Field of Science

100 Desert Island Books

Finally got around to making that "100 books I would want on a desert island" list. Another title would be "100 books that I consider essential reading for *my* life": thus, this is a personal selection. I don't claim to have this list cover the most important aspects of human life or the universe, nor do I expect "famous" books to be on this list (although some of them are). The list just reflects my personal traditional interests - history and philosophy of science has the most numbers, followed by science textbooks, general history, philosophy and theology and a tiny sliver of fiction (I started reading fiction seriously quite recently). One condition in listing these books was that I should have read them in their entirety: this is true of all of them except "Gödel, Escher, Bach" which I think I am going to keep soldiering through my whole life. I am very privileged to call some of the authors here my friends.

One common thread running through most of these books is that I discovered them early, when I was in high school, college and graduate school, in most cases in either the college or university library or the British Library which was a stone's throw from where I grew up. Early impressions are often the strongest, so I keep coming back to these volumes and they keep inspiring and instructing me.

I have thousands of books on my shelf and I always find it hard to give any away. There are many others I haven't listed here which I love, but if I actually had just these 100 (110 to be precise), I wouldn't be entirely depressed (just don't tell my significant other...).


Richard Rhodes - The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Richard Rhodes - Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb
Freeman Dyson - Disturbing the Universe
Freeman Dyson - Infinite in All Directions
George Dyson - Turing’s Cathedral
George Dyson - Darwin Among the Machines
Edward Wilson - Naturalist
Edward Wilson - Consilience
James Gleick - Chaos
John Horgan - The End of Science
Robert Serber - Peace and War
Jeremy Bernstein - Hans Bethe: Prophet of Energy
Silvan Schweber - In the Shadow of the Bomb
Silvan Schweber - QED and the Men Who Made It
David Kaiser - Drawing Theories Apart
Kip Thorne - Black Holes and Time Warps
Robert Kanigel - The Man Who Knew Infinity
Robert Hoffman - The Man Who Loved Only Numbers
Robert Crease and Charles Mann - The Second Creation
Douglas Hofstadter - Gödel, Escher, Bach
Alice Kimball-Smith and Charles Weiner - Robert Oppenheimer: Letters and Recollections
Peter Galison - Image and Logic
Emanuel Derman - My Life as a Quant
Kameshwar Wali - Chandra
John Gribbin - In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat
John Casti - Paradigms Lost
John Casti - The Cambridge Quintet
John Casti - Gödel: A Life in Logic
George Johnson - Strange Beauty
Roger Penrose - The Emperor’s New Mind
Roger Penrose - The Road to Reality
Richard Dawkins - Climbing Mount Improbable
Gerald Durrell - My Family and Other Animals
Konrad Lorenz - King Solomon’s Ring
Robert Laughlin - A Different Universe
Horace Freeland Judson - The Eighth Day of Creation
Peter Michelmore - The Swift Years: The Robert Oppenheimer Story
Richard Feynman - Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman
Stanislaw Ulam - Adventures of a Mathematician
Laura Fermi - Atoms in the Family
Werner Heisenberg - Physics and Philosophy
Ronald Clark - Einstein
Steven Pinker - The Blank Slate
David Deutsch - The Beginning of Infinity
Steven Weinberg - Dreams of a Final Theory
J. Robert Oppenheimer - The Open Mind
Stuart Kauffman - Reinventing the Sacred
Barry Werth - The Billion Dollar Molecule
Oliver Sacks - On the Move
Carl Sagan - The Demon-Haunted World
Max Perutz - I Wish I’d Made You Angry Earlier
Jonathan Allday - Quarks, Leptons and the Big Bang
Philip Ball - H2O: A Biography of Water
Philip Ball - The Self-Made Tapestry
Alan Lightman - Einstein’s Dreams
Alan Lightman - The Accidental Universe
Brown, Pais and Pippard - Twentieth Century Physics (3 volumes)
Ed Regis - Who Got Einstein’s Office?
C. P. Snow - The Physicists


Ira Levine - Quantum Chemistry
Peter Atkins - Molecular Quantum Mechanics
Lubert Stryer - Biochemistry
Albert Lehninger - Biochemistry
George Simmons - Introduction to Topology and Modern Analysis
George Simmons - Differential Equations
Richard Feynman - The Feynman Lectures on Physics
David Griffiths - Introduction to Electrodynamics
John Lee - Inorganic Chemistry
Samuel Glasstone - Sourcebook on Atomic Energy
Samuel Glasstone - Thermodynamics for Chemists
Arthur Beiser - Concepts of Modern Physics
Gautam Desiraju - The Weak Hydrogen Bond
Linus Pauling - The Nature of the Chemical Bond
Linus Pauling and Edward Bright Wilson - Introduction to Quantum Mechanics
Clayden, Warren, Reeves and Wothers - Organic Chemistry
Eric Anslyn and Dennis Dougherty - Modern Physical Organic Chemistry
Wells, Wells and Huxley - The Science of Life
Goodman and Gilman - The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics
Jerry March - Advanced Organic Chemistry


Barbara Tuchman - The Guns of August
William Shirer - The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
James Swanson - Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer
David McCullough - Truman
James Scott - Against the Grain
James McPherson - Battle Cry of Freedom
Gordon Wood - Empire of Liberty
John Barry - Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul
Bernard Bailyn - The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
Robert Caro - The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Vols. 1-4)
Rick Atkinson - An Army at Dawn
Will Durant - Our Oriental Heritage
Russell Shorto - The Island at the Center of the World
Nick Bunker - An Empire on the Edge
Brad Gregory - Rebel in the Ranks
Cornelius Ryan - The Longest Day


Sam Harris - The End of Faith
David Edmonds and John Eidinow - Wittgenstein's Poker
Plato - The Republic
Matthew Stewart - The Courtier and the Heretic
Isaiah Berlin - The Proper Study of Mankind
Bertrand Russell - Unpopular Essays
Bertrand Russell - Why I am Not a Christian


Vasily Grossman - Life and Fate
Haruki Murakami - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Cormac McCarthy - Blood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy - The Road
Isaac Asimov - Asimov’s Mysteries
Cordwainer Smith - No, No, Not Rogov! (this is a single story but it is very striking in its vividness and poetry and made a deep impression)
Leo Tolstoy - War and Peace
Fyodor Dostoevsky - Notes from the Underground
William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying
H. G. Wells - The Time Machine
Chekhov - Stories