Reading list

This is a list of (mostly popular) science books (with a slant towards chemistry) that I have read, intend to read, or have been recommended to me. If you have other suggestions, let me know and I’ll add them to the list with an acknowledgement (use #chembooks on Twitter or leave a comment here on the blog).

[Here’s another list of popular science books compiled by @kashfarooq – thanks to @alex_brovvn for pointing it out]

UPDATE: when (if) I get to 100 on the list, I’ll alphabetize by author name to make this easier to navigate…

1. The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of HitlerThomas Hager
The story of Haber and Bosch. A great read; highly recommended. I found out about this book because of a comment left under this blog post written by @biochembelle.

2. The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor’s Heroic Search for the World’s First Miracle DrugThomas Hager
The story of the first synthetic antibiotics and Gerhard Domagk. Another brilliant book by Hager.

3. Chasing the MoleculeJohn Buckingham
I read this a few years back now, but remember it being a great read. It’s basically the story of how modern chemistry came about.

4. The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements – Sam Kean

5. Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the ElementsHugh Aldersey-Williams

6. Wonderful Life With The Elements: The Periodic Table Personified: An Adventure through the Periodic TableBunpei Yorifuji
Probably one of the most unusual books about the periodic table that you’ll ever see…

7. The 13th Element: The Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus – John Emsley

8. The Elements of Murder: A History of PoisonJohn Emsley

9. Molecules at an Exhibition: Portraits of Intriguing Materials in Everyday LifeJohn Emsley

10. The Same and Not the Same – Roald Hoffmann

11. Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments – Alex Boese
This was a book I picked up at the airport before a transatlantic flight; mostly because of the title. It’s a fun read.

12. The Speckled Monster: a Historical Tale of Battling SmallpoxJennifer Lee Carrell
Not chemistry, but an absorbing read about how smallpox was battled on both sides of the Atlantic in the 18th century.

13. A Short History of Nearly EverythingBill Bryson

14. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) – Richard Feynman & Ralph Leighton
I could read books about Feynman all day long; and I read this one many years ago. Suggested on Twitter by @SeeArrOh

15. The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code – Sam Kean
Another suggestion from @SeeArrOh

16. Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed HistoryPenny Le Couteur & Jay Burreson
Suggested on Twitter by @sciencegeist

17. The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New YorkDeborah Blum
Suggested on Twitter by @sciencegeist

18. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen – Harold McGee
Recommended on Twitter by @sciencegeist, @L_Howes, and @Chemjobber

19. That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles: 62 All-New Commentaries on the Fascinating Chemistry of Everyday LifeJoe Schwarcz
Suggested on Twitter by @Cationically

20. Atkins’ MoleculesPeter Atkins
Another suggestion from @Cationically

21. The Making of the Atomic Bomb – Richard Rhodes
Another suggestion from @Chemjobber who points out that, “Yes, it’s lots of physics, but the doing is all chemistry.”

22. Genius: The Life and Science of Richard FeynmanJames Gleick
More Feynman fodder. One I own (and have read) and is tucked away in a box in the loft somewhere… was also suggested on Twitter by @NeilWithers

23. Molecules and Medicine – E. J. Corey, Barbara Czakó & László Kürti
Suggested on Twitter by @stephengdavey

24. Molecules That Changed the World – K. C. Nicolaou & Tamsyn Montagnon
Another suggestion from @stephengdavey (I don’t own this one, but have flipped through a copy before. Here’s a fun game: see how many photos of KC himself you can spot in the book, I think it’s >70…)

25. The Periodic Table – Primo Levi
I really should get my hands on a copy of this. Suggested on Twitter by @alex_brovvn and @SimonHiggins_60

26. Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical BoyhoodOliver Sacks
Another one that I have read (it’s good) and is probably stashed away in a box somewhere… was also suggested on Twitter by @Chemjobber

27. Murder, Magic, and MedicineJohn Mann
Suggested on Twitter by @CyclinScience

28. The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments – Robert Brent
Probably best not to try much of this at home kids! Here’s a link to a pdf version of the book. Supposedly it was banned at one point and there are apparently only 126 copies of this book in libraries worldwide according to Wikipedia. I have the pdf somewhere on my laptop, but was reminded about the book on Twitter by @Dr_GHill

29. The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor – Ken Silverstein
Read this a few years back – well worth a look.

30. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA – Brenda Maddox
Another one sitting on a shelf at home waiting to be read… also suggested on Twitter by @Marcel_Swart

31. Mr Tompkins in PaperbackGeorge Gamow
Another suggestion from @Dr_GHill

32. The Billion Dollar Molecule: One Company’s Quest for the Perfect Drug – Barry Werth
Suggested on Twitter by @ChemProfCramer and seconded by @CoulombicExp

33. Boltzmann’s Atom: The Great Debate That Launched A Revolution In PhysicsDavid Lindley
Another suggestion from by @ChemProfCramer

34. Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics – Ruth Lewin Sime
And another @ChemProfCramer pick.

35. E=mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation – David Bodanis
Suggested on Twitter by @CoulombicExp

36. Thirty Years that Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum TheoryGeorge Gamow
Another suggestion from @CoulombicExp

37. Great Scientific Experiments: Twenty Experiments that Changed our View of the WorldRom Harré
And another @CoulombicExp pick.

38. Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold – Tom Shachtman
Another one that I read a while ago; seem to remember enjoying it!

