Saturday, August 25, 2012

Good books

Britain's New Scientist weekly has just put out a selection of 25 popular science books that "have changed the world" [here].

I would have been a little worried if this list of books had included many works that I did not know. On the contrary, I was thrilled to discover that I had read 15 of their suggested titles, while most of the remaining titles rang a bell (in the sense that I had heard of them, and had a good idea of their themes). The only one of the 25 books that was a total newcomer to me was The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks (1985). Here are those that I've read:

•  A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1988)

•  Brighter Than a Thousand Suns by Robert Jungk (1956)

•  Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter (1979)

•  Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (1997)

•  On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)

•  The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski (1973)

•  The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg (1977)

•  The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker (1994)

•  The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976)

•  Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)

•  The Double Helix by James Watson (1968)

•  The Emperor's New Mind by Roger Penrose (1989)

•  The Mysterious Universe by James Jeans (1930)

•  The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris (1967)

•  What is Life? By Erwin Schrödinger (1944)

At the top of this list, the "big three" for me would be Dawkins, Watson and Pinker. I would have included a title by David Deutsch... but it's a fact that he remains a bit too recent to have changed the world yet. Maybe "will change the world". The same could be said of Lawrence Krauss.


  1. Love yr blogs for the inspiring diversity and content you present. Found you thru my love of Durrell. Yes, many of these are among my core Science readings too. I'll follow up on the rest. Greetings from my eyrie on a rainforested volcano down-under.

  2. Anu: It was a great pleasure for me to receive "greetings from [your] eyrie on a rain-forested volcano down-under". I'm curious, of course, to know where exactly your secluded home might be located. Maybe in New Zealand, close to the authentic antipodean spot on the globe's surface that inspired the name of my blog: a name that has now become very dear to me. So, we share a love for science books and Durrell. What a great mixture! Concerning the latter gentleman, you may have noticed that I've been severely reprimanded by certain readers for my refusal to admit the idea of an incestuous relationship between the poet and his daughter Sappho. I see this minor conflict as a storm in a teacup when compared with the immense beauty of Durrell's writing, say, on Provence, in Caesar's Vast Ghost. Getting back to the list of 25 great science books, I've just set the ball rolling by ordering the first of my unread books: The New Ambidextrous Universe by Martin Gardner. Thanks, Anu, for your joyful comment, and greetings from my own peaceful eyrie on the edge of the French Alps.

  3. Aloha! I'm on Mt. Warning, between Byron Bay and Qld border. I agree, the work Durrell left is what is important. C'sG brings TV Provence doccos alive. I re-read the Quartet every 10 years or so, each time finding it richer. I named my daughter Clea as I was reading that when I became pregnant. Presently writing a blog about that part of my life about how I set out to find a testable reality in a world full of bs - after Morocco & donkey walk, will be covering a lot on France, esp. Paris '68 eventually. Love Martin Gardner, big influence on me thru Sci Am. I'll read it soon. The web contains much waffle, but in your posts I find a kindred spirit. When I contemplate living elsewhere, France tops the list, esp with Alps proximity. Cheers!

  4. I've been looking at your interesting blog. We seem to belong to the same "mother culture", in that most things you say ring a bell. But our ways have obviously parted since then. You're probably almost a neighbor of my dear sister Susan in Mullumbimby. Please look her up. And of course, if ever you happened to be in France, please drop in.