The best books on The History of Science, recommended by Matthew Cobb

The best books on the history of science—from the ancient world to the space race, recommended by Matthew Cobb, Professor of Zoology at the University of Manchester and author of a number of history and history of science books. His book on neuroscience, The Idea of the Brain, was shortlisted for the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize, Britain’s most prestigious nonfiction book award.  

The best books on Galileo Galilei, recommended by Paula Findlen

The trial of Galileo by the Roman Inquisition was one of the most public confrontations between the new science emerging in the 17th century and the Catholic Church but, nearly 400 years later, there’s still a lot of scope to argue what it was about. Here historian of science Paula Findlen, a professor at Stanford University, explains the endless fascination of Galileo Galilei, the Renaissance man who turned a telescope to the sky and took the world by storm, and recommends the best books to start learning more about him.

The best books on Scientists, recommended by Jimena Canales

Five fascinating books about scientists, selected by historian of science Jimena Canales. She explains how the scientific persona has been constructed throughout history and explores the implicit assumptions about agency, subjectivity, and causality that underlie scientific biographies.

The best books on Isaac Newton, recommended by William Newman

John Maynard Keynes famously cast Isaac Newton not as the first scientist of the age of reason, but the last of the magicians. How should we interpret the million words he wrote, in secret, on alchemy? What should we make of Newton’s heretical religious views? William Newman talks us through the best books for a better understanding of the complex man who was one of the greatest physicists of all time.

The best books on Science and Islam, recommended by Amira Bennison

Islamic scientific discoveries underpinned much of the European Renaissance and the Islamic world inspired Europe as much as Greece and Rome did, says Cambridge professor Amira Bennison. She recommends the best books to get a better understanding of the Islamic contribution to modern science.

The Best Chemistry Books, recommended by Michelle Francl

Chemistry plays a vital role in our understanding of life, the universe and the chances of a better future, says Michelle Francl. She chooses five of the best books on the topic—from a biography of water to a portrait of one of the greatest chemists of all time.

The best books on Ada Lovelace, recommended by Ursula Martin

Ada Lovelace has become an iconic figure for women in science and is often credited with the invention of modern computing. But, as Ursula Martin—mathematician, computer scientist and Lovelace biographer—explains, all of that is a bit overblown. The Lovelace myth obscures the truth about a woman who was certainly a very brilliant mathematician, but who was also often frustrated in her scientific ambitions, in poor health and unhappy.

The best books on The History of Mathematics, recommended by Robin Wilson

Why should we be interested in the history of mathematics? Mathematics, like painting, music, literature, has a long history, says Robin Wilson. Indeed, it’s longer than most, since the first writing is believed to be numerical. Mathematics is also multicultural, with its historical origins in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The best books on The History of Philosophy, recommended by Justin E. H. Smith

Today, we think of scientists and philosophers as distinct, but it wasn’t always this way. Back when the Royal Society was founded in the 1660s, figures like Newton, Descartes and Boyle all thought of themselves as ‘natural philosophers’. Justin E. H. Smith, professor of philosophy at the Université de Paris, introduces us to what he sees as the real history of philosophy.

The best books on Evolution, recommended by Jerry Coyne

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tells us why Darwin is still essential reading and sifts the vast amount of more recent writing on evolution for books that are both inspiring to scientists and accessible to general readers. He picks the best books on evolution.

The best books on Viruses, recommended by Dorothy H. Crawford

Many of us have developed a new fascination for viruses and virology during the global COVID-19 crisis. Here, Dorothy Crawford, professor of medical microbiology and the author of Viruses: A Very Short Introduction, selects five of the best books on viruses for the general reader.

The best books on Pandemics, recommended by Christian W. McMillen

With coronavirus causing widespread panic, we would do well to educate ourselves about the history of pandemics and disease. University of Virginia historian and associate dean Christian W. McMillen, author of Pandemics: A Very Short Introduction, recommends the best introductions to the subject.

The best books on The Body, recommended by Karen Harvey

We assume that many of our bodily functions—sleeping and smiling, for example—are ‘natural’ and culturally invariant. But their characteristics and expression are heavily influenced by their cultural milieu. Professor Karen Harvey explains how attitudes to the body in the 18th century were radically rethought in the light of changing scientific and cultural views of its nature and function.

The best books on The History of Science and Religion, recommended by Peter Harrison

Have science and religion been fundamentally at war throughout history? Are they incompatible? Has religion always held back scientific progress? These views may seem intuitive but few historians would defend them. Professor Peter Harrison looks at the complexity of science-religion interactions, including the cases of Galileo and Darwin, and considers how we frame the debate.