The best science books that delve into the deep history of life, the universe, and everything

Who am I?

I’m a science journalist, podcaster and opinion columnist for the Bloomberg News Service. I’ve written for the New York Times, Science, Sky and Telescope, Psychology Today, New Scientist and other publications. I studied geophysics at Caltech, where I learned about climate change and the long history of our planet. I wrote about astrophysics and particle physics for Science Magazine before taking a job as a general science reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. There, I asked for the chance to write a weekly science column.  The editors said they wanted a sex column. I made the best of it, creating a column about sex in the natural world. 


I wrote...

The Score: How The Quest For Sex Has Shaped The Modern Man

By Faye Flam,

Book cover of The Score: How The Quest For Sex Has Shaped The Modern Man

What is my book about?

What really separates males from females in nature? What tendencies or traits would distinguish male willow trees, killer whales, bees, goldfish, mice, and men? The answer is simple – males have the smaller sex cell. Sperm are by definition smaller than eggs. The first life forms didn’t have sex or sexes. In my research, I went in search of the life forms that invented sexes(probably a form of algae) and explored the wide-ranging implications for life on earth. Along the way, readers learn why peacocks are polygamous and penguins are monogamous, why the male stick insect latches on to his mate for days on end, why some animals show homosexual behavior, why some clownfish change sexes, and why the male honeybee will try to mate with a queen even though his conquest causes him to die. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Story of the Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe

Faye Flam Why did I love this book?

If you’ve ever wondered how the universe could have originated from a speck and expanded in a big bang, or why scientists came to believe such a thing, this book explains it all in an accessible, gripping story. Overbye, who is a science writer for the New York Times, paints a sweeping history of big bang cosmology through the colorful characters who put it together in the second half of the 20th century. The story revolves around astronomer Allan Sandage, who was a student of the famed Edwin Hubble. After Hubble discovered that the stars were arranged in galaxies that were speeding away from each other, he died, leaving Sandage to finish his quest to understand the implications of this expansion, measure the age of the universe, and determine whether the cosmos is eternally spreading out into an ever more sparse and lonely place.  

By Dennis Overbye,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In southern California, nearly a half century ago, a small band of researchers -- equipped with a new 200-inch telescope and a faith born of scientific optimism -- embarked on the greatest intellectual adventure in the history of humankind: the search for the origin and fate of the universe. Their quest would eventually engulf all of physics and astronomy, leading not only to the discovery of quasars, black holes, and shadow matter but also to fame, controversy, and Nobel Prizes. Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos tells the story of the men and women who have taken eternity on their shoulders…


Book cover of Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

Faye Flam Why did I love this book?

From hiccups to hernias, the human body is rife with apparent design flaws. Why? Evolution, as it’s understood today, isn’t a ladder to perfection, and we humans can’t completely shake the anatomy of our distant ancestors – fish. Shubin describes his own work on Tiktaalik, a species that took part in the transition from fish to land animals. Its fossils hold clues to the evolution of our bodies – from the structure of our bones and joints to our organs and tissues. 

This unusual look at our evolution is a reminder that while humans evolved from some common ape-like animal, our evolutionary path goes back to the very origin of life, and along the way, we incorporated many anatomical quirks that benefitted creatures with very different lifestyles. 

By Neil Shubin,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Your Inner Fish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The paleontologist and professor of anatomy who co-discovered Tiktaalik, the “fish with hands,” tells a “compelling scientific adventure story that will change forever how you understand what it means to be human” (Oliver Sacks).

By examining fossils and DNA, he shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our heads are organized like long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genomes look and function like those of worms and bacteria. Your Inner Fish makes us look at ourselves and our world in an illuminating new light. This is science writing at its finest—enlightening, accessible and told with irresistible…


Book cover of The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

Faye Flam Why did I love this book?

Why would roses look beautiful to humans? Why would certain herbs create hallucinations in the human brain? Michael Pollan follows the deep back story of four species of desirable plants to explore many questions we take for granted about the world around us. This book is an example of the way great science writing can answer questions we didn’t even think to ask. 

