Science Books for Professional Pleasure Reading: Round out Your Content Knowledge and Foster Interest in Science with This List

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S&C readers love science, and they passionately share this love with colleagues and education students. Here's how I encourage a love of science in my preservice students. I have them select a book from this list--with the only requirement being that they enjoy it! So far, the list has proven extensive enough that none of my students has come to the end of it without a book to enjoy, and hopefully it will always contain a few books that even the most well-read among us hasn't yet gotten around to.

Next time you hear someone say, "I was never good at science" or "I don't know enough about science to teach it well," share this list. There's bound to be something there for everyone. Or, peruse the list to see where you'd like to beef up your own content knowledge.

The list of books has been years in the making, and although many of the books are established science classics, certainly not all of them are. Some books were suggested by scientists, science educators, and former students. Some came from an analogous list for science journalists compiled by Boyce Rensberger, director of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT (see Internet Resources). Some are simply my personal favorites. I've categorized the books by subject, and within each subject, arranged the books alphabetically by author. Also, when I include a new book, I write to its author and ask for suggestions for an addition or two that he or she thinks would be both worthwhile for science educators and accessible to people who may not have much formal education in science. If you have suggestions for additions to the list, by all means, share them!


The Origin of Species [1859]. Charles Darwin. 1991. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex [1871, 1874]. Charles Darwin. 1997. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Two of the most influential books of all time--and surpisingly readable.

The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. Richard Dawkins. 2004. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. A reverse-chronology of life on Earth.

The Blind Watchmaker: Why Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. Richard Dawkins 1996. New York: Norton.

A clear, entertaining, accessible, and utterly compelling rejection of intelligent design.

The Selfish Gene (30th anniversary ed.). Richard Dawkins. 2006. New York: Oxford University Press. An account of evolution that makes you wonder whether your genes belong to you or you belong to your genes.

Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. Daniel Dennett. 1996. London: Penguin.


An excellent description of Darwinian evolution and its philosophical implications.

Trilobite!: Eyewitness to Evolution. Richard Fortey. 2001. New York: Vintage Books.

The exclamation point says it all!

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. Stephen Jay Gould. 1989. New York: Norton.


Gould manages to turn the story of bugs extinct for a half billion years into a page-turner.

Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth (3rd ed.). Lynn Margulis and Karlene V. Schwartz. 1998. New York: W.H. Freeman. A dazzling look at the diversity of life.

Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1st American ed.). Jacques Monod. 1971. New York: Knopf.

An examination of evolution and its philosophical implications by a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist.

How the Mind Works. Steven Pinker. 1997. New York: Norton.

A tour of the most complex mechanism in the known universe.

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. Steven Pinker. 2007. New York: HarperPerennial Modern Classics.

A skillfully written presentation of the idea that human language is a legacy of our evolutionary past and is, in fact, instinctual. …