39. Asimov on Chemistry – Isaac Asimov
Suggested on Twitter by @PeONor

40. The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the AtomGraham Farmelo
Another suggestion from @Marcel_Swart

41. Creations Of Fire: Chemistry’s Lively History From Alchemy To The Atomic AgeCathy Cobb & Harold Goldwhite
Suggested on Twitter by @_byronmiller

42. The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and ObsessionChandler Burr
Suggested on Twitter by @onesleepynerd

43. Sir Christopher Ingold: A Major Prophet of Organic ChemistryKenneth Leffek
Suggested on Twitter by @conway_group who also points to a review of the book penned by Jack Roberts (pdf).

44. Linus Pauling in His Own Words: Selections From his Writings, Speeches and InterviewsBarbara Marinacci
Another suggestion from @conway_group

45. The Struggles of Albert Woods – William Cooper
And another @conway_group pick.

46. Mauve: How One Man Invented a Colour That Changed the WorldSimon Garfield
All about Sir William Henry Perkin and his synthesis of the dye mauveine – well worth a read.

47. The Secrets of Alchemy – Lawrence Principe
Pointed out on Twitter by @_byronmiller after a blog post by @sciencegeist

48. The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe – Theodore Gray
I have the iPad version of this. It’s beautiful.

49. A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the CoelacanthSamantha Weinberg
Not chemistry, but I enjoyed this one.

50. Serendipity: Accidental Discoveries in Science – Royston Roberts
A lot of chemistry-related luck in here.

51. The Music of the Primes: Searching to Solve the Greatest Mystery in MathematicsMarcus du Sautoy
I’m a sucker for these sorts of maths books… and this is a good one (and the next few on the list too).

52. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical TruthPaul Hoffman
Erdos was a bit odd… and this is a great read.

53. The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius RamanujanRobert Kanigel

54. Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical ProblemSimon Singh
Who doesn’t like a bit of Fermat? I think this got me started on the maths books…

55. The age of the moleculeNina Hall (Editor)
A nice coffee-table book from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

56. The Periodic Table: A Very Short Introduction – Eric Scerri (@ericscerri)
@hacp81 reminded me on Twitter about Eric’s books on the periodic table.

57. The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its SignificanceEric Scerri (@ericscerri)

58. A Tale of Seven ElementsEric Scerri (@ericscerri)
Out in June 2013; the last seven elements to be isolated from the first 92 in the periodic table.

59. Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of LifeAdam Rutherford (@AdamRutherford)
High up on my ‘to read’ list.

60. Cathedrals of Science: The Personalities and Rivalries That Made Modern ChemistryPatrick Coffey

61. LSD: My Problem Child — Insights/OutlooksAlbert Hofmann (translated by Jonathan Ott)

62. Mystic Chemist: The Life of Albert Hofmann and His Discovery of LSDDieter Hagenbach & Lucius Werthmüller

63. Color: A Natural History of the PaletteVictoria Finlay
Suggested on Twitter by @DocTHop

64. Eurekas and Euphorias: The Oxford Book of Scientific Anecdotes – Walter Gratzer
Suggested on Twitter by @Chemtips

65. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War IIDenise Kiernan
Suggested on Twitter by @echristophy

66. What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical SketchesErwin Schrödinger
One of a series of origin-of-life books mentioned on Twitter by @V_Saggiomo that are collated in this blog post by @yigitaltay

67. Biogenesis: Theories of Life’s OriginNoam Lahav
One of a series of origin-of-life books mentioned on Twitter by @V_Saggiomo that are collated in this blog post by @yigitaltay

68. A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than NothingLawrence M. Krauss
One of a series of origin-of-life books mentioned on Twitter by @V_Saggiomo that are collated in this blog post by @yigitaltay

69. Big Bang: The Origin of the UniverseSimon Singh
One of a series of origin-of-life books mentioned on Twitter by @V_Saggiomo that are collated in this blog post by @yigitaltay

70. The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics: A Math-Free Exploration of the Science That Made Our WorldJames Kakalios
Suggested on Twitter by @hacp81

71. What is Life?: How Chemistry becomes BiologyAddy Pross

Will keep updating this post as suggestions are made…

4 Responses to Reading list

  1. pcelsus says:

    These are the ones I’ve read:

    1. Nature’s Building Blocks – John Emsley
    2. Disappearing Spoon – Sam Kean
    3. Napoleon’s Buttons – Penny M. Le Couteur, Jay Burreson
    4. Crucibles : The Story of Chemistry – Bernard Jeffe
    5. Mendeleyev’s Dream – Paul Strathern

    My list:

    1. The Sceptical Chymist – Robert Boyle
    2. The Life of Paracelsus – Franz Hartmann
    3. A Life Of Sir William Ramsay – Morris W. Travers
    4. Elements Of Chemistry – Antoine Lavoisier

    If I can remember more, I’ll update it. This will be a great list. Thanks for doing this on your blog.

  2. ericscerri says:

    Hi Stuart,
    Many thanks for including me and even three times!
    You asked for further suggestions,

    Please see my website,
    and a section called special features near bottom of page for what I think may be the most complete list anywhere of books on elements and the periodic table, color coded for different languages. I think you may find a few that qualify under your category too. For example Tom Zoellner’s “Uranium, Adrian Dingle’s “The Periodic Table”, Hoffman’s “On Beyond Uranium”, Malley’s “Radioactivity”, Fisher’s “Much Ado about nothing (History of the Noble Gases), Depovere’s “La Classification des Elements”, Bizony’s “Atom”, although not all of these are on my list yet.

  3. Pingback: Science Gifts 2014: General Books (and More) on Chemistry * The New World

  4. Jim says:

    These aren’t Chemistry related, but good reads none the less.

    The Extravagent Universe, by Robert Kirshner
    Gravity’s Engines, by Caleb Scharf

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