The best books with science stories you won’t believe are true

The Books I Picked & Why

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” Adventures of a Curious Character

By Richard P. Feynman

Book cover of “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” Adventures of a Curious Character

Why this book?

Nobel prize-winner Richard Feynman was renowned not only as a physicist but for his antics away from science (not all of them good). This memoir is a collection of stories throughout his life and proves his incredible skills as a raconteur. You might pick up a little science along the way – he was famous for making incredibly complex ideas easy to understand – but you’ll ache with laughter at some of his adventures. They include breaking into other peoples’ safes while making the atomic bomb, going around Las Vegas with ‘Mr. Big’ (probably Frank Sinatra), and absconding to Brazil to join a samba band.


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The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

By Sam Kean

Book cover of The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

Why this book?

A collection of some of science’s greatest stories, Sam Kean’s books are always a fascinating grab-bag of tales that show the wonderful, creative, messy world of how science operates. The spoon in question refers to gallium – a metal with a melting point so low that if you put a spoon of it in a cup of coffee, it would vanish before your eyes. A must-read for anyone who wants a few good science facts to amaze their friends.


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Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

By Mary Roach

Book cover of Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

Why this book?

Mary Roach is an absolute treasure as a science writer: not only hilarious, but often insightful. I’ll admit, when I wrote my first book, I always wondered "what would Mary Roach do?" when I came to a tricky bit. Grunt isn’t her best-known work, but it’s my favourite because it looks at something only she could do well: non-violent science in the military. The only gun, she writes, is the one that fires frozen chickens at windscreens to see if they can withstand the impact. This is a book about how to keep soldiers safe from the enemy, cool in the desert, and stop Navy SEALS from pooping their pants.


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The Periodic Table

By Primo Levi, Raymond Rosenthal

Book cover of The Periodic Table

Why this book?

A bona fide classic of scientific memoir and short stories, Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table has been considered the gold standard of science writing since it was published. Levi writes about different events in his life, linking them with a different elements on the periodic table. There are many great chapters in his book, but it can be a tough read at times: Levi was imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where his skills as a chemist saved him from certain death in the gas chambers at the hands of the Nazis. 


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Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons

By George Pendle

Book cover of Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons

Why this book?

Ever heard about the founder of NASA who ran a devil-worshiping sex cult? Strange Angel is a story that, when you read it, you think it has to be fiction. John Whiteside Parsons was an eccentric who, in his short life (spoiler alert: he blew himself up) helped create the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, became a cult leader and summoned a demon woman, got into a court battle with L. Ron Hubbard, and was accused of spying for both the Communists and the Israelis. His life was so astonishing it was made into a HBO TV show: it ran for two seasons and it didn’t even get to the best bits.


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