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Almost Best

Our Best Page lists the hottest, five star books - but these titles all earned four stars, making them still superb titles well worth adding to a popular science collection. Click on the book's name or the summary to find out more.

The 4% Universe Richard Panek A useful and detailed history of the discovery of the existence of dark matter and dark energy, which make up 96% of the universe. Cosmology
After the Ice Steven Mithen Huge history of humanity between 20,000 and 5,000 BC with neat "observer" style Human science
Afterglow of Creation Marcus Chown Intriguing detective story tracking back from the cosmic background radiation to the big bang. Cosmology
The Age of Empathy Frans de Waal Lessons from nature, and primates in particular, into the reasons for the existence of empathy and its value. Touching and based on de Waal's work Biology
[The Age of] Scurvy Stephen R. Bown Gripping story of the slow discovery of the cure for scurvy that brings alive the atmosphere of life on sailing ships Human science
Almost Human Lee Gutkind Fly on the wall documentary book of the personalities, achievements and disasters of the Carnegie Mellon roboticists. Technology
The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics James Kakalios Despite promising to be 'math free' this introduction to quantum mechanics peppered with examples from comic books is quite hard work for the reader, but rewards that work with more depth than is usual. Physics
Antimatter Frank Close Intriguing guide to antimatter: what it is, how it's made and how it's unlikely to be a serious component of a weapon. Physics
The Archimedes Codex Reviel Netz & William Noel Fascinating combination of the story of the uncovering of a hidden manuscript copy of Archimedes' books and an explanation of what's special about the content. Maths
Armageddon Science Brian Clegg The science behind the many ways that humanity can destroy itself (with a bit of destructive nature thrown in). Mad scientists may be scary, but it's a strangely enjoyable cocktail. Overview
As Far As We Know Paul Callaghan & Kim Hill Transcripts of entertaining radio conversations covering a wide range of scientific issues from human gender to thermodynamics. Overview
Aspirin: The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug Dairmuid Jeffreys The story of aspirin from quinine substitute to heart medicine. Excellent background; truly fascinating  Chemistry, human sciences
Atom Piers Bizony A good mix of biography and science as we follow the trail of just what atoms are. Could do with a bit more depth in the human interest side, but well-written. Physics
The Apple and the Atom Sebastien Balibar Enjoyable and very personal views on a series of scientific topics from a French low temperature physicist. Overview
Are Angels OK? Bill Manhire & Paul Callaghan (Eds.) Mix of science, science fiction and lab lit from New Zealand. Mixed content, but explores well how science and literature sit alongside each other. Overview
The Autobiography Charles Darwin Not at all stuffy - short book is a fascinating insight into Darwin as a human being Biography, biology
The Autobiography Patrick Moore A remarkable combination of stories from life an opinions on the world from the UK's best known astronomer and TV eccentric Biography, astronomy
Backroom Boys Francis Spufford Wonderful history of six quirky UK technology breakthroughs including Concorde and the game Elite Technology
Bang! The Complete History of the Universe Patrick Moore, Brian May, Chris Lintott A superbly illustrated introduction to the basics of cosmology, for all ages, though we think it works best for younger readers. Astronomy, cosmology
Bats Sing, Mice Giggle Karen Shanor & Jagmeet Kanwal A whole pile of surprising and fascinating facts about the inner lives of animals, though could have been less of a long list. Biology
The Beautiful Invisible Giovanni Vignale A unique look at the importance of imagination and beauty in physical theories, exploring the difference between fact and representation. Physics
Beyond the Hoax Alan Sokal Hugely insightful look into the nature of science based on Sokal's hoax academic paper, but could have better put together. Overview
The Big Necessity Rose George The rarely visited world of human waste - great fun down the sewers, investigating Japanese high function toilets, and with the sociological and health issues involved. Human Science
Blink Malcolm Gladwell Lightweight but delightfully told illustration of how we make ultra-quick decisions Human Science
The Book of Time Adam Hart-Davis Heavily illustrated book on the nature of time and its measurements that has enough in to interest adults but is presented in a way that will appeal to older children too. Physics
