1. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
This is a masterpiece that comprises the single most important idea in science: the theory of evolution by natural selection. It is often revered by atheist scientists and despised by creationists, yet the truth in its pages cannot be denied. Since its publication in 1859, the world of science expanded more than ever before in the known history of mankind, yet this book still represents the foundation on which the life sciences have flourished on.
2. The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward O. Wilson
Even though Wilson’s book was highly criticized for its bold idea that natural selection acts far more strongly on social groups of people than on genetically related individuals, it is a compelling piece that tries to answer the three fundamental questions of science, philosophy and theology: Where did we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
Edward O. Wilson is a world’s leading expert on the study of ants, which are eusocial insects, meaning they exhibit brood care, a hierarchy within the colony and the division of labor between the reproductive and non-reproductive individuals. The book beautifully presents how human society developed alike that of ants, and it tries to explain how our human nature brought us where we are today.
3. The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins
“Evolution could so easily be disproved if just a single fossil turned up in the wrong date order. Evolution has passed this test with flying colours.”
This book happened to be my first experience with Richard Dawkins’ books and it also bears his signature from when I met him in person last year at the International Book Festival in Edinburgh. Both the language and the train of thought in The Greatest Show on Earth are so poetic and as elegant as a popular science book can ever be and, from my point of view, in its nearly 500 pages one can find all the arguments needed to make a very strong the case for evolution even for those who disregard it.
4. The Oldest Living Things in the World by Rachel Sussman
The Oldest Living Things in the World is a wonderful collection of photographs and stories that have resulted from Rachel Sussman’s relentless curiosity. For more than a decade she traveled through time and space, working with biologists to uncover the oldest organisms on Earth, from Antarctica to Scotland and Greenland. This isn’t a conventional popular science book and maybe it doesn’t even fall in this category, but it is an invaluable insight into the past interwoven with Sussman’s ability to put down in words what feelings these ancient organisms have conjured in her.
5. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
This book is dynamic and vibrant, it can make you laugh and cry in the same time. I simply devoured it, or maybe devour isn’t the right term to use given the book’s subject: cadavers. Mary Roach has a unique writing style that takes you back in time at the dawn of surgery, then moves on to methods of preservation for cadavers, the use of dead bodies as car crash dummies, reanimation and many other interesting topics. It is a must-read for medical students, but with its easy to understand language, it is accessible to anyone who has the stomach to give it a try.
6. The First Eden by Sir David Attenborough
The First Eden: The Mediterranean World and Man was published in 1987 and is one of the multitude of books that accompany Sir David Attenborough’s documentaries. It captured me with its simplicity and depictions of the ancient man and how its struggle to move forever on has lead to the rise and fall of kingdoms.
7. The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan
In this book Sagan promotes a scientific way of thinking that places facts above beliefs and brings strong arguments against faith healing, alien abductions, witchcraft and others. Irrationality and mysticism not only endanger our progress as a society, but they also pose a threat to our freedom in a world that shouldn’t impose superstition-based limits on people. Skepticism is a wonderful tool that unveils the beautiful world around us, a world that came to be what it is by a slow, gradual process of cumulative modifications.
8. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
“Civilization has so cluttered this elemental man-earth relationship with gadgets and middlemen that awareness of it is growing dim. We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry.”
The philosophy behind this collection of essays places Aldo Leopold at the beginning of the conservation movement in America and, along with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, it is one of the most revered environmental books of the past century. Leopold influenced the management of natural resources and contributed to the betterment of conservation policies, an influence that continues to this day.
9. The Naked Ape by Desmond Harris
The Naked Ape is a timeless reminder for those who are starting to forget their origins and who begin to build a wall between the animal kingdom and mankind, when in fact there is more that binds us than what separates us. Desmond Harris shows how man is only a risen ape and despite its intelligence and higher conscience, it is still an animal.
10. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
This is a short, yet a very comprehensive book that tries to paint with simple words a tale of the universe, from elementary particles to black holes. Hawking has a wonderful ability to express his complicated ideas using easy to understand explanations, salted with a soft humor, which is a much needed trait in this field of study where most concepts leave people with a slight headache if not mind-blown.