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Thread: Best science non-fiction you have EVER read

  1. #1 Best science non-fiction you have EVER read 
    Forum Sophomore Dkav's Avatar
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    Can anyone recommend to me some good books?

    besides Carl Sagan...read all of them 3x.


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    Blackholes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy - Kip Thorne

    Magic Furnace - Marcus Chown

    Brief History - Stephen Hawking

    Origin of Species - Some dude... can't remember the name.


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    Origin of Species - Some dude... can't remember the name.

    that shit's over_rated
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    The need for an intelligible world begins with the fearfulness of pre-philosophical, pre-literate societies facing an unpredictable world of change and trying to make sense of it.
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  5. #4  
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    The Human Career by Richard Klein.

    The First Humans: Origin and Early Evolution of the Genus Homo, edited by Fred Grine, John Fleagle, and Richard Leakey.

    The Greatest Show on Earth and The Selfish Gene -Richard Dawkins.

    Death by Black Hole -Neal deGrasse Tyson.

    What do you care what other people think, Richard Feynman.
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    Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life by Nick Lane

    1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles Mann

    Fundamentals of Human Neuropsychology (textbook) by Kolb and Whishaw
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  7. #6  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gottspieler
    1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles Mann
    I'd recommend reading this one with a grain of salt. Mann takes some liberties in his narrative which are politically motivated rather than scientific. Indeed, Mann is an advocate not a scientist. It's an interesting read, and many "facts" are correct, but there are also many comparisons (such as the Cahokia to London) which seem more motivated by the familiar political agenda present in some Native American studies in the U.S.
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    I recommend The Fourth Part of the World by Toby Lester. He is not a scientist and this is not a science book, and it may well not be the best non-fiction book I've ever read, but it is a really good read about the discovery of the Americas, and about cartography and the historical political context of that discovery. Fascinating.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkinWalker
    Quote Originally Posted by gottspieler
    1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles Mann
    I'd recommend reading this one with a grain of salt. Mann takes some liberties in his narrative which are politically motivated rather than scientific. Indeed, Mann is an advocate not a scientist. It's an interesting read, and many "facts" are correct, but there are also many comparisons (such as the Cahokia to London) which seem more motivated by the familiar political agenda present in some Native American studies in the U.S.
    I take everything with a grain of salt. I think he is clear in stating what he believes is fact and merely possibility.

    Btw..they are using it at my school as a History class and Anthro class text.
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
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    Yeah... it's being used at a lot schools at the uni level. I found the book interesting, but very slanted in favor of aboriginals. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but there's tendency, perhaps a postmodern one, to slant modern historical works in favor of "oppressed aboriginals," with a conscious effort to show them in a light that is almost aggrandizing.

    This is a tendency that's more prevalent in historical ethnography than with scientific archaeology and, since my research of late takes me back and forth across these lines of study, I seem to notice it more.

    It's been a while since I read the book (couple of years), but I recall the discussion about Monk's Mound of the Cahokia and the suggestion by Mann that it was part of an urban complex -at least that's the idea I got. Mann presented some of the archaeology then interpreted it in a way that was definitely possible. But it's important to be clear that this is an interpretation not a definitive history. Archaeologists used interpretations like this as hypotheses, testing them with follow up research by saying things like, "if X is true, then we should expect to see Y in the archaeological record," and then go look at the archaeological record.

    Don't get me wrong, at the very least, Mann has presented several hypotheses that can then be tested, giving future archaeologists something to work with, particularly given the popularity of the work. But I still submit that the book's popularity is, at least in part, due to it's bias toward the aboriginal which has a natural appeal to modern liberal arts scholarship.
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    I read every book by Asimov I could find through high school and have much of my appreciation and love for science and it's process to thank for it. I also read A Brief History of Time and a lot of other popularisations (nothing by Sagan until sometime after school), but I am still very grateful and nostalgic about Asimov's contributions. It is getting very dated by now though I'd imagine.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkinWalker
    Yeah... it's being used at a lot schools at the uni level. I found the book interesting, but very slanted in favor of aboriginals. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but there's tendency, perhaps a postmodern one, to slant modern historical works in favor of "oppressed aboriginals," with a conscious effort to show them in a light that is almost aggrandizing.

    This is a tendency that's more prevalent in historical ethnography than with scientific archaeology and, since my research of late takes me back and forth across these lines of study, I seem to notice it more.

    It's been a while since I read the book (couple of years), but I recall the discussion about Monk's Mound of the Cahokia and the suggestion by Mann that it was part of an urban complex -at least that's the idea I got. Mann presented some of the archaeology then interpreted it in a way that was definitely possible. But it's important to be clear that this is an interpretation not a definitive history. Archaeologists used interpretations like this as hypotheses, testing them with follow up research by saying things like, "if X is true, then we should expect to see Y in the archaeological record," and then go look at the archaeological record.