The Brain Book Rita Carter Surprisingly good adult picture book on the brain and how it works. Human science
Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control Kathleen Taylor That rarest of things, an academic book that is enjoyable to the general reader - excellent study of brainwashing Human science
Branches Philip Ball Part of Ball's wide-ranging study of form, this book looks at branching in nature, with a sideline in the concept of scientific models. Overview
A Briefer History of Time Stephen Hawking (with Leonard Mlodinow) Attempt to make Brief History more approachable - good content, but suffers from übergloss Cosmology, physics
Buy-ology Martin Lindstrom Interesting study of how people react to advertising by monitoring the brain, though some of the interpretation of the science is poorly presented. Human science
Catastrophes! David Prothero Really takes the reader into the experience of living through natural disasters with personal accounts, plus good exploration of the science behind them. Earth science
The Cause of Mosquitoes' Sorrow Surendra Verma Chronological trip through scientific breakthroughs, beginnings and blunders providing quick tasters. Overview
Chaos: A Very Short Introduction Leonard Smith One of the best entries in the Oxford series of pocket introductions, concentrating on the practical uses of chaos theory. Maths
Chasing the Sun Richard Cohen A huge exploration of humanity's relationship with the sun. Overlong and sometimes a little vague on the science, but a fascinating read. Astronomy
Chloroform: the quest for oblivion Linda Stratmann Interesting history of the early anaesthetic chloroform and its rise and fall. Great period detail. Human science
Climate Change Begins at Home Dave Reay Why climate change is a problem and what we as individuals can do about it, without jargon or being preachy Earth science, technology
The Code Book Simon Singh The development of codes and ciphers through the ages Maths
Coincidences, Chaos and All that Math Jazz Edward B. Burger & Michael Starbird A high speed, highly enjoyable tour of many of the interesting bits of maths that doesn't patronize, but is never over-heavy. Maths
Collider: the search for the world's smallest particles Paul Halpern Useful introduction to the Large Hadron Collider, particular good on the history of accelerators and particle research. Physics
The Colossal Book of Mathematics Martin Gardiner Classic puzzles, paradoxes and problems Maths
Complexity: a guided tour Melanie Mitchell Enjoyable and engaging exploration of complexity, genetic algorithms, networks and more. Overview
Conflict in the Cosmos/Fred Hoyle: A Life in Science Simon Mitton Biography of brilliant astronomer and huge character, Fred Hoyle. Fascinating, but could have been better Biography, astronomy
The Cosmic Verses James Muirden Astonishingly effective history of our ideas on the universe, all in verse - certainly could have been much worse. Cosmology
Cosmology: a very short introduction Peter Coles Compact but surprisingly detailed introduction to cosmology. Could do with an update, but still good. Cosmology
The Cosmos: A Beginner's Guide Adam Hart-Davis & Paul Bader A beautifully illustrated book from a BBC TV series that's really more about the equipment we use to study it than the cosmos. Cosmology
Cows in the Maze Ian Stewart Mixed bag collection of recreational maths pieces, some great, others not so. Maths
The Curies Denis Brian Interesting and in-depth biography of both the Curies and the Joliot-Curies, though could have been even better with judicious editing. Biography
Darwin: Discovering the tree of life Niles Eldredge Not just another Darwin biography, but a very readable and well illustrated attempt to show just how Darwin's thinking was shaped Biology, biography
Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist Adrian Desmond & James Moore A rich narrative of a "billionare of bizarre facts" and his struggle between a revolutionary idea and a conservative social context. Biography
The Darwinian Tourist Christopher Wills Biologist Christopher Wills examines the living world from an evolutionary perspective, and demonstrates the extent to which evolution has shaped all of life Biography
Decoding Reality Vlatko Vedral Fascinating subject - the significance of information in the universe - but could have been much better written.. Physics
Deep Future Curt Stager Gives a unique perspective on global warming by taking the long view, both historically and far into the future. Absolutely fascinating. Earth science
