Back to my homepage

If you like pictures more than text, there are cover images of most of these books on Dusty's Pinterest Page


Here is a list of books with a science and/or maths interest, which I am happy to recommend. I own and have read them all. I haven't put any book on the list I didn't enjoy for one reason or another, in spite of what weaknesses they might or might not have. They are all written for "the intelligent layman", and so don't assume much technical background. Some of them "dumb down" a little in places, but most are pretty reliable technically, given the constraints of writing for a "general audience". Some of these books are "flawed", some are truly inspiring, some are both(!); I think they are all interesting in one way or another, and I don't think you'd waste your time with any of them. They are all well written (I think).

Check out some reviews on-line if you want more opinions (the links provide some reviews - I don't necessarily agree with all the reviews, but they should help you get an idea of what each book is about).
Check out the books (eg from a library) to make your own decision. Treat this list as a "starter" - if you like a book on it, look for others like it, maybe by the same author, or on the same topic. Google and Amazon are a help; so is a visit to your neighborhood library or bookstore.

The categories are not clearly defined - some books belong to several and some to none. Don't take them too seriously. The books are not in any particular order.

By the way: if you are interested in "literary" books (aren't they all "literary"?), Yann Martel sent 101 books to Stephen Harper over several years, and the collection became a marvellous reading list, annotated by his excellent letters to the Prime Minister. I've not read everything on the list, but enough to be confident in recommending it to anyone.

Maths
How to bake Pi - Cheng (Currently my favorite "maths for non-mathematicians" book!)
The Mathematical Experience - Davis & Hersh
Proofs & Refutations - Lakatos
Gödel, Escher, Bach - Hofstadter
Gödel's Theorem - Franzen (Also this)
How Mathematicians Think - Byers
The Mathematician's Brain - Ruelle
The Archimedes Codex - Netz & Noel
Pi in the Sky - Barrow   (Also check this out)
Is God a mathematician? - Livio
Mathematics and the Unexpected - Ekeland
Journey Through Genius - Dunham
I Think, Therefore I Laugh - Paulos
Prime Obsession - Derbyshire
The Poincaré Conjecture - O'Shea
The Pea and the Sun - Wapner
A History of π - Beckmann
The Calculus Wars - Bardi
Div, Grad, Curl, and all that - Schey
A Course of Pure Mathematics - Hardy
What is Mathematics? - Courant and Robbins
 
Personal note: there were two books that got me "hooked" on maths & logic -
One is accessible to a cegep student: Theory of Sets - Kamke
The other perhaps should wait till you've taken a real logic course: Undecidable Theories - Tarski et al
Curiously, I ended up specializing in something else entirely ...

Flatland
This one deserves a section to itself; not only is Flatland an entertaining book about multidimensional maths, but it's also a clever social satire - a point often missed by its copiers and sequels.
Flatland - Abbott
A recent scholarly edition
Also: Links to the full text (free) and some videos on 4D
Next: some of the better "sequels"
The Planiverse - Dewdney
Flatterland - Stewart
Sphereland - Burger

History & Philosophy
Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth - Doxiadis et al.
   (Another review)  (Yet Another review and the cover story)
The Discoverers - Boorstin
Revolution in Science - Cohen
On the Shoulders of Giants - Merton
The Age of Wonder - Holmes
Wittgenstein's Poker - Edmonds & Eidinow
Emblems of Mind - Rothstein (Also: this review.)
Intellectual Impostures - Sokal & Bricmont
On Bullshit - Frankfurt
Crimes against logic - Whyte (aka Bad Thoughts)
Science in History - Bernal
The Unnatural Nature of Science - Wolpert

Other Science
The Origin of Species & The Descent of Man - Darwin
A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking
How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony - Duffin   (Review)  (The maths)
The Cello Suites - Siblin (here just because I liked it)
This is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs - Levitin
How the Mind Works - Pinker
Other Minds - Godfrey-Smith
Are we Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are - de Waal
The Idiot Brain - Burnett
Cosmos - Sagan
And anything you can find by Stephen Jay Gould (especially his essays; here's a collection to start with).

Biography
Logical Dilemmas - Dawson (A more technical review)
Alfred Tarski - Feferman & Feferman
From Trotsky to Gödel - Feferman
Alan Turing, the Enigma - Hodges
Turing's Cathedral - Dyson (Review)
Incompleteness - Goldstein (Also: this review)
A Mathematician's Apology - Hardy
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers - Hoffman
  (There is also a related documentary) (BTW, my Erdös number = 3.)
A Convergence of Lives - Koblitz
Galileo: When the World Stood Still - Naess
The Strangest Man - Farmelo
Never at Rest - Westfall
Einstein: the Life and Times - Clark
Subtle is the Lord - Pais
Longitude - Sobel
Galileo's Daughter - Sobel
The Difference Engine ... Babbage and the ... First Computer - Swade
   [ Youtube   Youtube2   Long Youtube ]

Fiction
War & Peace - Tolstoy   (And this)
The World as I Found It - Duffy
Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture - Doxiadis
A Game with Sharpened Knives - Belton
The Periodic Table - Levi
Doctor Copernicus - Banville (First of a trilogy, including Kepler and Newton)
Newton's Darkness - Djerassi & Pinner
The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel - Bloch
Measuring the World - Kehlmann   Another view   My view, in brief
And anything by Douglas Adams, but especially the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

 

Addendum - some recommendations by Daniel Gatien, Joshua Gordon, and Andy Rajnak
(And thanks to Daniel and Joshua for reminding me of some others I'd read too, which have made their way into the list above.)

Maths
The Broken Dice - Ekeland
The Best of All Possible Worlds - Ekeland
Poetry of the Universe - Osserman
Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis - Rockmore
Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction - Gowers
Abel's Proof - Pesic
Other Logic
The Closing of the American Mind - Alan Bloom
Other Science
Death by Black Hole - Neil deGrasse Tyson
The Making of the Atomic Bomb - Richard Rhodes

And if we are to mention "Abel's Proof", then we should give "equal time" to another biography:

Evariste Galois - Rigatelli

 

NOTE:
This isn't a "static" list - it grows, and suggestions for additions are welcome. You can find my email address on my homepage.


If you like pictures more than text, there are cover images of most of these books on Dusty's Pinterest Page

Back to my homepage