    Don't get me wrong, at the very least, Mann has presented several hypotheses that can then be tested, giving future archaeologists something to work with, particularly given the popularity of the work. But I still submit that the book's popularity is, at least in part, due to it's bias toward the aboriginal which has a natural appeal to modern liberal arts scholarship.
    I agree. I like the section called "Holmberg's mistake" that dispels the myth of Rosseau's "Noble Savage" image of native americans. I also like the section concerning the Aztec tlamatinime (philosophers) and their beautiful nihilism...it is often ignored by mainstream anthropologists and historians who focus on the grandeur of European countries. The book is a great intro to the cultures of the Inca of Peru and Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts.
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    The Ghost in the Machine by Arthur Koestler. It's a whole new way to look at the universe. There are layers and layers and layers, descending and ascending out of sight in each direction. The idea of everything being simultaneously "parts" struggling for inclusion, and "wholes" struggling for assertion, seems to Koestler to be antagonistic, and he concludes with the idea that we need to drug ourselves to be freed from the reptilian part of our brain.

    I disagree. I see the "integrative" and "assertive" aspects at each layer as complementary versus contradictory. It's like having two legs to walk: you need both of them to get anywhere. We constantly play on the tension created by both fields. It's only when they get out of balance that pathology emerges.

    So I ended up fundamentally disagreeing with Koestler, but my thinking was deeply impressed by the images he conveyed. A fresh and unique look at science from a non-scientist.
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    Richard Dawkins "The God Delusion"
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    Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.
    Somewhat dated, a bit biased and sometimes over simplified because it covers such a huge range of materials it's nevertheless the best inoculation for opinions that Euro centric cultures have dominated due to inherent moral, racial, or cultural superiority.

    Humanist Anthology: From Confucius to Attenborough by Margaret Knight
    A unique collection and who's who of free thinking through history. I good sampling of some of the greatest minds from around the world and in history as well. On my first time through I'd never heard of Aḥmad bin Rušd/Averos for example. I'd never imagine years later I'd be having discussions about his somewhat radical thinking with educated Iraqi officers (while my terp tried to keep up in amazement...lol).


    The Greatest Show on Earth
    Perhaps I'll give it a relook, I didn't want to read a repackaging of Dawkins earlier writings.


    Currently reading "Sense & Goodness Without God" by Richard Carrier, but can't recommend it yet. I'm half way through and so far it's been mostly philosophical argument and foundation material without yet touching on secular arguments for goodness or morals I'd hoped for.

    Has anyone read "The Book of Atheist Spirituality by Andre Comte-Sponville?
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    Human: The Science behind what makes us unique

    One Renegade Cell : Robert Weinberg (about cancer)

    The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley

    At War Within by William Clark (about the immune system/autoimmune disorders, etc)
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  17. #16  
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    Here's one of my favorites, about creatures most people either misunderstand or don't notice:

    American Spiders by Willis J Gertsch
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    The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? by Leon Lederman. Awesome book.
    Who is John Galt?
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    I would recommend Accelerando by Charles Stross. Excellent author, and a great book about the idea of technological singularity.

    I also couldn't recommend Larry Niven and Douglass Adams enough.
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    Ring around the Sun cant remember the author..paperback I found on a train in the 80s. about parrallel earths in a ring around the sun and the main character finds that he has power to hop from one to the next, also mysterious objects appear which cripple the economy like everlasting light bulbs and razor blades and cars. We later find that there are other people on earth with different usefull abilities (a bit like a forerunner to "Heroes" )
    I would love to get hold of this book again
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    RING AROUND THE SUN, mentioned by pipster, was a Clifford Simak book. Simak is second only to my personal fave sci fi author Eric Frank Russell, followed by Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein in no particular order.
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    Sorry. Missed the non-fiction
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    "The Brain That Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge. Fascinating stuff on neuroplasticity.

    And "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat" by Oliver Sacks.

    Qualified endorsement - thought it was brilliant when I first read it, and the factual items reported about abnormal brain function are still stunning. But when I reread it recently, I found the writing style a bit tedious. (That could just be a sign of grumpy-old-ladyness, which won't affect very many of you.)
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    Quote Originally Posted by adelady View Post
    "The Brain That Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge. Fascinating stuff on neuroplasticity.

    And "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat" by Oliver Sacks.

