The best books about mind bending scientific discovery and courageous rethinking of conventional wisdom

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a scientist and technologist, trained in theoretical quantum physics, who became an Emeritus Professor of Network Technology from Oslo’s metropolitan university. I’ve strenuously tried to communicate the wonder of science to students and industry throughout my career. I’ve been privileged to know some of the great movers and shakers of science in my lifetime and it always gives me great pleasure to open someone’s mind to new ideas. These books have been an integral part of my own intellectual journey. I hope these recommendations will inspire the youngest and the oldest readers alike.


I wrote...

Smart Spacetime: How information challenges our ideas about space, time, and process

By Mark Burgess,

Book cover of Smart Spacetime: How information challenges our ideas about space, time, and process

What is my book about?

The modern scientific ideas of space and time have been handed down to us from a long history of philosophical ideas, and they've gone through many revisions. Yet many of those ideas have been turned completely upside down by Information Technology, and modern biology. Quantum physics and Einstein's Theory Of Relativity made us rethink them again in the 20th century, and have attached an almost mystical significance to spacetime phenomena—but have we really made too much of their strangeness, and take too narrow a view? Evidence amassing in the vast computer systems that power the Internet, as well as from Artificial Intelligence research to suggest that this may indeed be the case. For the first time we can see the "weird" spacetime phenomena in a completely mundane and accessible source.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Quantum Space: Loop Quantum Gravity and the Search for the Structure of Space, Time, and the Universe

Mark Burgess Why did I love this book?

Jim Baggott is one of a handful of remaining hard science writers from the old school of honest science writing.

He is technically proficient in quantum physics and he avoids the cheap sensationalism that afflicts modern science writing. This book offers a fascinating insight into the narrow field of quantum gravity, with a personal angle that makes it very readable.

It conveys the same excitement I can still remember feeling as a teenager learning about the mysteries of fundamental physics for the first time. As someone who has worked in this general area of research, I very much enjoyed the mix of ideas presented with a page turning ease.

By Jim Baggott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Quantum Space as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Today we are blessed with two extraordinarily successful theories of physics. The first is Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which describes the large-scale behaviour of matter in a curved spacetime. This theory is the basis for the standard model of big bang cosmology. The discovery of gravitational waves at the LIGO observatory in the US (and then Virgo, in Italy) is only the most recent of this theory's many triumphs.

The second is quantum mechanics. This theory describes the properties and behaviour of matter and radiation at their smallest scales. It is the basis for the standard model of…


Book cover of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Mark Burgess Why did I love this book?

This book is a legendary piece of writing, utterly unique in the history of literature.

As a child, I read this and was fascinated by the raw intellectual power of Hofstadter’s ideas, alongside the spirit of playfulness the book encourages. Back then, I did not understand the book well, but as many friends have told me—you will read the book many times in your life and be amazed by its rich multidisciplinary ideas.

No matter how deeply you understand the book on first reading, this book will be an inspiration for life.

By Douglas R. Hofstadter,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Gödel, Escher, Bach as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Douglas Hofstadter's book is concerned directly with the nature of maps" or links between formal systems. However, according to Hofstadter, the formal system that underlies all mental activity transcends the system that supports it. If life can grow out of the formal chemical substrate of the cell, if consciousness can emerge out of a formal system of firing neurons, then so too will computers attain human intelligence. Goedel, Escher, Bach is a wonderful exploration of fascinating ideas at the heart of cognitive science: meaning, reduction, recursion, and much more.


Book cover of The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make Themselves

Mark Burgess Why did I love this book?

This little-known book is a beautifully written story of how spacetime processes explain the world of biology and morphology (organism development), using the analogy of mixing colours in a painting to explain how complex forms emerge from “simple" daubs of colour.

Coen explains ideas that go back to Alan Turing’s pioneering studies of biological processes, as well as computation, in a way that was highly influential to me as a scientist. Most of all this is a fine story that will stay with you for years to come written in a personal voice.

