Sunday, December 18, 2016

A possible Christmas gift for thoughtful non-scientists?

Are you looking for Christmas gifts?

I think that scientists should be writing popular books for the general public. However, I am disappointed by most I look at. Too many seem to be characterised by hype, self-promotion, over-simplification, or promoting a particular narrow philosophical agenda. The books lack balance and nuance. We should not be just explaining about scientific knowledge but also give an accurate picture of what science is, and what it can and can't do.
(Aside: Some of the problems of the genre, particularly its almost quasi-religious agenda, is discussed in a paper by my UQ history colleague, Ian Hesketh.)

There is one book I that I do often hear non-scientists enthusiastically talk about.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by the famous travel (!) writer Bill Bryson.
There is a nice illustrated edition.

I welcome comments from people who have read the book or given it to non-scientists.


  1. I have given this to various science-interested relatives and also assigned it for extra credit in introductory physics classes. I've read it a couple of times myself. Very well done and hype-free.

  2. I liked the book very much and think its just the right gift for relatives etc who are interested in science but have little background in it except for what they learnt in school many years before.

  3. I read this book many years ago. Despite the fact I knew most of the science in it, I very much enjoyed it. It had a lot of anecdotes about the scientists themselves, which I found quite interesting. I gave it to my Mum one Christmas, and it blew her mind. A good gift. Highly recommended.

    On a similar topic, I have recently started listening to Radiolab podcasts on the recommendation of a non-scientist friend. They are great. I often do learn new science from these, and they are particularly enjoyable as they are very engaging stories with a human angle.

  4. This book is definitely a very good gift for non-scientist. It's fun, accurate and portraits science as an amazing intellectual enterprise. It is also quite broad, and it is written by a non-scientist, as far as I know.