The Devil's Doctor Philip Ball Revealing look at the medieval mix of magic and science that lay behind the life and theories of Paracelsus the strange and often reviled early medic Biography
Diagnosis [Every Patient Tells a Story] Lisa Sanders A profuse collection of diagnosis stories from the doctor behind the TV programme House, M. D.  An engaging and informative read, but could have been better structured. Human science
The Discovery of the Germ John Waller Much more interesting than the title sounds - the transformation of medicine from fantasy to reality Biology, human science
Do we need Pandas? Ken Thompson An accessible exploration of biodiversity and conservation. Thompson argues we should concentrate on preserving ecosystems rather than individual species. Biology
Donald Michie: on Machine Intelligence, Biology & more Donald Michie & Ashwin Srinivasan (ed.) An enjoyable collection of writings by a pioneer of artificial intelligence and IVF. Technology
Dreaming J. Allan Hobson Dream and sleep science hauled out of the Freudian dark ages with an excellent introduction Human sciences
The Earth: an intimate history Richard Fortey Not only a good explanation of how the Earth works, but a tour of key locations too. Earth science
Earth: in 100 groundbreaking discoveries Douglas Palmer Despite the format, some interesting writing shines through and excellent photos make this an interesting exploration of the Earth's development Earth science
The End of Discovery Russell Stannard Accessible exploration of some of the most difficult topics facing scientists today, and whether we will ever get satisfactory answers. Overview
Einstein: A Life in Science Michael White & John Gribbin Between them, White & Gribbin iron out each others faults to produce a good, balanced Einstein biog Biography, physics
Einstein's Heroes Robyn Arianrhod Excellent exploration of the move of maths to centre stage in physics, mostly focussing on the life and work of James Clark Maxwell Physics, maths
Einstein's Mistakes Hans C. Ohanian Brilliantly different exposition of Einstein's work, only slightly let down by smugness and at least one error. Physics
Einstein's Universe: the layperson's guide Nigel Calder Short and useful book which outlines special and general relativity - good start for anyone who is first encountering the subject. Physics
The Electric Life of Michael Faraday Alan Hirshfeld A fascinating look at the life and particularly the work of this pre-eminent Victorian physicist. Biography, physics
Electric Universe David Bodanis Excellent as a teen introduction to the wonders of electricity, but a bit too gushing for some adults. Physics
Electronic Brains Mike Hally The early days of electronic computer are uncovered around the world - US, UK, Australia and USSR - in an engaging little book Technology
The Elegant Universe Brian Greene Precursor to Fabric of the Cosmos with considerable overlaps. Not as good on relativity/quantum theory but more on string theory. Physics, cosmology
The Elements of Murder John Emsley A history of the use of several key elements from mercury to lead in poisonings - fascinating stories and surprisingly interesting Human science
The Emperor's New Drugs Irving Kirsch An analysis of the ineffectiveness of anti-depressant drugs and the importance of the placebo effect that is a good guide to scientific method. Human science
Endless Universe: Before the Big Bang Neil Turok & Paul J. Steinhardt Accessible and readable book from the respected proponents of a theory of the creation of the universe without a big bang. Cosmology
Energy: the subtle concept Jennifer Coopersmith Though by no means an easy read with many physics concept taken as read, this book is a valuable exploration of the nature of energy and our increasing knowledge of it. Physics
Enhancing Me Pete Moore Although using a restrictive definition of enhancement, a thought-provoking look at how humans can be made more than human. Human Science, technology
The Epigenetics Revolution Nessa Carey Fascinating and enlightening book on the way DNA goes beyond genes in controlling the body. Should have been five star if it wasn't for the overabundance of impenetrable names. Human science
The Essential Einstein: His Greatest Works Albert Einstein Stephen Hawking edits and comments on Einstein's best work - but you probably need a physics degree.. Physics
Exploring the Universe Brian Clegg An attractive pictorial introduction to astronomy and cosmology, small enough to be readable but big enough to get good colour pictures. Astronomy
Farmer Buckley's Exploding Trousers Stephanie Pain (Ed.) An informative collection of short of histories of strange, unexpected and unlikely developments in the history of science and technology. Technology