By Enrico Coen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of Genes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Coen's book is spiced with historic quotations and examples of plants' and animals' intriguing behaviour contains a wealth of interesting material Coen communicates his immense learning with a hundred appealing tales'

Max Perutz

How is a tiny fertilised egg able to turn itself into a human being? How can an acorn transform itself into an oak tree? Over the past twenty years there has been a revolution in biology. For the first time we have begun to understand how organisms make themselves. The Art of Genes gives an account of these new and exciting findings, and of their broader significance…


Book cover of The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention

Mark Burgess Why did I love this book?

Linguistics is at the root of so many issues on information science, as well as in biology.

The language of genes is one of symbolic storytelling. This book explains how something as apparently rule-based and human can emerge from completely general evolutionary processes. It was influential for me as a scientist as it underlines the important of linguistics as well as the rich spirit of intellectual curiosity and humour that Deutscher brings to the unfolding of science itself.

This is another book that I admire amongst the best science writing of all time.

By Guy Deutscher,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Unfolding of Language as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Blending the spirit of Eats, Shoots & Leaves with the science of The Language Instinct, an original inquiry into the development of that most essential-and mysterious-of human creations: Language

Language is mankind's greatest invention-except, of course, that it was never invented." So begins linguist Guy Deutscher's enthralling investigation into the genesis and evolution of language. If we started off with rudimentary utterances on the level of "man throw spear," how did we end up with sophisticated grammars, enormous vocabularies, and intricately nuanced degrees of meaning?

Drawing on recent groundbreaking discoveries in modern linguistics, Deutscher exposes the elusive forces of creation…


Book cover of Climbing Mount Improbable

Mark Burgess Why did I love this book?

This selection is as much about its author as the book itself. It is one of a series of books, written in Dawkins superbly approachable style, on the subject of Darwinian evolution.

Dawkins began writing with his groundbreaking book The Selfish Gene. Unfortunately, the latter was rewritten so many times as to lose its initial impact, and this overshadowed the much better book The Extended Phenotype due to the forces of popular science publishing.

This newer book, with illustrations by his then-wife Laila Ward (of Dr Who fame) is a fine example from the man who brought us the Selfish Gene theory of forward evolutionary selection and multi-scale thinking. It’s a wild ride, written by a great writer and explainer whose role in modern science writing should not be underestimated.

By Richard Dawkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Climbing Mount Improbable as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The human eye is so complex and works so precisely that surely, one might believe, its current shape and function must be the product of design. How could such an intricate object have come about by chance? Tackling this subject-in writing that the New York Times called "a masterpiece"-Richard Dawkins builds a carefully reasoned and lovingly illustrated argument for evolutionary adaptation as the mechanism for life on earth.

The metaphor of Mount Improbable represents the combination of perfection and improbability that is epitomized in the seemingly "designed" complexity of living things. Dawkins skillfully guides the reader on a breathtaking journey…


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Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

Book cover of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

Rebecca Wellington Author Of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am adopted. For most of my life, I didn’t identify as adopted. I shoved that away because of the shame I felt about being adopted and not truly fitting into my family. But then two things happened: I had my own biological children, the only two people I know to date to whom I am biologically related, and then shortly after my second daughter was born, my older sister, also an adoptee, died of a drug overdose. These sequential births and death put my life on a new trajectory, and I started writing, out of grief, the history of adoption and motherhood in America. 

Rebecca's book list on straight up, real memoirs on motherhood and adoption

What is my book about?

I grew up thinking that being adopted didn’t matter. I was wrong. This book is my journey uncovering the significance and true history of adoption practices in America. Now, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women’s reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, I am uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption.

The history of adoption, reframed through the voices of adoptees like me, and mothers who have been forced to relinquish their babies, blows apart old narratives about adoption, exposing the fallacy that adoption is always good.

In this story, I reckon with the pain and unanswered questions of my own experience and explore broader issues surrounding adoption in the United States, including changing legal policies, sterilization, and compulsory relinquishment programs, forced assimilation of babies of color and Indigenous babies adopted into white families, and other liabilities affecting women, mothers, and children. Now is the moment we must all hear these stories.

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

What is this book about?

Nearly every person in the United States is affected by adoption. Adoption practices are woven into the fabric of American society and reflect how our nation values human beings, particularly mothers. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women's reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, Rebecca C. Wellington is uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption. Wellington's timely-and deeply researched-account amplifies previously marginalized voices and exposes the social and racial biases embedded in the United States' adoption industry.…


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