Field of Science

The 'Science Books for Undergrads' blog meme

Well now. Pleiotropy has tagged me in a blog meme! Here it is:
Imagine: YOU are asked to assign a half-dozen-or-so books as required reading for ALL science majors at a college as part of their 4-year degree; NOT technical or text books, but other works, old or new, touching upon the nature of science, philosophy, thought, or methodology in a way that a practicing scientist might gain from.

Post your list, and forward the meme to a half-dozen-or-so other science-oriented bloggers of your choosing.
Trickier than it sounds. I mean, in my undergraduate days I read a fair few books that would fit the bill. But that was like 20 years ago! These days my reading tends to be more esoteric. Anyway, rushing in where angels fear to...
  • Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre. Cracking stuff. Explains how science goes wrong, especially when the media gets a hold of it.
  • Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely. Brilliantly exposes the flaws in our self-perception that we do things because we consciously think things through and thereby make the best possible judgement. Essential for anyone who wants to do science without getting derailed.
  • The Science Book, edited by Peter Tallack. Just a great, lavish, history of Western science.
  • Impossibility: The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits, by John D Barrow. Tackles a thorny subject: what happens when we know everything there is to know, and how will we know when we get there?
  • Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, by Neil Shubin. One of the best recent books on evolution - from a paleontologists perspective.
  • The Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris. Just because I had to have one classic from the attic. This one is before even my time!
And some blogs to tag: Science and Religion News, Bruce Hood, Just Another Deisidaimon, Lambda Delta, HASSNERS, and Climate Cassandra,


  1. The Naked Ape is a bit suspect, too much speculation without evidence. PZ has criticized excesses in Desmond Morris' works. Your Inner Fish is a good choice (but a bit too narrow?) as is Bad Science. I'd top it off with Paradigms Lost by John L. Casti and Science: Good Bad and Bogus by Martin Gardner.

  2. Yeah, the Naked Ape is there more for its historical importance than its scientific content. I like your other two - both Casti and Gardner are excellent writers.

    Was thinking about it last night and thought I should've put 'Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile' by Daniel Nettle. Because if there's one area of science that everyone should have some grasp of it's the science of what makes people happy, and how to get there.

  3. Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions had a big effect on my thinking. A wider perspective that scientists need.

    Trick or Treatment by Singh and Edzard is, amongst other things, a robust defence of scientific method.

    Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis looks at what science tells us about being happy, and good.

    And why not fiction? I'd choose Earth Abides, 1949, by George R. Stewart, for its humane portrayal of humanity after most people have died in an epidemic.


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS