27 Great Science Books for Non-scientists

Science books for non-scientists

Science helps us to understand the world around us. Science books introduce non-scientists to new worlds in an accessible way, expanding our horizons and freeing up our thoughts. They make science accessible even for those who struggled in math, chemistry, and biology in school.

Sadly, these days, science has come to be seen as the opposite of “faith.” Yet whatever your faith, you probably believe we have a reason for living (a non-reason is a reason, too).

The following books will challenge you, but not uncomfortably. They might change how you view the world, make choices, and the success and happiness you achieve.

A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking (1988)

To understand how the planet was created, its origin, and where it’s going, who better than one of the most brilliant minds in human history, the late Dr. Stephen Hawking, to enlighten you? Fulfilling his desire to make the most important theories, discoveries, and physics phenomena accessible, he published in 1988 what has become a landmark in science writing.

Hawking explains a range of subjects in cosmology, including the Big Bang, black holes, and light cones, to the non-specialist reader.

The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, by Brian Greene (1999)

Greene recounts the scientific history and human struggle behind physics’ quest for a theory of everything. He uses metaphor and analogy to make the most complicated concepts accessible and entertaining. He explains the string theory and reveals a universe with eleven dimensions. It also states that vibrations of microscopically tiny energy loops generate all matter.

If you have a strong desire to read about the universe’s fundamental laws, give this book a shot.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot (2010)

This started as a book about the first cells cultured when taken from a dead tissue of Henrietta Lacks. Skloot then takes you into a drama about the Lacks family, capturing the beauty and the struggles of such a discovery.

This cell line, called HeLa, laid the groundwork for research on the polio vaccine and in-vitro fertilization and allowed us to understand HIV. Through this book, you can delve into the history of cell culture and bioethics and wonder about questions of immortality and legacy.

A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson (2004)

Bill Bryson is an expert and comical observer of life. Unlike his books on travel and life, he uses this book to challenge himself and his readers, from a somewhat scientific standpoint. Bryson tries to understand what happens from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization. He surrounds himself with the brightest minds in archaeology, anthropology, and mathematics to accomplish this.

A Brief History of Almost Everything is the record of this adventure. Sometimes profound but always entertaining history and always extremely clear and amusing in the spheres of human knowledge.

Bryson is a sort of journalist of life, and it makes this book so accessible. And if it piques your interest, try reading Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne.

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (2011)

The Nobel Prize-winning economist’s book takes you on a discovery about the mind when it has to make money decisions. Learn about the two systems that determine your behavior. One is conscious, and the other is automatic and impulsive. Which one dominates and causes you to make certain decisions? If you’re interested in biology and neuroscience, have a passion for gambling, or are bad at mental math, this book is for you, backed by math and facts yet simple to understand.

For further reading on a similar theme, try Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions by Gary Klein.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (2011)

What defines the human being, Homo Sapiens? This narrative breaks the patterns by starting 70,000 years ago with the emergence of modern cognition. It doesn’t follow a historical or biological line. Rather, it develops the idea of how our species triumphed over other human species with communicative skills. It talks about the agricultural revolution and even the invention of money and writing.

Where is this leading us, and what do we want to become?

When interviewed, Harari spoke of Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond, as “a book of great questions, and great answers.” It was an inspiration for his writing. Harari also stated that the book transformed him “from a historian of medieval warfare to a student of humanity.”

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson (2017)

Neil deGrasse Tyson has built a career on communicating complicated astrophysics topics to non-scientists, both in print and as a regular figure on TV and in the media. He’s become one of the world’s most popular science nerds, thanks to his good humor and intellectual clarity.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry shows off his communication skills.

This New York Times bestseller provides you with all the basics, and much more, about astrophysics in easily consumable chapters. Communicating hard sciences to the public ­– deGrasse Tyson is a master of this and it’s a great read.

Concepts such as dark matter, alien life, comets, and asteroids are explained entertainingly. You get a perspective of the scientific discoveries shaping how we look at the universe.

deGrasse Tyson can get philosophical and spiritual while talking about the insignificance of humans in the cosmic perspective.

