8 Of My Favorite Scientific Nonfiction Titles – Booklist

8 Of My Favorite Scientific Nonfiction Titles Book List

As I’ve revealed before in my Medical Memoir booklist, I read a lot of nonfiction written on scientific topics. In the last several years there has been an influx of excellent books written on complex scientific topics like the history of DNA or the history of computer science.

Despite the complexity of the topics they cover, these titles shine for their ability to turn advanced scientific information into accessible and engaging narratives for all readers. All 8 of these titles succeed in bringing important scientific topics to the public, while remaining captivating and engrossing reads.


The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks Book CoverThe Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Published: February 2nd, 2010

Paperback
Hardcover

I think to not know about Henrietta Lacks at this point, you’d have to be living under a rock. For a long time, however, her unwitting contribution to modern medicine was overlooked. In The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot brings to light the problematic story of Henrietta, an impoverished African American woman whose cells were taken without her knowledge in the 1950s and turned into a cell line which has proved to be one of the most significant tools in medicine.

Skloot retells Henrietta’s life story and the incredible nature of her unknowing contribution to science. The unfairness of the story can be difficult to stomach – Henrietta’s family is still living in extreme poverty while her cells are bought and sold all around the world. The story is at times incredible, at times saddening and overall a moving portrait of a very normal and at the same time truly extraordinary woman.

5 Rabbits


Stuff Matters Book CoverStuff Matters by Mark Miodownik and Sarah Scarlett

Published: May 27th, 2014

Paperback
Hardcover

Stuff Matters is one of those books I picked up because of a Kindle Deal, only to be extremely pleasantly surprised at its quality. If you’ve read Bill Bryson’s At HomeStuff Matters follows a similar concept. It takes the everyday – like steel, paper and chocolate – and explains the nature of each material and what makes it extraordinary.

Every chapter focuses on a different material of regular life, which gives the book the feeling of a collection of extremely interesting short stories. Miodownik is a British materials scientist who ties each of the materials he discusses to personal experiences in his life. Most captivating was Miodownik’s startling retelling of when he was randomly stabbed in a metro station as a young man – and how interestingly enough this catapulted him into an investigation of the nature of steel. You’ll never look at the banal accessories of everyday life in the same way again.

4 Rabbits Image


The Emperor Of All Maladies Book CoverThe Emperor Of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Published: November 16th, 2010

Paperback
Hardcover

I could rant and rave about this book for days, and it’s one of the titles I’m most likely to recommend to anyone who likes nonfiction (as well as anyone who doesn’t, to be honest). Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, The Emperor Of All Maladies is Mukherjee’s masterful retelling of the history of cancer and cancer research.

If that leaves you less than enthused, believe me when I say that there is nothing dryly medical about this book. Yes, you’ll come away with a much clearer understanding of the mechanics of one of the most menacing illnesses that humans face. However, Mukherjee expertly humanizes the face of cancer and of cancer research, through intimate and compelling portraits of scientists and patients throughout the history of this disease. Despite it’s over 500 pages, I couldn’t put this book  down.

5 Rabbits


The Gene Book CoverThe Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Published: May 17th, 2016

Paperback
Hardcover

Let me start by saying that as evidenced above, for me, Siddhartha Mukherjee can do no wrong. I’m more than halfway through The Gene at present, and I have to say that it definitely starts off dryer than The Emperor Of All Maladies. It’s probably because in my IB Biology classes in high school and the biotechnology class I took in college, we covered most of the ground that Mukherjee addresses in the first half of the book – the discovery of the gene and its structure through decades of scientific inquiry.

The story is still engrossing in its importance – after all DNA is the very basis of our identity and heritage as humans, as well as the basis of all life. Based on the riveting history of the synthesis of insulin that I’m currently reading, I’m definitely looking forward to a more anecdotal and narrative second half to the book, including stories of patients and the nature of genetic disease. Despite the slow start, I would recommend this book – though you might want to head into it on a chapter-by-chapter basis while concurrently reading other lighter titles.

4 Rabbits Image


The Sixth Extinction Book CoverThe Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Published: February 11th, 2014

Paperback
Hardcover

Winner for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction, The Sixth Extinction is a scientific tour de force through the six major extinction events that have caused a sharp downturn in diversity among species on earth. More important, The Sixth Extinction introduces the possibility that the last of these extinction events is man-made and ongoing – that we as humans are having a devastating impact on the diversity of life on earth through the environmental changes we are perpetrating on the planet.

Kolbert takes the reader into the lives of different researchers who are dedicating their themselves to studying extinct or near-extinct species. From the rain forests of South America, to the Great Barrier Reef, Kolbert follows the work of these scientists as they catalog the devastating effects of climate change that can already be witnessed on some of the earth’s flora and fauna. This book will make you think about the impact of humans on natural diversity and the inevitability of history repeating itself.

