This list of recommended books has been assembled by Boyce Rensberger, director of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It represents only a start on background reading and is not meant as an exhaustive compilation.


  • The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
  • Relativity, Albert Einstein
  • The Nature of the Chemical Bond, Linus Pauling
  • Microbe Hunters, Paul de Kruif
  • Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
  • Chance and Necessity, Jacques Monod
  • The Mountain Gorilla, George B. Schaller
  • The Lives of a Cell, Lewis Thomas
  • What is Life?, Erwin Schrödinger

Books That Teach

  • A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
  • On Human Nature, Edward O. Wilson
  • The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Richard P. Feynman
  • The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins
  • Annals of the Former World, John McPhee (Includes four of McPhee’s books: Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising from the Plains, and Assembling California.)
  • Chaos, James Gleick
  • Genome, Matt Ridley
  • Five Kingdoms, Lynn Margulis and Karlene V. Schwartz
  • The Whole Shebang, Timothy Ferris
  • The Insect Societies, Edward O. Wilson
  • The First Three Minutes, Steven Weinberg
  • In the Shadow of Man, Jane Goodall

Outstanding Modern Books

  • Gun, Germs, and Steel, Jared M. Diamond
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach, Douglas R. Hofstadter
  • The Hot Zone, Richard Preston
  • The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins
  • The Beak of the Finch, Jonathan Weiner
  • The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker
  • The Society of Mind, Marvin Minsky

Biography, History, Memoir

  • The Double Helix, James D. Watson
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Richard P. Feynman
  • The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes
  • A  Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold
  • Ever Since Darwin, Stephen Jay Gould
  • Naturalist, Edward O. Wilson
  • The Eighth Day of Creation, Horace Freeland Judson

Science and Society, Analysis or Philosophy of Science

  • Science, the Endless Frontier, Vannevar Bush
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn
  • The Art of the Soluble, Peter B. Medawar
  • The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Karl Popper
  • The Two Cultures, C.P. Snow
  • Science and Human Values, Jacob Bronowski

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