The best science books are a combination of educational, intriguing, and down right fun to read – bonus if it has pictures. This top 20 list will cover some of the best science books ever written for a range of ages – there’s something for everyone when it comes to science literature!
“Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” – Carl Sagan
Legendary scientist Carl Sagan arguably did more than anybody to popularize science during his career. As a best-selling science writer he understood how important it was to rekindle a passion in the subject to a population he felt had lost interest because of the current educational system.
The Pulitzer Prize winning author co-wrote and narrated an award-winning television series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which is the most widely watched series in the history of American television. More than 500 million viewers across 60 countries.
Twenty years after Sagan’s death science books are now more popular than ever before. The choice is endless. So what makes a really good science book? The genre is saturated with classics that have stood the test of time and new titles full of interesting and engaging content, but a few characteristics stand out for the best choices.
Just like your favorite novel, the narrative of the story should keep you engaged until the very end. Science is an ongoing mystery, and while we don’t expect to find out all the answers, the reader should feel satisfied to have been involved in the journey.
Another point is that “a picture is worth a thousand words” was never more true than in a science book. With modern high-definition photography a reader truly feels as close to the action as is possible.
But what about actual subject matter? Firstly, it depends on whether the reader is an adult or child. The reader’s current knowledge level is also important. Perhaps a potential reader wants to consider a title which is heavy going, or maybe something a little lighter to relax with on a beach. There are no hard and fast rules, so long as you understand what your choice is all about.
It’s fun to browse reviews as well. You never know when you might pick up a new interest. Just delve right in for a look around.
Our Choices for the Best Science Books
We’ve put together a list of 20 great titles we can’t recommend highly enough. Each choice stands out amongst tens of thousands of possibilities, either as an old classic or a modern day masterpiece. Guaranteed not to disappoint.
The Origin of Species
By Charles Darwin
For Ages: 16+
Probably the most famous science book still in print. This often controversial best seller is now more than 150-years old, and is still going strong. The seminal work on the theory of evolution is considered to be one of the most important contributions to science ever written.
Telling the tale of Charles Darwin’s five-year voyage to the Southern Hemisphere between 1831 and 1836 and the conclusions he came to in order to produce a theory about evolution and natural selection. Upon his return he lived in London and spent almost 15-years conducting research, finally publishing this book in 1859 on learning that another naturalist had reached the same conclusions. You could argue this is one of the best science books of all time.
A Brief History of Time
By Stephen Hawkings
For Ages: 14+
Stephen Hawkings is the most famous living physicist today. Writing this modern classic in 1998 he attempted to help a non-professional audience understand questions such as “Where did the universe come from?” and “How did it begin and will it come to an end?”
This is a seriously deep, heavy going book, but ultimately satisfying if you can stick with it to understand the subject. Hawkings has an extraordinary ability to explain the complexities of physics to the layman.
If you are prepared to expend some mental effort, you will be greatly rewarded as you join Hawkings on his journey to unlock the secrets of the universe.
Physics of the Impossible
By Michio Kaku
For Ages: 14+
Media star Michio Kaku has produced a modern take on physics concepts many of us have come across via the likes of television series such as Star Trek. The world we live in today is developing at an unprecedented rate, with new discoveries arriving almost daily. Much of what we see was only recently considered fanciful, but science continues to prove us wrong.
Kaku has put together an interesting investigation into ideas such as phasers, force fields, teleportation, and even time travel. Science fiction buffs will love this work. Often seen on television, Kaku is a fantastic communicator, with a gift for explaining the almost unexplainable.
Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution
By Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith
For Ages: 14+
This informative work on the story of cosmic evolution continues Carl Sagan’s popularizing efforts to bring the subject into the mainstream. Tyson and Goldsmith tackle the difficult task of showing us the story of cosmic history as currently understood, while going into detail about what science can prove, and what it cannot.
Laced with humour, the text offers clear explanations on subject matter most readers may be familiar with to some degree, even if they aren’t up to speed on the real details. The authors offer up to date material on new research topics such as dark matter and dark energy, with further discussion on the exciting subject of planets outside our solar system.