    Qualified endorsement - thought it was brilliant when I first read it, and the factual items reported about abnormal brain function are still stunning. But when I reread it recently, I found the writing style a bit tedious. (That could just be a sign of grumpy-old-ladyness, which won't affect very many of you.)
    Thanks for the tip. I just ordered "The Brain that Changes Itself".
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    For my favorite kind of science writing - clean, light, solid, humble, and elegant:

    "After the Ice Age" by E.C Pielou. It's a bit dated, but only a bit, by now.

    As food for thought, and a different kind of "best" - turgid and exhaustive and in the middle of a muddled complexity, a single big idea in a tome of explication:

    "The Master and HIs Emissary" by Iain McGilchrist
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  26. #25  
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    Old but good topic.... The Hot Zone by Richard Preston is excellent non-fiction about Biological nightmares
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    Quote Originally Posted by dmwyant View Post
    Old but good topic.... The Hot Zone by Richard Preston is excellent non-fiction about Biological nightmares
    OMG! Old? Yeah, I guess I'm old too. I like these kinds of books A LOT. Then you might like:

    "The Microbe Hunters" (1926) — this remains a classic bestseller

    "Eleven Blue Men and Other Narratives of Medical Detection" (1954) — probably out of print; try public library networks

    "Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio" (2006) — everyone forgets how horrifying polio was (the 1950s wasn't all cutesy sitcoms)

    But I also liked reading these non-fiction science books:

    "The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages" (1977) — I didn't know this industrial revolution existed, wow!

    "Clocks and Watches 1400 to 1900" (1967) — So that's how they made them!
    Grief is the price we pay for love. (CM Parkes) Our postillion has been struck by lightning. (Unknown) War is always the choice of the chosen who will not have to fight. (Bono) The years tell much what the days never knew. (RW Emerson) Reality is not always probable, or likely. (JL Borges)
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    Forum Bachelors Degree dmwyant's Avatar
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    I have read "Splendid Solution..." but I will have to check out the others. I just finished a biography about Pontius Pilate. It was pretty interesting. Next I am going to reread Art of War and Musashi's Book of Five Rings. And the Tao of Pooh... Everyone should read the Tao of Pooh
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    "The Denial of Death" is definitely a must read.
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    I quite liked these books ...

    The Diamond Makers (details the history involved in the making of synthetic diamonds)
    Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives Of Eccentric Scientists And Madmen
    Anything by Wade Davis (famous ethnobotanist)

    These are somewhat pseudoscience ...

    Stalking the Wild Pendulum
    The Mystery of the Crystal Skulls
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    Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" was entertaining and informative. I read it from cover to cover and resented the necessity for sleep until I had.

    A 22 yr old article in Scientific American's 1990 "Exploring Space" special issue describing the 1987 Supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud - I've seen countless TV docos describing such events but the article by Woosley and Weaver still sticks in my mind; from the sequence of events here on Earth as word spread and instruments on the ground and in orbit were trained on it to the descriptions of the matter warping sequence of events within the star itself... astronomical!
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    Asimov's books are my favorite. I think you should read.
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    Robert Zubrin's 2 MARS books.COSMOS,and I have heard good reviews about Janus and MacLuhan.
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    Forum Radioactive Isotope cosmictraveler's Avatar
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    Last edited by cosmictraveler; December 20th, 2012 at 08:13 PM.
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    And if we're talking good writing, Rachel Carson's The Sea Around Us is stunning.

    Expert science presented in clear and eloquent prose. Some of the best writing you'll ever read.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
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  36. #35  
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    Woman science fiction writers? Preposterous!



    Oh, Ursula Le Guin.
    Disclaimer: I do not declare myself to be an expert on ANY subject. If I state something as fact that is obviously wrong, please don't hesitate to correct me. I welcome such corrections in an attempt to be as truthful and accurate as possible.

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    Read Doctor Who Collection.... its pretty awesome.
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    Not a big fan of Michio Kaku myself, but some like his writing.

    If you're interested in histories of science, Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb is a must-read. He writes extremely well. More important, he works hard to get the science right, despite the need to make explanations accessible to lay readers. I bought the book with the expectation that I'd read bits from time to time. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. Had to finish it in one go.
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    Yes! Great Mambo Chicken And The Transhuman Condition by Ed Regis.

