Ten Science Books You Need To Read
It’s World Book Day on 3rd March and we’re taking a closer look at the science books we think are essential reading for scientists everywhere. Whether you’re a grad school student or a Professor of Biology, there’ll be something here in this list to grab your interest!
From incredible discoveries to brilliant blunders, awe-inspiring immunologists to the future of neuroscience, take a look at the ten science books we think you should add to your collection!
1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Science writer Rebecca Skloot tells the incredible story of Henrietta Lacks, the African-American woman whose cancer cells were the source of the first immortalised human cell line, known as HeLa. This award-winning book has become a must-read for researchers, science students and the general public alike, and has been praised for its graceful handling of scientific data alongside difficult ethical and racial issues within medical research.
New York Times reviewer Lisa Margonelli said: “Science writing is often just about “the facts.” Skloot’s book, her first, is far deeper, braver and more wonderful.”
In 2017, the book was made into a film starring Oprah Winfrey as Deborah, the daughter of Henrietta Lacks, and has received multiple awards including the 2011 National Academies Communication Award for best creative work that helps the public understanding of topics in science, engineering or medicine.
2. Letters to a Young Scientist
American biologist and writer Edward O. Wilson reflects on his successes and failures as a researcher in these twenty letters to science students young and old. The book is full of honest and inspiring anecdotes from a fascinating career, and includes heart-warming words of advice for anyone with a passion for pursuing science.
Linda Lear of the Washington Independent said of the book: “Wilson speaks compellingly and humbly… Letters to a Young Scientist contains sound counsel to all those who wish to discover what the future of life on Earth might look like.”
Wilson was a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for On Human Nature (1979) and The Ants (1991) and although he sadly passed away in December 2021 his books will continue to inspire new scientists for generations to come.
The race to produce a vaccine for COVID-19 is documented by the scientists who led the way in this fascinating account of the Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine’s creation. Professor Sarah Gilbert and Dr Catherine Green tell the inside story of their battle against time, an impatient media, and endless anti-vaccine misinformation, to find a solution to a pandemic which had brought the world to a standstill.
Clive Cookson of the Financial Times said: “Vaxxers is an excellent and readable account of lab life… vaccine production has never been explained more clearly.”
This book is not only an inspiring and educational read, it’s an honest account of recent events that will forever be remembered as ground-breaking.
4. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Named as one of National Review’s 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the 20th Century, Thomas Kuhn’s landmark publication remains relevant and a must-read for today’s science researchers. The book introduced the term ‘paradigm shift’ and changed the way scientists considered the progress and development of their research.
John Naughton of The Guardian says: “In his quiet way, he brought about a conceptual revolution by triggering a shift in our understanding of science… if you're making a list of books to read before you die, Kuhn's masterwork is one.”
Even sixty years on, Kuhn’s ideas still have much to teach us, and it remains one of the most cited academic books of all time.
5. A Crack in Creation
The creation of the gene-editing tool CRISPR in 2012 remains one of the most significant discoveries in the history of biology. However, creator Jennifer Doudna was acutely aware of the potentially dangerous implications that her ground-breaking discovery could have, and in this book she shares not only the story of her exciting discovery, but her personal battle to ensure its power is used responsibly.
A Kirkus book reviewer called it: “An important book about a major scientific advance but not for the faint of heart.”
Co-authored by Samuel H Sternberg, this two-part book (‘The Tool’ and ‘The Task’) is another must-read for life scientists around the world.
6. Where Good Ideas Come From
Every great scientific discovery begins with a spark of imagination, but where do good ideas come from? Popular science author Steven Johnson considers five key principles as he explores the origins of some of the greatest ideas, inventions and innovations in the history of science and technology.
Nancy F. Koehn of the New York Times said: “A rich, integrated and often sparkling book. Mr. Johnson, who knows a thing or two about the history of science, is a first-rate storyteller.”
From Charles Darwin to Tim Berners-Lee, Johnson considers some of the most significant discoveries of our time, and how they came to be.
7. The Future of the Brain
The Future of the Brain is an essential collection of essays by some of the world’s leading neuroscientists. Sharing their exciting challenges, ambitious innovations and technological advances in every area of the field, the contributors pose fascinating questions about what might be to come for the next generation of neuroscience researchers.
Richard Cytowic of the New York Journal of Books said: “This book is hard going, but worth the effort for fans of the ever-expanding field of brain science… deep, cutting edge, and futuristic in its suppositions… it will leave readers both amazed and full of questions.”
With contributions from Christof Koch, Edvard Moser, May-Britt Moser, Leah Krubitzer, Michel Maharbiz and many more, this collection provides readers with a real insight into the potential future of brain study.
8. Brilliant Blunders
Every scientist makes mistakes. It’s a necessary part of the research process and even the greatest scientists in history weren’t exempt from the occasional error. In this book, astrophysicist Mario Livio takes a closer look at five of the greats and explores how the mistakes they made were crucial in their quest for world-changing discoveries.
A Kirkus reviewer called the book: “An absorbing, persuasive reminder that science is not a direct march to the truth.”
Featuring the stories of Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling and Fred Hoyle, this book is well-researched and a must-read for early career scientists who might need a reminder that no-one gets it right every time.
9. The Secret of Life
The discovery of DNA’s double helix in 1953 changed the face of genetics and molecular biology, but what was the real story behind this extraordinary moment in history? Medical historian Howard Markel explores the story of the five scientists who battled to be the first to discover the structure of DNA and unlock one of the mysteries of life itself.
Steve Allen of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy said: “The Secret of Life is a meticulously researched history of the time and the people involved… Professor Markel has finally given Rosalind Franklin the recognition she deserves, even if it comes sixty years too late.”
With a focus on Rosalind Franklin, the book delves deeper into the reasons why she was largely unrecognised for her contributions at the time, but is now considered a key part of this historic discovery. An action-packed account of a fascinating story.
10. The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing
And finally, the Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing is considered by some to be the ultimate collection of vibrant and imaginative science writing from 1900 to the present day. Selected and introduced by Richard Dawkins, this anthology of 83 pieces includes poetry, anecdotes, and general philosophical ponderings by some of the greatest scientists of all-time.
Amanda Gefter of the New Scientist said: “If you could only ever read one science book, this should probably be it.”
Clearly this is an inspiring read for science lovers everywhere, and an essential addition to the bookshelves of the next generation of science communicators.
"Hey! What about..."
Tell us about the ones we’ve missed! What’s your favourite science book? Which books do you think every scientist should read? Tell us in the comments or tweet us at @hello_bio!
And if you love our Top Ten lists, why not check out some more of our suggestions here:
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