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A number of new popular science books are appearing every year, written by both scientists and journalists. Despite this, the number of popular science books still seems to be less than those in the political, financial and historical categories. Not that I dislike the afore mentioned categories, I just wish that science books were pumped out at the same rate.

Over the holidays I read a few popular science books and decided to compile a list of my favourites. After rummaging through bookcases and reminding myself of titles with the help of Amazon, I put together two ‘top ten’ lists: one consisting of factual books and another one for science-related fiction. The publication dates fall within the last 10 years with a few exceptions, and the books are not listed in any particular order. Due to my background there is certainly a bioscience bias: this is not meant as a deliberate snub to physics.

Top ten popular science books

  •  The Mismeasure of Man [1981/1996] – Stephen Jay Gould
  • My Beautiful Genome [2011] – Lone Frank
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks [2010] – Rebecca Skloot
  • Fly [2001]– Martin Brookes
  • Peoplequake [2010] – Fred Pearce
  • The Agile Gene [2004]– Matt Ridley
  • Fermat’s Last Theorem [2002] – Simon Singh
  • The Discovery of the Germ [2004] – John Waller
  • Bad Science [2008]  – Ben Goldacre

When I started thinking about science-related novels, I tried to steer away from the conventional science fiction genre and instead picked books that had realistic scientist characters in a more conventional setting. I was surprised by how few I had discovered. Is a science lab an unpopular setting for aspiring novelists? Or have I just not looked hard enough? When compiling the list, I aimed to select fiction that didn’t portray scientists as evil or mad (this reduced the pool considerably) with the exception of Frankenstein, which I included as the token classic science fiction novel.

Top ten science-related novels

  • Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow [1996] – Peter Hoeg
  • The Honest Look [2011] – Jennifer Rohn
  • Intuition [2010] – Allegra Goodman
  • Experimental Heart [2009] – Jennifer Rohn
  • A Brave New World [1932] – Aldous Huxley
  • Human Traces [2006] – Sebastian Faulks
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  [2008] – Steig Larsson (less scientific but did include computer hacking)
  • Snowcrash [2002] – Neal Stephenson
  • Prey [1997] – Michael Crichton
  • Frankenstein [1818] – Mary Shelley

This is merely a cherry picked group from my own bookcases. Suggestions are welcome, I would especially like to hear of more novels in scientific settings.