Science has given us video games, microwave burritos, and self-driving cars. It is the backbone of modern civilization. Yet many of us shy away from anything resembling scientific education, reasoning that it’s too boring or too complex. That’s where the following ten books come in. Written by some of the smartest folks in the world, all they are crammed full of scientific knowledge, and reading them will definitely make you smarter. Yet, they’re all also accessible and fun, written in plain, understandable prose that lays out complex concepts simply.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Tyson is not just one of the smartest men in the world, he’s one of the most personable and charismatic. His book is, therefore, fun. He doesn’t use a lot of scientific terms, but instead explores space, time, and the known universe in simpler ways that even folks who have never had any scientific training will find incredibly easy to understand. It’s like having a conversation with your really smart, really funny uncle.
A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking
Hawkings’ masterwork of popular science writing, which introduced complex concepts like light cones to the layman, is made even more fascinating and easier to grasp by its detailed illustrations. The smartest man alive (sorry Neil!) distills a lifetime of scientific investigation and thought into a book guaranteed to improve your understanding of the laws of physics.
Cosmos, by Carl Sagan
The gold standard of science writing for the common person. In an easygoing, patient style, Sagan explores the biggest ideas in science with a contagious, wide-eyed wonder. If you’ve watched Sagan’s classic TV show of the same title, you will undoubtedly hear his unique voice as you read, which only adds to the experience.
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, by Carlo Rovelli
Originally written as magazine articles aimed squarely at readers with zero scientific background, these seven essays aren’t lessons—they’re discussions. They will inspire (or reignite) a desire to understand our universe. Rovelli understands that it is that curiosity—that drive to comprehend and use knowledge for our own purposes—that makes people into scientists.
A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
Bryson is a non-scientist approaching awe-inspiring scientific concepts with a layman’s perspective and a writer’s mastery of language. The end result is a book that will explain science to you in a fun, relaxed way. The sheer breadth of the material Bryson covers is stunning. Plus, it’s Bill Bryson, so you’ll be entertained as heck the entire time.
Six Easy Pieces, by Richard P. Feynman
Richard Feynman is not only one of the most famous physicists in modern history, in life he was also a popular teacher. This collection of legendary lectures Feynman gave at the California Institute of Technology changed how science was taught, and remain delightful no matter your level of scientific knowledge. They’re just fun—Feynman’s enthusiasm for knowledge shines through on every page.
The Drunken Botanist, by Amy Stewart
Sometimes the difference between mastering a concept and being bored to tears by it is context. If you enjoy an adult beverage from time to time, Stewart’s awesome book will be the easiest introduction to botany (with a dash of chemistry) you’ll ever read. She explores the plants that produce our favorite alcoholic beverages—and includes guides to growing your own to mix homegrown cocktails (otherwise known as the science of mixology).
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The Accidental Universe, by Alan Lightman
Lightman is a novelist as well as a physicist, and writes with a clear-headed ease. In seven essays, he explores the impact of seven new theories or discoveries on the human condition—on philosophy, faith, and our shared understanding of the universe and how we fit into it. The end result makes the science anything but dry and dull—because Lightman connects it to the core of our existence.
Neurocomic, by Hana Ros
If you think about it, our bodies are just life support systems for our brains—the brain is where we exist, in every sense. Yet most of us understand nothing about the most complicated organ in our bodies. This book offers a lush, imaginative trip through the human brain. It reads like a dreamy adventure, but after you’re done you’ll know a whole lot more about how the brain works, and why we’re us.
Nothing, by New Scientist
Many aspects of the universe are defined by the lack of something as opposed to the presence of something, and you won’t realize how important understanding nothing really is until you read this collection of essays from New Scientist magazine. It offers a range of surprising perspectives on the concept, from the absence of consciousness, to the absence of matter, to how the concept of zero has evolved throughout history.
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe
Written by the guy behind geeky, science-positive comic xkcd, this is the perfect book to remind you that learning can be fun. Munroe offers impeccably researched answers to the tough and bizarre questions xkcd fans have asked him. For example, can you build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns (clearly one of the most important questions of our time)? And just what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? The lively and informative text is illustrated by Munroe’s trademark stick figures.