27 August 2008

A pop science book meme

Various book memes have come across my path, and they can be inspiring and interesting. Here's one I chose to pass along because it should result in the evolution of a pretty good list of recommended popular science books. (The originator calls it the "great pop-sci book project.")

If you choose to pass it on, follow the instructions and link to the source, which is Cocktail Party Physics. And thanks to Brian at Laelaps for the heads-up.

The instructions, from Cocktail Party Physics:

1. Highlight those you've read in full
2. Asterisk those you intend to read
3. Add any additional popular science books you think belong on the list
4. Link back to Cocktail Party Physics (leave links or suggested additions in the comments, if you prefer) so I can keep track of everyone's additions. Then we can compile it all into one giant "Top 100" popular science books list, with room for honorable mentions.
And here's the list:

1. Micrographia, Robert Hooke
2. The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
3. Never at Rest, Richard Westfall
4. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
5. Tesla: Man Out of Time, Margaret Cheney
6. The Devil's Doctor, Philip Ball
7. The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes
8. Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, Dennis Overbye
9. Physics for Entertainment, Yakov Perelman
10. 1-2-3 Infinity, George Gamow
11. The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
12. Warmth Disperses, Time Passes, Hans Christian von Bayer
13. Alice in Quantumland, Robert Gilmore
14. Where Does the Weirdness Go? David Lindley
15. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
16. A Force of Nature, Richard Rhodes
17. Black Holes and Time Warps, Kip Thorne
18. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
19. Universal Foam, Sidney Perkowitz
20. Vermeer's Camera, Philip Steadman
21. The Code Book, Simon Singh
22. The Elements of Murder, John Emsley
23. *Soul Made Flesh, Carl Zimmer
24. Time's Arrow, Martin Amis
25. The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, George Johnson
26. Einstein's Dreams, Alan Lightman
27. *Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter
28. The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, Lisa Jardine
29. A Matter of Degrees, Gino Segre
30. The Physics of Star Trek, Lawrence Krauss
31. E=mc<2>, David Bodanis
32. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, Charles Seife
33. Absolute Zero: The Conquest of Cold, Tom Shachtman
34. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, Janna Levin
35. Warped Passages, Lisa Randall
36. Apollo's Fire, Michael Sims
37. Flatland, Edward Abbott
38. Fermat's Last Theorem, Amir Aczel
39. Stiff, Mary Roach
40. Astroturf, M.G. Lord
41. The Periodic Table, Primo Levi
42. *Longitude, Dava Sobel
43. The First Three Minutes, Steven Weinberg
44. The Mummy Congress, Heather Pringle
45. The Accelerating Universe, Mario Livio
46. Math and the Mona Lisa, Bulent Atalay
47. This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin
48. The Executioner's Current, Richard Moran
49. Krakatoa, Simon Winchester
50. Pythagorus' Trousers, Margaret Wertheim
51. Neuromancer, William Gibson
52. The Physics of Superheroes, James Kakalios
53. The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump, Sandra Hempel
54. Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Katrina Firlik
55. Einstein's Clocks and Poincare's Maps, Peter Galison
56. The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan [I've read parts]
57. The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins
58. *The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker
59. An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
60. Consilience, E.O. Wilson
61. Wonderful Life, Stephen J. Gould [I've read most of it]
62. Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard
63. Fire in the Brain, Ronald K. Siegel
64. *The Lives of a Cell, Lewis Thomas [I've read excerpts]
65. Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris
66. Storm World, Chris Mooney
67. The Carbon Age, Eric Roston
68. The Black Hole Wars, Leonard Susskind
69. Copenhagen, Michael Frayn
70. From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne [a long, long time ago]
71. Gut Symmetries, Jeanette Winterson
72. *Chaos, James Gleick
73. Innumeracy, John Allen Paulos
74. The Physics of NASCAR, Diandra Leslie-Pelecky
75. Subtle is the Lord, Abraham Pais

Some suggestions and comments:
  • I would probably substitute The Selfish Gene or The Extended Phenotype for The Blind Watchmaker, but The Blind Watchmaker is still a fine choice.
  • Like others, I would include something by Oliver Sacks, probably The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
  • I would ditch anything by Carl Sagan, and certainly wouldn't keep The Demon-Haunted World.
  • I wouldn't include two works by one author (e.g., Richard Rhodes) unless they were both surpassingly great.
  • Include The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen and The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. Phantoms in the Brain by Ramachandran and Blakeslee gets honorable mention.
  • Any votes for The Fourth Day by Howard Van Till? The Double Helix by James Watson? I'm partial to What Mad Pursuit, Francis Crick's nice memoir. I haven't read Genome by Matt Ridley, but maybe one of his works belongs on the list.
Looking forward to other suggestions.

Summary:
Add The Song of the Dodo, The Beak of the Finch (it won a Pulitzer, people) and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Delete The Demon-Haunted World.

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