What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the cosmos? A clear and succinct guideline to expand your mind and think about your fit in outer space.

The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins (1976)

This 1978 international best-seller, now a classic, explains evolution’s biological process using genes as a basic unit. How do your genes program your brain? Because of their selfish behavior, genes use organisms as vehicles to ensure their immortality. Let’s take you into Darwin’s road and understand the path of evolution. You can even discover the “meme” word origin.

To understand the foundations of evolutionary biology, an essential reading is The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, a foundational book of the modern era.

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan (1980)

As Carl Sagan writes in this classic book, “We make our world meaningful by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.”

If you can’t stop stargazing and wondering about the vastness of the universe, learn the basics of how the solar system work and its history.

In this book you can learn about the cells in your body and the data flowing in your brain without feeling overwhelmed. It helps you ponder our responsibility to protect life on Earth and perhaps take it to other places in the universe.

Deepen your questions about the cosmos and find answers for them.

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, By Carl Sagan (1994)

The influential Sagan deserves (at least) two books on this list. Pale Blue Dot is inspired by the famous photograph of the same name, taken in 1990. Sagan explores our current understanding of our solar system with the philosophy around human existence. He invites you to explore the idea of how important life is on Earth.

And he helps you question how humans can be of any significance in such a large universe, and how we have to also find meaning in our lives.

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, by Adam Grant (2021)

Think Again will make you more self-aware as you identify the power of humility about what you are unaware of. This book explores the science of changing your mind and will give you the tools to change the minds of others! If you start admitting that you don’t know everything, you’ll open up to learning new things.

Surely you or people you know could benefit from this in this world when so many think they have things all figured out based on their own limited experiences. Learn the habit of questioning your beliefs regularly. For those who think they are never wrong, better “think again.”

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor (2020)

Why should we pay attention to our breathing if our body does it automatically? That is why the title contains the term “lost art.” This book chronicles the journey of journalist James Nestor in his search for who is exploring the hidden science of breathing practices. It contains medical texts and recent studies of the basic physiological function that is breathing.

Using successive examples, Nestor demonstrates the transformative powers of breathing as an art form.

If you have lungs and became aware of your breathing by reading this text, this reading will teach you powerful breathing techniques.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker (2017)

We spend a third of our lives sleeping (at least, we should), so it’s worth learning good sleep practices from neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker.

Learn about sleep architecture: REM sleep, and the different stages. Understand your sleep rhythm: how melatonin works and how caffeine affects your sleep.

Practical advice for the sleep-deprived or whoever wants to increase longevity and improve their mood and energy levels.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, and Anna Rosling Rönnlund (2018)

This book is about understanding how our instincts program us to distort our perception of reality, to worsen humanity’s problems further. And then how we respond to them.

Hans Rosling with Ola and Anna, his son and daughter-in-law, respectively, reveals 10 instincts that distort our perspective. From the tendency to divide the world into two opposing poles to negativity and susceptibility to disproportionate fear.

Reflecting on these 10 tendencies allows us to cultivate more fact-based thinking, and avoid fearing a scarier, more violent, and hopeless world than it actually is.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg (2012)

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Charles Duhigg, this gem begins by demystifying the habit loop: cue, routine, reward.

And you can change your habits by working on just one part of this loop: the routine. It also shows that the most essential and powerful habit is willpower. For those who suffer from procrastination or want more self-discipline, read this book that combines scientific research with personal experiences and stories, making it very compelling reading. Stop giving up on everything you start.

Especially for entrepreneurs, startups, and anyone past the initial romantic stages of building a company, this read might get you back on track.

The Joy Of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity, by Steven Strogatz (2013)

Reading for those who have always been passionate about math, but especially for you that said you hate math before reading Strogatz’s book. The Joy of X is a tour of examples and discussions, from intuitive explanations of basic mathematics like four arithmetic operations to high-level mathematics such as calculus. The chapters are short and can be read independently. It attempts to explain mathematics from the ground to those who have had unpleasant, unfriendly, and unsuccessful experiences with the subject.

Give mathematics another chance – let this book show you how beautiful and useful it can be.

To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science, by Steven Weinberg (2015)

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg takes you on a journey through the history of science. He explains how science was invented from the beginning.

From the Greeks to modern times, Weinberg shows the struggle early scientists faced in solving the mysteries of our planet.

Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson (1962)

Silent Spring documents the negative effects that humans have on the natural environment. Carson accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation which swayed public opinion, leading to a nationwide ban on certain pesticides in the U.S.

Named one of the greatest science books by Discover magazine in 2006, Silent Spring remains a highly influential piece of work on the environment. It makes you wonder if we’ve made progress or if we’re moving in the wrong direction.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari (Hebrew – 2011, English – 2015)

Understanding biology and history have helped us to understand what it means to be human and how humankind has evolved. Sapiens takes readers on a journey through our entire human history using an original approach. Beginning around 70,000 years ago, the beginning of modern cognition.

This New York Times bestseller compels us to look toward the future. Where is changing the laws of natural selection taking us? What do we want to become?

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World, by Mark Miodownik (2015)

In our human-made world, everything is made of something, but have you ever wondered what materials? From everyday objects, you find around your home to the latest technologies that will guide us into the future.

Stuff Matters shows you the materials that make up our man-made world. This book makes the materials of everyday items seem exciting and will break down the complexity of materials into easily digestible text.

The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells (2020)

Global warming is here and it is happening. However, if sea-level rise is the only impact you’re imagining, then you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

The Uninhabitable Earth discusses how the future could look for those of us living today and the various threats that could devastate our planet and our people.

This call-for-action book reveals what the impacts of global warming could be and how it is the responsibility of our generation to make change happen. Consider these perspectives in relation to topics like greenwashing.

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures, by Merlin Sheldrake (2020)

Entangled Life explores the greatly diverse kingdom of organisms of fungi and helps readers view the world differently. From yeast to psychedelics to organisms that modify insect bodies. Sheldrakes explains how fungi help us understand our planet and how they relate to our understanding of how life works. Your understanding of individuality and knowledge will be put into question and will help you see the world differently.

Life’s Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive, by Carl Zimmer (2021)

Zimmer investigates one of history’s most pressing questions: What is life? A seemingly simple question, right? Perhaps not.

This thought-provoking book sets out to understand these boundaries between life and non-life and why scientists have struggled to define life. What does it mean to be alive? How do we define life? If we search for life on another planet, is life made of the same building blocks or something different?

Zimmer breaks down the barriers and simply explains these complicated topics.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, by Steve Brusatte (2018)

Vanishing 66 million years ago, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs brings to life the world of dinosaurs. Drawing on the latest science, Brusatte details stories from his adventures chasing dinosaur bones around the world, bringing the extraordinary time when the dinosaurs roamed our planet to life. Including 75 images and maps, this is a book to let your imagination run wild.

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard (2021)

Simard describes how her career working on forests across North America has found how trees communicate through a web of fungi, centered on the “mother tree.”

Simard explains that the mother tree is the center of a powerful network that feeds and nourishes a forest. Finding the Mother Tree demonstrates how we must bridge the gap between scientific research and our ability to act.

Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone, by Juli Berwald (2017)

Jellyfish are a significant but often overlooked part of the natural environment. Spineless is a story about how important these beautiful creatures are to our ocean’s future. Juli Berwald left her career in ocean science, but jellyfish drew her back to the ocean years later.

Berwald pondered questions about how climate change, coastal development, and overfishing contributed to large blooms of jellyfish. This led her on a journey around the world where she discovered that jellyfish science is a call “to realize our collective responsibility for the planet we share,” Berwald writes. This beautiful book blends jellyfish science with a journey of self-discovery.

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor (2020)

Breath explains how we’re not correctly doing one of the simplest and essential aspects of your daily life, breathing. Over time, we have lost the ability to breathe correctly, and there are grave consequences.

Drawing on thousands of years of research and medical records, Breath challenges everything you know about one of the most basic biological functions. “You will never breathe the same again,” Nestor writes.

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