Flow Philip Ball A study of the science of flow that offers many pleasures to the reader (but a clear statement of the book's aims is not one of them) Overview
Fred Hoyle's Universe Jane Gregory A thorough and effective biography of the great astronomer Fred Hoyle - not perfect, but probably the best Biography, cosmology
From Here to Infinity Ian Stewart Surprisingly readable and low-equation tour of the heart of today's mathematics Maths
The Future of Food Brian J. Ford A sharp assessment of what's wrong with the way we produce and consume food, and how things might change. Idiosyncratic tone might irritate, but will also interest. Overview
Genius: The Life and science of Richard Feynman James Gleick The best biography of this superb physicist and complex man - still flawed but well worth reading Biography
Galileo's Daughter Dava Sobel Biography of Galileo and exploration of his work, cunningly linked by a series of letters from his daughter Biography, overview
Geek Nation Angela Saini Engaging exploration of the new burst of science and technology in India in the form of a personal visit to interview many of those involved. Technology
The God Particle Leon Lederman & Dick Teresi In-depth and often funny look at the history of particle physics and the development of the standard model, viewed by an insider. Physics
Gödel, Escher, Bach Douglas Hofstadter Linking the music of Bach, the art of Escher and the maths of Gödel to illustrate human thought Psychology, overview
The Goldilocks Enigma Paul Davies Why are all the physical constants so fine-tuned for an environment we can live in? A thought provoking exploration of the cosmological reasons why things are just right. Cosmology
God's Philosophers James Hannam Highly informative and surprisingly readable book filling in just what developments were made in the history of science during the medieval period. Overview
Happiness Daniel Nettle The science of happiness - a fascinating analysis of what happiness is and how we react to it Human science
Here on Earth Tim Flannery Beautifully written introduction to evolution and the history of Earth and its inhabitants, plus not quite as good aspects on climate change/pollution and potential solutions. Earth science
Hope for Animals and their World Jane Goodall Very personal and moving accounts of animals being saved from the brink of extinction - just a bit overlong. Biology
How Long is a Piece of String Rob Easterway & Jeremy Wyndham Very enjoyable book of mathematical fun in everyday life - could do to be a little more adult in presentation Maths
How Many Licks Aaron Santos Entertaining collection of 69 estimates for remarkable statistics, illustrating the ease with which numbers can be estimated (and the fun it can be to do so). Mathematics
How Slow Can You Waterski? Simon Rogers (ed.) ... and other puzzling questions. Yes, it's another collection of mini-science articles, but this is one of the better ones, culled from the Guardian Overview
How to Clone the Perfect Blonde Sue Nelson & Richard Hollingham Eight fascinating applications of science, beautifully explained, but let down a little by childish humour Overview
How to Fossilise Your Hamster Mick O'Hare (Ed.) Building on their Q&A books, now an experiments book from the New Scientist's reliable Last Word column. Overview
Hubble: Window on the Universe Giles Sparrow Massive coffee table book of photos from the solar system the farthest visible extents of the universe taken by Hubble and other probes. Superb photography puts text in the shade a little. Astronomy
The Human Body Close-up John Clancy Packed with high-detailed microscope pictures of parts of the body it is a visual feast, supported by a basic but fair text. Just a shame it's so heavy! Human science
The Humans who went Extinct Clive Finlayson Strikingly different view of why Neanderthals died out and we survived, well worth reading despite some boring bits. Human science
Ice, Mud and Blood Chris Turney As a call to action on climate change, it is a missed opportunity. But as a story of scientific ingenuity and the wonders of nature, it takes every chance - and succeeds Earth science
If Dogs Could Talk Vilmos Csányi Real eye-opener on the nature and sophistication of the mind of a very familiar creature: the dog Biology
The Importance of Being Trivial Mark Mason Delightful exploration of why we find trivia fascinating, packing in lots of wonderful factoids along the way. Human science
In Search of Schrödinger's Cat John Gribbin One of Gribbin's best books providing a good introduction to quantum theory, which doesn't suffer too much from age despite being over 20 years old. Physics
The Infinite Book John D. Barrow Interesting book on infinity, generally very good, though too much cosmology and attempts at artiness and not enough maths Maths
