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Top 25 science books

by PhilipJ on 20 November 2006

Discover is running a list of the top 25 science books of all time, and there are few surprises.

Darwin is well represented, taking the top two spots for The Voyage of the Beagle and The Origin of Species, though I would have probably switched the ordering. And perhaps placed them after the third place Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Newton. Nitpicking the order notwithstanding, these are all deserving of being here.

Also present, and without surprise, are Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, Einstein with Relativity: The Special and General Theory, Watson’s The Double Helix, Schroedinger for What is life?, and Micrographia by Hooke.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, is Feynman’s The Feynman Lectures on Physics. The other books above are all manuscripts on science, but none are quite so textbookian as Feynman’s own lectures, which he felt were a failure anyway. Though that style of book has come to dominate the introductory undergraduate physics scene, and while it is fairly readable, I’m still hesitant to call it one of the best science books of all time. Some of his other lectures-turned-books are far more succint and enjoyable a read. (for example, QED.)

Read the rest of the list here, and feel free to add your own favourite text in the comments!

  1. Mark Adams    4290 days ago    #

    On the Origin of Species is the clear winner for me. I was happy to see William James get an honorable mention. Other favorites:

    * The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. (an astounding hypothesis and Not-Obviously-Wrong) * The Growth of Biological Thought by Ernst Mayr (the history of ideas about diversity, evolution, and inheritance) * The Ontogeny of Information by Susan Oyama (breakin’ down the nature/nurture distinction; evolution is not “change in gene frequencies” but rather “changes in transgenerationally stable patterns” * Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson (my hero!) * Autopoiesis and Cognition by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela (life is that which produces itself)

  2. Mark Adams    4290 days ago    #

    Ah, and how could I forget

    Towards a Theoretical Biology vol. 1-4 edited by C. H. Waddington (a classic)

    The Theory of Self Reproducing Automata by John von Neumann (an absolutely beautiful book)

    P.S. Is your Textile broken?

  3. PhilipJ    4290 days ago    #

    Hi Mark,

    It looks like it might be, your previous post should have been a list, right? How would one go about fixing it? (Feel free to email if you’ve got an idea, philipj @

    I’ve never heard of Waddington’s text, and my library doesn’t seem to carry it either. How annoying.

  4. PhilipJ    4290 days ago    #

    Hrm, maybe Textile isn’t broken, see here:

  5. Andre    4290 days ago    #

    Hi Mark,

    I haven’t read most of Towards a Theoretical Biology, although I took it out of the library a couple of months ago. I started reading it and even though the articles had great titles, I was pretty underwhelmed by what I read from the articles themselves. Could you recommend some of the articles in particular that you thought were really good?

  6. Mark Adams    4290 days ago    #


    Your reaction to the book is a testament to its influence. Theoretical biology is no longer something we have to “move towards.”

    That said, it’s been a number of years since I’ve read it, so I should give it another detailed look (checking now, my library seems to have it). I knew nothing about theoretical biology when I first read these volumes, so they must have made a disproportionally large impression on me.


    I’ll keep in mind that Textile Lite may be a bit, well, light.

  Textile help