4 Rabbits Image


The Tale Of The Dueling Neurosurgeons Book CoverThe Tale Of The Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean

Published: May 6th, 2014

Paperback
Hardcover

In this book, Sam Kean details the history of neuroscience through anecdotes and case studies of unfortunate patients who suffered from varying neurological conditions through history. Lets just say that you’re definitely better off suffering from a mental illness or traumatic brain injury today than say 3 or 4 hundred years ago.

The characters of these vignettes on specific brain injuries include kings, industrial workers, mad scientists, befuddled physicians and ill-advised experimenters. Kean is gifted in making such a complex scientific topic approachable to all readers. You’ll find yourself learning about the human brain, while being at times diverted and at times slightly grossed out by stories of lances in the brain and primitive surgical practices. It’s quite the scientific ride.

5 Rabbits


The Disappearing Spoon Book CoverThe Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

Published: July 12th, 2010

Paperback
Hardcover

Between these two titles by Sam Kean, I did enjoy The Tale Of The Dueling Neurosurgeons slightly more, probably because I naturally have a greater interest in biology than chemistry. (I was terrible at chemistry in high school).

Just as in The Tale Of The Dueling Neurosurgeons, Kean brings chemistry to the masses by producing humorous, thought-provoking and unbelievable anecdotes from The Periodic Table. There was a time when scientists were racing each other to be the first to discover a new element – a time replete with scientific competition, betrayals and hurt feelings galore. The Disappearing Spoon takes readers to that time, introducing them to the key personalities in the foundation of chemistry, and to nature’s most interesting elements and their position in history.

4 Rabbits Image


The Innovators Book CoverThe Innovators by Walter Isaacson

Published: October 7th, 2014

Paperback
Hardcover

Just like previous titles in this booklist have been histories of the study of neuroscience, the discovery of genes or the discovery of the elements, The Innovators brings a digestible history of computer science and of the main characters involved in its discoveries.

Nowadays, computers permeate our daily existence, and I think it’s very important to be familiar with the origins of these technologically advanced tools, and of the geniuses that made such technology possible.  From less known contributors of the past like Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing, to the well-known scientists and investors of today like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Isaacson details the dizzying advent of computers, microprocessors and the Internet. Take a few hours away from your Instagram, your Apple Watch and your Amazon Echo to be riveted by the stories of the inventors who made modern technology possible.

5 Rabbits


You can check out my other two other nonfiction booklists on Kidnapping Memoirs and Female Royal Biographies and Fateful Voyages at these links.

Do you have a favorite scientific nonfiction read that wasn’t mentioned in this post? Let me know in the comments!

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Please note this post includes affiliate links from Book Depository.

  17 comments for “8 Of My Favorite Scientific Nonfiction Titles – Booklist

  1. October 17, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    I wish I had time to read more nonfiction! I started The Sixth Extinction, but wasn’t able to finish before I had to return it. Thanks for reminding me to check it out again! I also plan on reading The Drunken Botonist by Amy Stewart and The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester about the birth of geology. The Gene looks good too but it’s so long.

    Liked by 1 person

    • October 18, 2016 at 12:20 am

      I’ll have to add the two titles you suggested to my TBR. I hadn’t heard of them before. One of my other favorite history of science books is Bill Bryon’s A Short History Of Nearly Everything if you hadn’t heard of that one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • October 18, 2016 at 12:51 am

        I’ll have to check it out!

        Like

  2. October 18, 2016 at 1:44 am

    You’ve read all these? Very impressive!
    I’ve got the Henrietta Lacks biography and The Gene on my TBR. It’s so nice to visit your blog and see reviews and book lists that are different from the typical book blog. Thank you for adding variety to my blog hopping! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • October 18, 2016 at 2:47 am

      If you haven’t read The Emperor Of All Maladies I’d read that over The Gene 🙂 I read all these books over several years, not all recently. Thanks for the kind words about my blog!

      Like

  3. October 20, 2016 at 4:24 am

    I love this list! I read a lot of scientific nonfiction, but I haven’t had the chance to read any of these yet. I’m hoping to get to The Gene and The Emperor of All Maladies before the end of the year, but we’ll see…

    Liked by 1 person

    • October 20, 2016 at 2:51 pm

      I would read The Emperor Of All Maladies first 🙂 glad you enjoy scientific nonfiction as much as I do. Check out my medical memoir list for more recommendations you might be interested in. The link is in the intro!

      Like

  4. October 20, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    This is a great list! I don’t personally read a lot of science non-fiction, but I love the concept of it. I *have* read The Disappearing Spoon and The Emperor of all Maladies, though! Yay! I love Bill Bryson, so Stuff Matters will certainly find it’s way on my TBR.

    I find that I like non-fiction best in audiobook format. I tried to listen to The Immortal Life, but the narrator was terrible and I couldn’t get through it. Do you know if any of these have decent audiobook versions?

    Liked by 1 person

    • October 20, 2016 at 10:28 pm

      I’m the opposite – I prefer fiction on audiobook, so I’m sorry to say I haven’t listened to any of these in audiobook format. I would maybe try the sixth extinction, since each chapter is kind of standalone, so it might lend itself well to listening in audio format during a commute.

      Liked by 1 person

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