The Infinity Puzzle Frank Close Essential reading for anyone interested in really understanding QED, weak and strong forces and the Higgs boson - but has some issues. Physics
In Search of Memory Eric R. Kandel Excellent account of the work of the Nobel Prize winner Kandel, putting his studies of the cellular nature of memory into the context of his life.. Biology
In Search of the Multiverse John Gribbin A speculative but highly entertaining trip around the different concepts that take us beyond a single universe to a multiverse. Physics
Introducing Quantum Theory J.P. McEvoy & Oscar Zarate Wacky but good illustrated introduction to the concepts of quantum theory Physics
Isaac Newton James Gleick Newton biog with good insight into his physics Biography, physics
Jurassic Mary Patricia Pierce Detailed insight into the life of Mary Anning, one of the great Victorian fossil hunters whose name is largely hidden because she was a working class woman Biography
Just Another Day Adam Hart-Davis Excellent concept of going through a composite everyday life and exploring the science and technology. A lot of the author in it, so a book you'll love or hate. Overview
The Killer of Little Shepherds Douglas Starr Interweaves the historical true crime story of the French Ripper and an account of the parallel development of forensic science Human science
The Last Man Who Knew Everything Andrew Robinson The first modern biography of the polymath Thomas Young whose strong contributions to physics, engineering and more make him a fascinating if enigmatic character. Biography
Leaps in the Dark John Waller Uncovering the myths of science to show that those "Eureka!" moments might be rather different. Excellent. Overview
Light Years Brian Clegg The story of humanity's exploration of light. Combination of good history with fascinating new light science. New edition. Physics
The Little Book of Unscientific Principles, Theories and Things Surendra Verma A fun collection of 100 articles on subjects on the fringes of science from good but unlikely science to downright lunacy. Overview
Living with Enza Mark Honigsbaum The story of the 1918 flu pandemic and how it impacted the UK, intertwined with events in the First World War. Scary at a time of another pandemic. Human science
Lonesome George Henry Nicholls The attempts to mate the sole known tortoise from Pinta Island in the Galapagos is used to introduce the islands themselves, and a touch of Darwin Biology
Longitude Dava Sobel Clockmaker John Harrison's attempts to devise an accurate chronometer for navigation Biography, technology
Lovelock & Gaia: Signs of Life Jon Turney If you thought Gaia was all about tree-hugging, think again with this excellent mini-introduction to Lovelock Earth science
The Magic Furnace Marcus Chown Where atoms come from - a remarkable story that takes us from the big bang to now Physics, astronomy, cosmology
Magic Universe Nigel Calder Alphabetic collection of articles on modern science that are fascinating to read and give a good overview. Overview
Massive Ian Sample The search for the Higgs boson and the source of mass. The story of the development of the colliders is great, but the physics is rather summary. Physics
The Mathematics of Life Ian Stewart Exploration of the increasing use of maths in biology. A brilliant introduction to biology, and some of the maths is interesting but some a bit abstruse. Maths, Biology
The Meadowlands Robert Sullivan Mix of industrial archaeology, travel and natural history in this warm exploration of the swamps and tips on the edge of New York City Overview
The Mechanical Turk Tom Standage The amazing story of the mechanical chess player built in 1770 Technology
The Medical Detective [The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump] Sandra Hempel Fascinating medical history of the attempts to discover how cholera spread, and John Snow's detective work to trace the origins of the Broad Street outbreak Human science
Metamorphosis Frank Ryan Fascinating theory of the origins of animals with a very different larval form (think caterpillar and butterfly) with lots of detail on the nature of metamorphosis. Biology
Middle World Mark Haw Dull looking book, which is a shame because it's a brilliant, very readable tour of the nanoscale from Brownian motion to biological machines. Physics
The Mo[u]ld on Doctor Florey's Coat Eric Lax The true story of the development of penicillin - both fascinating and very different from the myth Biology, biography
The Most Powerful Idea in the World William Rosen Engaging and detailed history of the people, technology and particularly the ideas (and the nature of invention) that made the industrial revolution happen. Technology
MonkeyLuv Robert M. Sapolsky Elegant and witty articles on the nature/nurture debate, the interface between the human mind and body, and the interaction between society and human biology. Highly readable Human science
The Most Human Human Brian Christian Uses the Turing test, comparing human and computer conversation, to discover what this teaches us about being human and about computer capabilities. Technology, human science
My Beautiful Genome Lone Frank Very personal exploration of the personal genomics business, following the author as she takes gene tests and interviews scientists. Lots to like. Human science
The Mystery of the Aleph Amir Aczel Good biography of Georg Cantor and explanation of his maths of the infinite. Maths, biography
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
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
The Nothing that Is Robert Kaplan An enjoyable tour around that most significant gap in our counting system, zero Maths
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
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
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
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
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 [Don't You Have Time to Think?] Richard Feynman Absolutely fascinating collection of letters from one of the greatest scientists ever Biography
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
The Queen's Conjuror Benjamin Woolley The remarkable John Dee and his fascinating mix of science and magic Biography
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
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
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 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
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: 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
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
Sand Michael Welland Genuinely fascinating book on every aspect of sand, but quite difficult to overcome the urge not to read it... because it's (yawn) about sand. Earth science
Science and Islam: a history Ehsan Masood An enlightening and very accessible survey of Islamic science during the so-called Dark Ages and beyond. Overview
Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen The highly entertaining and original combo of Discworld fantasy and scientific precision is aimed at evolution. A few quibbles but great Biology
The Science of Doctor Who Paul Parsons The world's longest running SF TV show comes under the "Science of" spotlight in an enjoyable and tantalising book TV
The Science of Middle Earth Henry Gee Surprisingly effective study of Tolkein's attitude to science and its appearance on his writings Overview
The Scientific Revolution: a very short introduction Lawrence M. Principe Very readable pocket guide to the origins of modern science that may well shatter a few illusions along the way. Overview
Second Nature Jonathan Balcombe The book presents important messages about animals' ability to feel and how we should treat them, but does so in a repetitious and poorly argued way. Biology
See What I'm Saying Lawrence Rosenblum Exploration of the way our different senses can supplement and supplant each other combining fascinating stories with enlightening exercises. Human science
The Selfish Genius Fern Elsdon-Baker Excellent analysis of what's right and wrong with Richard Dawkins' approach to evolution and public understanding of science, with real insights into science in society. Biology
Seven Deadly Colours Andrew Parker Superb description of nature's mechanisms for producing colour and colour's impact on the eye, a little let down by poor physics Biology
Sex, Botany and Empire Patricia Fara Joseph Banks (and Linnaeus) and his contribution to biological classification Biography, biology
Sex, Drugs & DNA Michael Stebbins Powerful indictment of the failings of the US political system on scientific and medical issues, written in a highly approachable style Overview
A Short History of Nearly Everything Bill Bryson Triumphant charge through all of science Overview
The Silicon Eye George Gilder Meet some unknown but essential characters of the silicon revolution and join their journey, attempting to take a whole new approach to digital cameras. Technology
The Single Helix Steve Jones One hundred light and enjoyable newspaper columns, collected to give an excellent dip into pretty well every area of science. Overview
Six Degrees: our future on a hotter planet Mark Lynas An important book - graphically tells of the impact of one to six degrees of temperature rise on the planet. Gets a little repetitious, but still important. Earth sciences
