June 24, 2017

Must-Read Books: Readers' Choices

Last week, I asked readers to name five must-read books on science and technology. The results are below. I included nominations from my comments section, from the comments over at Crooked Timber, and from any other blogs I spotted. This represents the consensus of about thirty people.

The most-mentioned book was Hofstadter’s Goedel, Escher, Bach, which received eight votes. Interestingly, GEB was the only book that received negative votes (urging me not to include it). One of the negative voters called it a “show-off book”.

The results:

Rank Book Author Votes
1 Goedel, Escher, Bach Hofstadter 8
2 Guns, Germs, and Steel Diamond 6
3 (tie) On the Origin of Species Darwin 5
3 (tie) The Character of Physical Law Feynman 5
5 (tie) A Brief History of Time Hawking 4
5 (tie) What is Mathematics? Courant, Robbins 4
5 (tie) The Selfish Gene Dawkins 4
8 (tie) QED Feynman 3
8 (tie) The Visual Display of Quantitative Information Tufte 3
8 (tie) The Double Helix Watson, Crick 3

Six books received two votes: Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Feynman’s The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, Medawar’s The Limits of Science, Pinker’s The Blank Slate, and Schneier’s Beyond Fear. Eighty-five books received a single mention.

As in the university presidents’ survey, the respondents to my query showed a notable lack of consensus.

I’ll post my list tomorrow.


  1. Of all these books, apparently only “On the Origin of Species” is out of copyright or available online.

    My list would include:
    The Character of Physical Law / The Feynman Lectures on Physics
    The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

    But I’d also encourage scientists to read Tufte’s list of information design must-reads:

    Interaction of Color
    The Elements of Typographic Style
    Mastering the Techniques of Teaching
    Understanding Comics
    Light and Color in the Outdoors
    The Design of Everyday Things
    Elements of Style, the last chapter on style (read once a year)
    Maps and Civilizations
    The Tufte Trilogy

  2. I’m also surprised there’s no Knuth on the list. The Art of Computer Programming isn’t exactly short, I guess, but Literate Programming is also quite good.

  3. Must-Read Books: My List

    Below is my list of six must-read books on science and technology. I know: I asked you for five, and now I’ve allowed myself six. I just couldn’t narrow it down any more. Naturally, I include only books that I have read; and I must admit that I haven’t…