My Top 5 Books to Introduce Yourself to the Wonders of Pop-Science

Over the last few years I’ve rekindled my love for science, and although I hate to admit that I don’t understand all of the theories or science that I read (and I’m by no means well read in the subjects), I do love learning about them all. I find it fills me with wonder, ignites my imagination, fascinates me by how much we know about our home in the universe and excites me at the prospect of how much we have yet to discover; it enables me to ask questions and to think about answers and how to use the tool of scientific thinking; it reminds me that although we may not have all the answers yet, we’re getting there step by step and it weirdly makes me feel contentedly small and puts into perspective the daily things I worry about. The thought that we are, in our most basic form, simply beings that are lucky enough to inhabit a relatively small planet, covered with sea and earth and trees, alongside some incredible people and nature, and that we have the privilege of experiencing this marvelling thing called life together whilst travelling through space and time, a rather humbling, exciting and comforting thought. So without further ado (for I fear I will ramble on forever), here are my top 5 books to finding your feet in the world of pop-science.

  1. How to Build a Universe by Professor Brian Cox & Robin Ince

I’ve always really enjoyed learning about science but often felt put off by the daunting feeling of not being brainy enough to contemplate the information or theories, but then along came The Infinite Monkey Cage – the BBC Radio 4 programme by Professor Brian Cox and Robin Ince, and since then I’ve never looked back! With the balance of both science and humour they are the perfect stepping stone into learning about popular science, and with different guests and topics each week there’s always something new and fascinating to learn about. Hugely entertaining and insightful, they span topics from the weird to the wonderful and I never bore of listening to them, so when they published their book How to Build a Universe I couldn’t resist buying a copy one chilly day in the run up to Christmas at the bookshop I work in. My copy is now well thumbed with many a page marked and with it’s bite size sections, narration from both authors and doodles that run throughout, it was a no-brainer must-have for me. So if you want a good starting point (especially for looking into physics) I highly recommend this awesome duos book!

2. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Neil DeGrasse Tyson has to be one of my favourite scientists. Whether it’s his podcasts or his shows he presents, his talks or his books, he has such an uncomplicated, friendly and accessible way of talking about science and I defy anyone not to be infected by his enthusiasm for it. To me I see him as a bit like your favourite teacher at school – he backs his readers/viewers to ask more questions, to find out answers and to encourage and inspire people of all ages. His personable, humorous and balanced outlook resonates through all of his work. In his small but mighty book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry he brings forth topics of theories and scientific laws and explains them in a basic way without feeling as though it’s being ‘dumbed down’. I’ve actually got both his adults version of his book as well as the children’s edition which I can highly recommend for both adults and kids alike (don’t be put off by it being a children’s book – the content is great!) With snippets of wisdom and heap fulls of inspiring physics, his books are always a staple in our bookshop and I hope to see it stay that way for a very long time to come.

[If you’re an audiobook fan I highly recommend giving the audio edition a go. Neil DeGrasse Tyson reads it himself, and if you’ve ever heard him talk, you’ll know that there’s no doubt that he makes a great narrator to listen to!]

3. Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking

Possibly the greatest scientific person of our time, Stephen Hawking’s last book Brief Answers to the Big Questions is another brilliant book to have on your bookshelf. This relatively short book is formed in 10 chapters, focusing on questions that we’ve all asked ourselves one time or another. Spanning deep questions about the origins of the universe to the forever changeable situation of our future, Hawkings answers them all. With insightful knowledge and his trademark wit and wisdom, this is a great and fun look at science without getting too bogged down in the heavy stuff. At times it goes into a little more depth than my simple brain could comprehend first time round, but the communication of theories, explanations and answers are clear cut, simple and engaging. For me it’s the perfect book of his to start off with. It was published not long after his passing so he sadly never got to see it manifest into the book itself, but I like to think that even though he never saw it himself, his words will continue to inspire generations to come. To quote the man himself “…we never really know where the next great scientific discovery will come from, nor who will make it. Opening up the thrill and wonder of scientific discovery, creating innovative and accessible ways to reach out to the widest young audience possible, greatly increases the chances of finding and inspiring the new Einstein. Wherever she might be. So remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up. Unleash you imagination. Shape the future.”

4. A Small Illustrated Guide to the Universe by Ella Frances Sanders

This is a lesser known book but one that certainly ignites my imagination and brings me awe long after I put the book down. The author and illustrator Ella Frances Sanders who bought us Lost in Translation has created this small but perfectly formed book that explodes with her love for science. With every turning page she brings us as a brief overlook of either an amazing fact or theory ranging from the modest to the grand, the random to the wonderful. Together with her illustrations, she brings forth simple but engaging science writing that’s accessible for both a novice and an enthusiast. I love the fact that she introduces the reader to lots of different topics that may otherwise not have been stumbled upon, and makes it really different and engaging. Quirky, fun and mind-boggling, A Small Illustrated Guide to the Universe makes for a perfect book to keep in your bag, read with a cup of tea or to give as a gift.

5. It’s not Rocket Science by Ben Miller

Not only an actor, comedian and children’s author, but Ben Miller is also a physicist. I only realised a couple of years ago that the Ben Miller that stars in one of my favourite TV shows Death in Paradise was the same Ben Miller I saw on the bookshelves at work in the pop-science section. And so after having picked up It’s not Rocket Science and read the first few pages, I could instantly tell that this book was a winner for me. Told in small, easy to digest sections it’s informative without having too much heftiness, and it flows at such an easy pace that it doesn’t feel as though you’re reading a non-fiction book, but in fact just in conversation with a friend. With anecdotes and humour threaded throughout, it’s a great addition to any budding science enthusiasts bookshelf!

[Tangent bookseller note: his kids books are a lot of fun too for both parents and children alike. If you have little ones around 8-12 then they’re definitely worth checking out!]

My lockdown project and favourite piece of Lego.

Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.

Stephen Hawking

Thank you for reading this weeks blog, I hope you enjoyed it and that it has given you some inspiration to pick up a book of pop-science! If you would like to follow more antics and recommendations from a bookseller you can find me on Instagram @viewsfromabookshop or on Twitter @jaynie.books

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