Sleepfaring: A journey through the science of sleep Jim Horne Wonderfully readable tour of the science of sleep. Sags just a little in the middle, but overall excellent Biology
Solar System Marcus Chown Chown's excellent Solar System app ported to book form. Not quite as good, but still has great images and easy to follow text. Astronomy
Spacecam Terry Hope A good, colourful NASA-based space picture book. Better than many as it's portable and has manned missions, Hubble, planetary probes and Earth-facing images. Astronomy
Statistics: a very short introduction David J. Hand Very readable pocket introduction to probability and statistics: first half is particularly good. Maths
The Strangest Man Graham Farmelo Very detailed and well researched biography of the most secretive of the quantum physicists, Paul Dirac. A welcome addition. Biography, physics
The Sun Kings Stuart Clark Well-written and enjoyable history of discoveries about the Sun and its influence on the Earth from renaissance times. Astronomy
The Super-Organism Bert Holldobler and E. O. Wilson Big glossy and in-depth study of the super-organism behaviour of bees and ants. Fascinating, though can get a bit heavy in both senses. Biology
The Surgeons Charles Morris By turns gory and over-awed, but still a dramatic account of the author's stint with New York heart surgeons. Human Science
Surviving Armageddon Bill McGuire Good, short book on the possible disasters facing the earth and how we can overcome them Earth science
Sync: the emerging science of spontaneous order Steven Strogatz A wonderful, cross-disciplinary jaunt that mixes real life scientific experience with exploration of synchronicity Overview
Taking the Red Pill Glen Yeffeth (Ed.) Tasty collection of essays on the science and philosophy of the movie The Matrix TV/Movies
The Talent Code Daniel Coyle Interesting observations on how the brain programs for skills that work well for physical skills but the author fails to spot they're anathema to creativity. Human science
The Talking Ape Robbins Burling Fascinating exploration of the origins and nature of language. Approachable yet authoritative. Human Science
The Tao of Physics Fritjof Capra Classic book drawing parallels between physics (particularly quantum physics) and Eastern religions, still interesting despite blatant misuse by new-agers. Physics
The Telephone Gambit Seth Shulman How an exploration of the archival material on Alexander Graham Bell uncovered the true story of the telephone. Technology
The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments George Johnson Engaging look at ten real desktop experiments through history. You can dispute if he's got the best, but certainly makes them highly readable. Overview
The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell Connectedness, how information spreads virally and the stickiness of ideas transformed into a great little book by excellent stories Human Science
The Triumph of Numbers I. B. Cohen A genuinely interesting and often surprising history of statistics that brings in unexpected characters from King David and Dickens to Florence Nightingale. Mathematics
The Turk Tom Standage The amazing story of the mechanical chess player built in 1770 Technology
Upgrade Me Brian Clegg A fascinating exploration of the journey to human 2.0, from the key ability to contemplate the future, to life extension, cosmetic enhancement, extra strength, electronic implants and more. Human science
The Velocity of Honey Jay Ingram 23 fun excursions into the science of the everyday from falling toast to skipping stones Overview
The Victorian Internet Tom Standage How the telegraph network changed the world, crossed continents (and resulted in love between telegraphists). Technology
Venn that Tune Andrew Viner Clever gift book combining Venn diagrams (and other mathematical diagrams) with song titles. Maths
Venomous Earth Andrew Meharg Interesting exploration of arsenic's duel role as poison and medicine, fascinating on poisonous wallpaper Chemistry
The View from the Centre of the Universe Nancy Ellen Abrams & Joel Primack Superbly brilliant idea of the need for a new cosmological myth to ground us in the universe, only slightly let down by so-so writing Cosmology
Virtual Words Jonathon Keats Delightful collection of essays on the origins and meanings of a series of words from science and technology. Overview
Viruses vs Superbugs Thomas Häusler An intriguing but frightening look at one alternative to antibiotics - will phages save us as killer bacteria become resistant?  Human sciences
Watching the English Kate Fox Excellent insights into the English culture and how much English behaviour can be explained by social dis-ease. Human science