By Michael Pollan,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Botany of Desire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A farmer cultivates genetically modified potatoes so that a customer at McDonald's half a world away can enjoy a long, golden french fry. A gardener plants tulip bulbs in the autumn and in the spring has a riotous patch of colour to admire. Two simple examples of how humans act on nature to get what we want. Or are they? What if those potatoes and tulips have evolved to gratify certain human desires so that humans will help them multiply? What if, in other words, these plants are using us just as we use them? In blending history, memoir and…


Book cover of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

Faye Flam Why did I love this book?

Were the original humans warlike or peaceful, lazy or industrious, egalitarian or hierarchical, monogamous or promiscuous? This ambitious book uses archaeology and historical records to make a powerful case that humans have lived in diverse ways throughout prehistory. They argue that the overthrowing of traditional ways in the European enlightenment was inspired by the age of exploration and encounters with Native Americans and other indigenous people. Through them, Europeans learned about alternative ways to organize societies – where, for example, following leaders was optional. Europeans, even as they denigrated those they encountered, also recognized that there were better ways for humans to live and thrive.

By David Graeber, David Wengrow,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Dawn of Everything as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A dramatically new understanding of human history, challenging our most fundamental assumptions about social evolution—from the development of agriculture and cities to the origins of the state, democracy, and inequality—and revealing new possibilities for human emancipation.

For generations, our remote ancestors have been cast as primitive and childlike—either free and equal innocents, or thuggish and warlike. Civilization, we are told, could be achieved only by sacrificing those original freedoms or, alternatively, by taming our baser instincts. David Graeber and David Wengrow show how such theories first emerged in the eighteenth century as a conservative reaction…


Book cover of Nobel Dreams: Power, Deceit and the Ultimate Experiment

Faye Flam Why did I love this book?

A journey into the way particle physics reveals the structure of inner space, told through the dramatic competition between two teams of physicists using the world’s first supercollider at CERN. The goal was to find two theoretical but never detected particles called the W and Z bosons. Jealousy, overbearing personalities, and the rush for glory.

By Gary Taubes,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A renowned science writer examines the work being done by high-energy physicists in their quest to understand how the universe began, what it is made of, and where it is headed


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Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

Book cover of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

Alan Pearce Author Of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a journalist, I'm driven to find stories that have not been covered before and to make clear the incomprehensible. I like people, and I like asking questions. I've covered wars and disasters, and on any given day, I could expect to see people at their very worst and at their very best. With my book about comas, I've met some of the finest people of my career, doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who are fighting the system, and coma survivors who are simply fighting to get through each and every day. This is the story I am now driven to tell.

Alan's book list on consciousness that demonstrates there is more to life than we know

What is my book about?

What happens when a person is placed into a medically-induced coma?

The brain might be flatlining, but the mind is far from inactive: experiencing alternate lives rich in every detail that spans decades, visiting realms of stunning and majestic beauty, or plummeting to the very depths of Hell while defying all medical and scientific understanding.

Everything you think you know about coma is wrong. Doctors call it 'sleeping' when in reality, many are trapped on a hamster wheel of brain-damaging, nightmarish events that scar those that survive for life. Others are left to question whether they touched levels of existence previously confined to fantasy or whether they teetered on the brink of this life and the next. Coma is not what you think.

Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

What is this book about?

Explores the extraordinary states of expanded consciousness that arise during comas, both positive and negative

Every day around the world, thousands of people are placed in medically-induced comas. For some coma survivors, the experience is an utter blank. Others lay paralyzed, aware of everything around them but unable to move, speak, or even blink. Many experience alternate lives spanning decades, lives they grieve once awakened. Some encounter ultra-vivid nightmares, while others undergo a deep, spiritual oneness with the Universe or say they have glimpsed the Afterlife.

Examining the beautiful and disturbing experiences of those who have survived comas, Alan and…


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