Below is an incomplete and unordered list of some of my favorite books on science and scientists.
The Eighth Day of Creation by Horace Judson. Not just my favorite book on science but probably my favorite book, period.
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf. Probably my favorite biography of a scientist.
The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann. Ostensibly a dual biography of Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, but is much, much more than that. (I am generally in the wizard camp.)
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. Going into this book, I assumed I knew the material and that, as a result, I would find it boring. I was totally wrong on both accounts.
The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen. Same for this one. (Quammen’s Spillover is also excellent.)
Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology by Bill Provine. I found this to be even more compelling than Provine’s justly famous (at least within the circles I travel in) book The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics.
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey Smith. Nearly impossible to overstate how good this is.
Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection by Peter Godfrey Smith. Probably the clearest distillation of the concept of natural selection that I know of. Convinced me that I understand the topic far less than I thought I did. While perhaps a bit less accessible, I think it is even better that Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (which is also very good).
Niels Bohr’s Times, In Physics, Philosophy, and Polity by Abraham Pais. More scientific biographies should be written by scientists.
Quantum Computing Since Democritus by Scott Aaronson. I’m a huge fan of Scott’s blog and found this book (adapted from his course notes — would have loved to take this class!) to be remarkably clear and really fun to read.
The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect by Judea Pearl and Dana McKenzie. When I was in grad school, I got the inkling that I should take causal reasoning more seriously and as evidence of my seriousness, I picked up a copy of Pearl’s “Magnum Opus” Causality. I basically got nothing out of it. It wasn’t until I read his “popular” science book on the topic that I finally understand what I had been missing. (Thank you, Dana M!) Honestly, I would recommend this book to every
graduate student working scientist; it has had such a profound effect on the way I view statistics and scientific practice, more generally. For people trying to get a handle on the why and how of statistical inference, I would suggest pairing The Book of Why with Richard McLearth’s Statistical Rethinking and M.D. Edge’s Statistical Thinking from Scratch (which I reviewed elsewhere).