Crash Course:

Physics – Chemistry – Biochemistry – Biology
Some personal favorites (‘popular’ science)

General:

  1. The Canon: The Beautiful Basics of Science
    Nathalie Angier
  2. Cassell’s Laws of Nature
    A very nice compilation in ‘encyclopedia’ style
    James Trefil
  3. Coming of Age in the Milky Way
    A very well written overview of the development and history of science.
    Timothy Ferris
  4. The Whole Shebang
    An easy to read cosmology (probably in need of ‘updating’; I do not know whether this has been done), without being too superficial.
    Timothy Ferris
  5. The Origins of Life and the Universe
    A nice personal overview; a good read.
    P.F. Lurquin
  6. Science in the Looking Glass: What Do Scientists Really Know?
    General description of the ‘state’ of science. Also some discussions regarding philosophy and (philosophy of) mathematics, but, surprisingly, in an interesting format.
    E.B. Davies

 Physics and cosmology:

  1.  QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter
    Not always easy, but great (Feynman has a lot to offer: his ‘autobiographies’, ‘Six  easy pieces’, The Character of Physical Law, etc etc).
    Richard Feynman
  2. Mr. Tompkins Gets Serious / The Essential George Gamow
    George Gamow
  3. The Cosmic Landscape
    This contains ‘personal’ solutions to some of the still outstanding problems in cosmology you don’t have to agree with, but the book offers some really fine explanations of the nature of reality. Susskind believes in the ‘Multiverse’ solution for the problem of the ‘finetuning’ of our universe for life (see also The Grand Design below).
    Leonard Susskind
  4. Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy
    Great, but probably needs updating too.
    Kip Thorne
  5. The Equations: Icons of Knowledge
    Do not start with this one, but after reading up on physics and cosmology (and a little bit of mathematics) this tiny book will open up vistas.
    Sander Bais
  6. The Grand Design
    Better (more clearly written) than ‘A Brief History of Time’
    Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow

(Organic) chemistry:

  1.  Chasing the Molecule
    A very nice historic overview of a ‘forgotten’ revolution: the enormous advances in chemistry occurring in the nineteenth century
    (and teaching you some basic chemistry too).
    John Buckingham

 Biology, biochemistry etc:

(Molecular Biology of the Cell (Alberts et al; fifth edition) and Biochemistry (Berg ‘Stryer’; fifth edition) should not have to be mentioned. Both excellent.)

  1. The Ancestor’s Tale
    A wonderful reconstruction of evolution by ‘retracing our steps’.
    Richard Dawkins
  2. The Reluctant Mr. Darwin. An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of his Theory of Evolution
    The best concise biography of the man who came up with some of the greatest insights in biology. ‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution’ (Theodosius Dobzhansky) still says it best (and says it better and better). The last remark between parentheses refers to a.o. to the fact that it is quite stunning that Darwin was able to come up with so much about evolution without having a lot of the key facts which were only unearthed over the last 150 years.
    David Quammen
  3. The Greatest Show on Earth
    An easy to read an account of the theory (used here as in ‘the theory of relativity’) of evolution, taking on the totally unscientific dogmas of creationism (also in its new guise of ‘intelligent design’) with a myriad of well known (and lesser-known) facts.
    Richard Dawkins
  4. Power, Sex, Suicide
    Thoughts about the evolution of Eukaryotes and the role of mitochondria. I don’t agree with everything, but this is a well written and interesting book.
    Nick Lane

Scientific methods and pitfalls, evidence-based medicine, etc:

  1. Bad Science
    Ben Goldacre skewers the enemies of reason with wit and passion. The book is hilarious, although the fun is compromised by seeing the terrible effects of bad science and journalistic stupidity …..
    Ben Goldacre