The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design
By Richard Dawkins
For Ages: 16+
This modern classic by the Oxford University professor follows on from Charles Darwin’s work on the theory of evolution. The famous atheist tackles the subject matter in his typically British style.
The title refers to the Reverend William Paley’s 1802 book, Natural theology, in which he argues that if you find a watch then the only conclusion is that a watchmaker must exist. Dawkins responds to this idea by arguing that it is the blind forces of physics which act as the watchmaker in nature, and nothing more.
This defence of Darwinism is an awe-inspiring riposte to those who think they understand what evolution is, but clearly do not.
By Carl Sagan
For Ages: 8+
One of the best-selling science books of all time. Another history of the cosmos, but also offering the story of how it interlinks with religion and cultures long gone from today’s world.
Written in a simple way that makes the book accessible to children, and people with no science background at all, Sagan enthusiastically presents his ideas through fantastic illustrations. He explains clearly how cosmology has directed past cultures to improving their understanding of the nature of the universe.
The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory
By Brian Greene
For Ages: 16+
This title is a fantastic attempt to bring the most complex areas of physics into a readily understandable form. Greene’s target audience is people who have absolutely no idea about the workings of topics such as string theory, general relativity, and quantum physics.
Although the reader will likely have to accept mastery of these subjects is all but impossible, the material is engaging enough to keep the reader plugging away through the drier chapters necessary to complete the explanations. Greene has produced a script which is easy to follow at a conceptual level without needing high-level mathematics.
Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe
By Theodore Gray
For Ages: 8+
The most beautiful book on the list. Gray takes us on a journey through the periodic table with incredible photos from start to finish. Full of trivia and interesting information, this is a most entertaining tour of the sub-atomic world.
Full of witty anecdotes, this perfect blend of science and art is a great choice for both children and adults. An eye-catching choice for your coffee table.
Evolution: A Coloring Book
By Annu Kilpelainen
For Ages: 7-13
This is a coloring book with a difference. Let’s say the concept has “evolved” a little.
Designed to be interactive, this creative and well written book is a great way to introduce an interesting part of science to children. The text clearly explains the ideas of Charles Darwin, and follows through by using the illustrations with elements like flaps, die cuts, and stencils to engage the child.
Natural History (Smithsonian)
By DK Publishing
For Ages: 6+
The world-famous Smithsonian Institute has overseen this amazing reference work detailing the Earth’s natural history. From bacteria to wildlife, from minerals to rocks, this book details thousands of specimens using remarkable photography.
The reader journeys through everything which makes up our natural landscape. At almost 700 pages in length DK has set the standard for such guides.
Another choice which is perfect for any age group, this excellent reference tool will bring joy to anybody so much as browsing a few pages.
Science: The Definitive Visual Guide
By Robert Dinwiddie, Giles Sparrow, Marcus Weeks, Carole Stott, Jack Challoner, David Hughes, David Burnie, Adam Hart-Davis
For Ages: 11+
Another great production from DK Publishing. This title tells the story of the history of science from all the way back to the ancient Greeks, up to cutting edge work such as quantum physics.
Yet again DK has produced some of the most stunning photographs imaginable to create a fantastic visual guide. It is not detailed in the sense of being able to act as a reference work, but provides a clear summary for the novice to be able get a feel of how science has developed through the ages.
The Science Book: Everything You Need to Know About the World and How It Works
By National Geographic
For Ages: 8+
National Geographic has undertaken an ambitious attempt to compile all the major areas of science into a single volume. The Science Book makes fascinating reading, taking the reader to the extremes of the cosmos, and right down into the realm of microscopic life. Whether you’re interested in nuclear power, or organic chemistry, there is something for everyone inside.
Brilliantly illustrated, the book can function as an introduction for school children, or a more basic overview for educated adults. It doesn’t matter if not all of the chapters are of interest, everyone will find something inside which captures their interest.
Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks
By Ben Goldacre
For Ages: 16+
Ben Goldacre has written a brilliant expose of pseudo-science. Explaining to averages readers who don’t have a post-graduate university education, just how they can cut through all the rubbish which pollutes the information we are bombarded with every day.
