Simon Singh is a physicist-turned-author whose books combine the twin disciplines of science and history. His first book, Fermat’s Last Theorem, looked at the history of the world’s most notorious mathematical problem; his next, The Code Book, looked at the history of cryptography. His latest book, Big Bang (Fourth Estate), is a history of cosmology.
1. The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski
Not just a classic TV series, but also a great book. In fact, it taught me a huge amount about mixing history and science.
2. E=mc2 by David Bodanis
The biography of Einstein’s famous equation. Bodanis explains clearly each and every aspect of the equation and reveals why it is one of the pinnacles of human achievement.
3. Isaac Newton by James Gleick
There are quite a few books about Isaac Newton, but this concise book tells you everything you need to know.
4. The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage
We might be astonished by the impact of the internet on our daily lives, but Standage looks at an even more shocking communications revolution – namely, the advent of the telegraph.
5. The Neptune File by Tom Standage
As you can probably tell, I’m a big Tom Standage fan. This time he tells a gripping tale of rivalry among 19th-century astronomers.
John Harris’s story was well known among horologists, but Dava Sobel told it to the rest of world and created a classic.
7. Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges
Turing is now a well-known figure, but that is largely thanks to Hodges’ excellent biography, which inspired a film, a play and numerous TV documentaries.
8. The Cogwheel Brain by Doron Swade
This is the story of the brilliant Charles Babbage and his attempt to pioneer a thinking machine – a mechanical brain. Babbage only ever got to the blueprint stage, but Swade eventually built one of his designs, so was in a unique position to write about him.
9. Mendeleyev’s Dream by Paul Strathern
The periodic table is pinned up on the wall of every school laboratory. This is the story of the chemist who drew it up and who thereby brought new understanding to the atomic world.
10. The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
I read this as an undergraduate, and 20 years later it still remains one of my all-time favourites. A beautiful synthesis of scientific explanation and gripping narrative.