We Are Not Alone Dirk Schulze-Makuch & David Darling Gives a real understanding of why we should be spending less on manned spaceflights and more on exploring the possible life-bearing worlds of the solar system. Astronomy, biology
Wegener's Jigsaw Clare Dudman Biographical novel, providing excellent insights into the life and works of the man who thought up continental drift, Alfred Wegener. Biography
Weighing the Soul Len Fisher Seven examples of challenges to scientific beliefs, from the weight of the soul to the nature of lightning, delightfully told Overview
What Do You Care What Other People Think? Richard Feynman Feynman's follow up collection of reminiscences, distinguished by amazing section on the Challenger enquiry Biography
What Just Happened James Gleick Articles on the development and future of the IT business Technology
What's Luck got to do with It? Joseph Mazur A colourful survey of the history, psychology and mathematics of gambling. Maths, human science
Why are Orangutans Orange? Mick O'Hare (Ed.) The latest in New Scientist's reliable Last Word column originated books gets extra oomph by being based on reader's photos of odd things they've seen.. Overview
Why Balloons Rise and Apples Fall Jeff Stewart Very good beginners introduction to classical physics, slightly let down by style and some of the modern content Physics
Why does a ball bounce? Adam Hart-Davis The UK's favourite TV boffin explains 101 phenomena - much too short, but still great fun Overview
Why Does E=mc2 Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw Explanation of the derivation of the world's most famous equation, exploration of the standard model master equation and great exposition of Higgs - but too technical for the general reader. Physics
Why Do Men Have Nipples? Mark Leyner & Billy Goldberg Delightful answers to all those silly questions people want to ask doctors, only missing perfect because of the painfully unfunny sections in between the Q&A Human science
Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze Mick O'Hare (Ed.) One of the better "weird science question and answer" books from the New Scientist's reliable Last Word column. Overview
Why Evolution is True Jerry A. Coyne A persuasive and plain-spoken summary of the evidence for evolution by natural selection, with some minor conceptual problems. Biology
Why People Believe Weird Things Michael Shermer Powerful and effective exploration of where strange beliefs come from and how they take hold. Sceptics, overview
Why the Toast Always Falls Butter Side Down Richard Robinson Subtitled The Science of Murphy's Law, a witty and light exploration of how our brains fool us to make everything seem to go wrong Human science
Why We Lie David Livingstone Smith Be amazed, not just at how much we lie, but how essential it is for the operation of society. Interesting and original Human science
The Wild Life of our Bodies Rob Dunn Humorous and fascinating exploration both of the 'alien' life in our bodies but also how human beings interact with the environment. Human science
Witness to Extinction Samuel Turvey The sad story of the attempt to preserve the Yangtze river dolphin and the lessons it gives on practical conservation. Biology
Wizard Marc J. Seifer Good biography of the remarkable electrical engineer Nikola Tesla in its historical context, but poor at the science. Technology
A World without Ice Henry Pollack Powerful message about the dangers of losing more and more ice as global warming continues, with an assessment of its impact on the environment. Earth science
Wormwood Forest Mary Mycio An engrossing personal experience of the contaminated zone from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, revealing the amazing spread of wildlife since the accident Biology
Written in Stone Brian Switek Excellent exploration of how our understanding of fossils has developed over time and why science thinks the things it does about the development of animals on the Earth Biology
Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Cialdini Some excellent insights from scientific studies of how people behave that help persuade them to act in a particular way. More business book than science, but very good nonetheless. Human science
Your Money and Your Brain Jason Zweig Although technically a 'how to invest' guide, it's really a great exploration of how the different mechanisms of the brain make us unsuited to the stock market. Human science
The Zen of Magic Squares, Circles & Stars Clifford Pickover You'll either love or be bored to tears by this exploration of all that is magical squares - it's mathematical marmite Maths



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Last update 16 April 2011