He teaches the reader how to evaluate using sample sizes, helping them to recognise bad science as soon as they see it. Targeting so called experts, who have no right to be referred to as such, he takes them to task using humour in his characteristically blunt style.
Life’s Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code
By Matthew Cobb
For Ages: 15+
A fantastic account of the story of how DNA was discovered. Detailing how James Watson, Francis Crick, and Rosalind Franklin cracked the genetic code responsible for all life on Earth.
One of the most important scientific breakthroughs of the twentieth century, the discovery of DNA revolutionised biology, and gave rise to an entirely new branch of science.
Cobb tells how the best and brightest from many different branches of science contributed to the end goal, often coming up against a wall when new answers often posed new questions as complex as the initial project.
The Drunken Botanist
By Amy Stewart
For Ages: 18+
A light hearted science book that gives an account of the origin of alcoholic spirits. Stewart produced a New York Times bestseller which explores the story of how humanity has used a plethora of herbs, flowers, trees, fruits, and fungi in an attempt to produce alcohol through the ages.
History, biology, and chemistry; it’s all in here. Learn how mankind’s obsession with getting drunk became a part of our accepted traditions.
At the end, Stewart gives the reader more than 50 drink recipes to try for themselves.
The God Delusion
By Richard Dawkins
For Ages: 16+
The most famous atheist on the planet goes on the attack, with religion as his target. Another highly controversial book, which has fired up emotions across the world for years.
Dawkins has written with intolerance and scorn, protesting the manner in which organised religion has turned people away from science. Accusing religious leaders of perpetuating a system which psychologically abuses young children, damaging them for the rest of their lives.
The most scientific parts are where he attempts to construct an argument against intelligent design. Not for everybody, but a fascinating piece of work.
Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World
By Mark Miodownik
For Ages: 12+
Professor Miodownik has produced a masterpiece by taking us deep inside eleven materials which most of us see every day. This fun and well-illustrated introduction to material science takes us from chocolate to steel, showing the reader that the world we live in is much more than what our eyes show us.
Telling the history of how many materials we take for granted were discovered, Miodownik inter-weaves humour with clear explanations leaving the reader wanting more.
A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing
By Lawrence M Krauss
For Ages: 16+
“Where did the universe come from? What was there before it? What will the future bring? And finally, why is there something rather than nothing?”
These are the questions Krauss sets out to answer in an understandable way. He takes us through mind-bending theories to explain just how something can arise from nothing, and why it will always do so.
A seriously thought provoking book.
The Hubble Cosmos: 25 Years of New Vistas in Space
By David H Devorkin, Robert W Smith, Robert P Kirshner
For Ages: 8+
The Hubble Cosmos will fill you with wonder at the beauty of what exists out in the universe. Learn the story of how the Hubble Space Telescope came to be, and what it has become over the last 26 years.
Responsible for many new breakthroughs in science, such as accurately measuring the rate of expansion of the universe, Hubble has transformed our understanding of the cosmos.
Full of amazing high definitions photographs, with informative chapters, this will blow your mind.
Asap Science: Answers to the World’s Weirdest Questions, Most Persistent Rumors, and Unexplained Phenomena
By Mitchell Moffit, Greg Brown
For Ages: 12+
An entertaining and well-illustrated examination of all those irrelevant questions you’ve often wondered about.
Hiccup cures to what would happen if we stopped sleeping. This is a book that is supposed to be fun. Answering what you always wanted to ask but were too embarrassed.
Well suited for both curious children and responsible adults, Moffit and Brown will instil a belief that the only stupid question is the one that doesn’t get asked. Make science fun again.
Best Science Books: Our Recommendation
Natural History (Smithsonian) is a book which is impossible to dislike. It probably doesn’t even matter if you’re interested in science because once you open the pages you will be astounded to see exactly what you share this planet with.
It would make a perfect Christmas present for anybody. A welcome addition to any coffee table, and a title which you will never tire of, nor want to put down once you start reading.
Hopefully our top 20 list of the best science books helps you find what you’re looking for. If you have any other books you’ve enjoyed please leave a comment below and we might consider adding it to the list :)! If you like science related books you might also be interested in: