Below you find Science Niblets‘ book suggestion, if you are shopping for a popular science book. Some of them are already a little older, but we still recommend these popular science books because they are entertaining as well as educating.
A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson – Book Review
The title says it all. In his book, Bryson browses through a wide spectrum of scientific knowledge, covering physics, geology, earth science, and biology. The book is a little bit like an encyclopedia, but he picked out the most interesting, amazing, and important facts. In my opinion, this screening of knowledge is the main value of this book. The content is mostly related to general knowledge. The reader discovers a lot of important facts embedded in their historic and social context, which cover a wide range of scientific fields.
Bryson uses a chatty and informal tone rather than specialized language. Sometimes he also sacrifices scientific accuracy for understandability. That makes the book as easy to read as a novel. He managed to write about science in a way that is both entertaining and easy to understand.
The reader can learn about how scientific knowledge is discovered and developed. Often, Bryson gives interesting background information or anecdotes about the science or the scientists, which can be quiet amusing. He also tells about his personal conversations with diverse scientists.
The Quantum Universe (And Why Anything That Can Happen, Does), by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw – Book Review
The book, The Quantum Universe, by Cox and Forshaw, is about quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics (QED). It covers physics theory as well as historical background. It’s not really written for the layperson, but more for someone with a serious interest in physics. It also helps if the reader enjoys math, since this book also contains some pretty complicated formulas.
In very clear language, Cox and Forshaw give us a complete introduction to quantum theory. They deliver all important facts about this topic. The authors do a great job in explaining the counterintuitive concept of quantum physics. They come up with some amusing quotes from famous physicists regarding the fact that it’s actually really hard to understand. The book starts with the basics of quantum mechanics. Coming from there, they explain how quantum mechanics leads to the basics of atomic and particle physics and also to solid state physics. Cox and Forshaw manage to fill the quantum theory with life and excite the reader about this topic. They give many examples of applications which even play a role in everyday life. This way, the reader can see that the theory has an actual use. One really nice part of the book is the section about the transistor. They explain its inner working using quantum mechanics very well. Cox and Forshaw also write about current research at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, where the scientists are chasing a new particle (the Higgs Boson), and what it has to do with the quantum theory
Later, they also apply the theory of quantum mechanics to explain what’s going on in stars. They also explain how and under which circumstances stars become black holes.
I highly recommend this book to any physicist or any physics student. Every university library should have a copy for two reasons: 1) The physicist can see a good example of how physics can be explained in a very clear way (as much as the topic allows it). 2) The physics student gets the best explanation of quantum mechanics and solid state physics that I have ever seen. However, if you are an absolute layperson regarding physics, then this book is not for you.
Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, by Neil D. Tyson – Book Review
Tyson’s book, Space Chronicles, is a collection of essays about US space research and addresses a lay audience. His essays give a great overview of the history of science and engineering involved in space exploration from the 1950s space race with the Soviet Union to the present. He not only explains basic knowledge about technology, astrophysics, cosmochemistry and life science, but he also provides political and financial insights regarding space science. The reader learns about the different technological steps of space science, its success stories, failures, and future plans. In addition to the historic timeline of space exploration, he explains the origin of life and the universe in an absolutely clear and easy to understand way.
Tyson strongly advocates science and expresses his concern about the danger of scientific illiteracy in our society. He encounters many examples of scientific ignorance in everyday life and hopes that science education in the USA will improve. One example: three quarters of American skyscrapers skip the 13th floor. So even in 21st century America, there are still people who are guided more by superstitions than by science.
Tyson also touches current scientific-political discussions. One controversial topic he writes about is the fact that some people in America want to put warning stickers on biology school books announcing that the theory of evolution is just one of many theories. So Tyson suggests placing stickers on the Bible that say “Some of these stories may not be true”.
In his book, Tyson provides the reader with arguments that stress the importance of science. Because the book consists of independent essays, they can be repetitive. Nevertheless, this is a great collection of science writing. Space Chronicles is a good overview about the field of space science, and Tyson’s explanations are out of this world.