects over-technical approach.  Physics, technology
Radiation and Reason Wade Allison Powerful arguments for a better assessment of the risk of nuclear power, but could do to be more approachable. Physics, human science
Rain Brian Cathcart Some lovely insights into rain and its effects, but too short Earth science
The Rainhill Trials Christopher McGowan Pure technology, but a fascinating insight into the men and machines that brought railways into being Technology
The Rational Optimist Matt Ridley Not really science, more a political polemic, but a wonderful exploration of why things are better than they used to be thanks to trade and the interaction of ideas - a great counter to doom mongers. Human science
Rats Robert Sullivan A study of the wild rat in New York, in Robert Sullivan's unique style that brings in many fascinating tangential stories Biology
Reactions Peter Atkins Beautifully illustrated introduction to the fundamentals of chemistry at the level of atoms and molecules, but more for the student than the general reader. Chemistry
Real Mosquitoes Don't Eat Meat Brad Wetzler A collection of delightful and fun answers to those questions that always puzzle us, in this case about the natural world Overview
Relativity: a very short introduction Russell Stannard A concise and effective summary of both special and general relativity, but more suited to a physics student than the general reader. Physics
Relativity for the Questioning Mind Daniel Styler Introduction to relativity that takes the form of a workbook plus FAQs - works surprisingly well if you like the approach (probably not best as a first book to read on relativity though) Physics
Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think Alan Grafen & Mark Ridley Collection of essays inspired by Richard Dawkins, sadly lacking his style and readability, and not addressing the man himself Biology
Richard Feynman: A Life in Science John Gribbin & Mary Gribbin Plodding style and under-done explanation of the science make this biog of super-scientist Feynman disappointing Biography, physics
The Righteous Mind Jonathan Haidt Impressive insights into the way our moral structures control our approach to politics, religion, business and more. Very readable and truly fascinating. Human science
Rising Force James D. Livingston The history and science of levitation. Not just maglev trains (though they feature large), but the characters, inventions and patent wars, making an enjoyable read. Physics
The Rising Sea Orrin H. Pilkey & Rob Young Impressive and telling description of how sea level can be expected to rise and what it's impact will be on humans, wildlife and land masses. Earth science
Risk: a very short introduction Baruch Fischhoff & John Kadvany Good background on decision making with risk as a factor, but doesn't really explore risk and its positive aspects. Maths
Risk: The science and politics of fear Dan Gardner Good insights into how human responses divide into 'head' and 'gut' and how our gut leads us to be frightened more than we should. Human science
The Road to Reality Roger Penrose Remarkable tour-de-force exploration of physics and its mathematical basis, but almost totally incomprehensible! Physics, maths
Rock & Gem Ronald Louis Bonewitz Not really popular science, but a beautifully illustrated reference on all kinds of rocks, minerals & gems Earth science
The Rocketbelt Caper Paul Brown Stranger than fiction true story of the development of the rocketbelt and the plunge into kidnapping and murder that one rocketbelt caused Technology
The Rough Guide to Climate Change Robert Henson An excellent introduction to the whys and wherefores of global warming: mix of politics and science, hence relatively low score Earth science
The Rough Guide to the Future Jon Turney Interesting idea of exploring the future, well written, but let down by the lack of science and often rather dull topics that have to be covered but don't inspire. Overview

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Last update 16 April 2011