    About science on the edge and over the edge. It was written in 1990. I no longer have it and, from memory, parts of it may be outdated or overtaken by events. But it's terrific writing.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
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    Quote Originally Posted by slush View Post
    RING AROUND THE SUN, mentioned by pipster, was a Clifford Simak book. Simak is second only to my personal fave sci fi author Eric Frank Russell, followed by Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein in no particular order.
    Simaks best was Time is the Simplest Thing. Heinlein is the all around winner. Clarke beats Asimov and Sheckley is funniest.( And I love Hal Clement because of his interesting environments.)
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    IMO Asimov was the greatest science writer who ever lived. He could make anything entertaining and easy to understand. But, since he died in 1992 his body of work is unfortunately rather dated. I have yet to see anybody emerging today with the same degree of talent.
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    oh damn. Just discovered Heinlein.
    The need for an intelligible world begins with the fearfulness of pre-philosophical, pre-literate societies facing an unpredictable world of change and trying to make sense of it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dkav View Post
    oh damn. Just discovered Heinlein.
    Lucky you!
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    Quote Originally Posted by danhanegan View Post
    IMO Asimov was the greatest science writer who ever lived. He could make anything entertaining and easy to understand. But, since he died in 1992 his body of work is unfortunately rather dated. I have yet to see anybody emerging today with the same degree of talent.
    There was (once upon a time) a friendly quarrel between idolators of Asimav and idolators of Arthur C Clarcke
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    Setting aside all more technical textbooks, it's probably between Hawking's A Brief History of Time, as well as Penrose's The Road to Reality.
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    QED
    Surely You're Joking, Mr.Feynman!
    What Do You Care What Other People Think?

    I really like Richard Feynman.
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    I've heard Riding Rockets, by Mike Mullane is a pretty good read.

    Personally, I love anything by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and I'm developing a new fondness for Brian Cox (though, I'm not sure if he has any books out).
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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    Here are some of the books by Brian Cox, some are solely by him and others in collaboration. It should be noted that the links given are for convenience and reference purposes, they do not constitute an endorsement of any particular retailer and should not be taken as such.

    Professor Brian Cox Books:

    Wonders of Life:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wonders-Life...ords=brian+cox

    Why Does E=mc2? and Why Should We Care?:
    Why Does E=mc2?: (and Why Should We Care?): Amazon.co.uk: Brian Cox, Jeff Forshaw: Books

    The Quantum Universe: Everything that can happen does happen:
    The Quantum Universe: Everything that can happen does happen: Amazon.co.uk: Brian Cox, Jeff Forshaw: Books

    Wonders of the Universe:
    Wonders of the Universe: Amazon.co.uk: Brian Cox, Andrew Cohen: Books

    Wonders of the Solar System:
    Wonders of the Solar System: Amazon.co.uk: Andrew Cohen, Brian Cox: Books
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    I've seen the BBC specials for the last two and they are the reason I have taken interest in him. Never heard of him until about a year ago.

    Tyson was doing a presentation on Book TV and he mentioned Cox and some people cheered. So I checked him out and he's pretty fun to watch. Smiles a lot more than Neil...
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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    He used to be a pop star, check out this clip from back in the day.

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    I've not read Cox's Wonders of Life, but the television series was absolutely marvellous as an antidote to the idea that physics and astronomy have little to do with biology and anatomy. I've put it on my never-gets-shorter book list.
    Ascended likes this.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
    "nature is like a game of Jenga; you never know which brick you pull out will cause the whole stack to collapse" Lucy Cooke
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  52. #51  
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    A couple of others have mentioned Feynman's autobiographies. I ran across a copy of Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! in my favorite used bookstore some years back and picked it up cheap. Cheap or not, it is without question the most entertaining piece of biography I have ever read. Not sure it really belongs in this thread, as it doesn't really talk about science; it is instead an exploration of Feynman's various odd hobbies. His lengthy description of swiping secret Manhattan project documents in an effort to demonstrate to the powers that be how poor the security was sounds like a spy story but is actually more in the way of a practical joke. He seems prouder of the respect he garnered playing with a Brazilian samba band than his Nobel prize for physics. I suspect many of the worlds top physicists have similarly quirky personal lives, but Feynman is one of the few that has actually told his tales to the public.
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  53. #52  
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    Quote Originally Posted by danhanegan View Post
    A couple of others have mentioned Feynman's autobiographies. I ran across a copy of Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! in my favorite used bookstore some years back and picked it up cheap. Cheap or not, it is without question the most entertaining piece of biography I have ever read. Not sure it really belongs in this thread, as it doesn't really talk about science; it is instead an exploration of Feynman's various odd hobbies. His lengthy description of swiping secret Manhattan project documents in an effort to demonstrate to the powers that be how poor the security was sounds like a spy story but is actually more in the way of a practical joke. He seems prouder of the respect he garnered playing with a Brazilian samba band than his Nobel prize for physics. I suspect many of the worlds top physicists have similarly quirky personal lives, but Feynman is one of the few that has actually told his tales to the public.
    Theres another (slightly thicker) book telling the story again
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  54. #53  
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    I really enjoyed Physics of The Impossible by Michio Kaku.
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