100 books like Contact

By Carl Sagan,

Here are 100 books that Contact fans have personally recommended if you like Contact. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Rendezvous with Rama

Wil Mccarthy Author Of Beggar's Sky

From my list on peaceful alien contact.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been a science fiction writer since I was old enough to read, and I’ve spent probably way too much of my life reading and writing and researching and thinking about aliens. I’ve worked in the aerospace industry, launching rockets to the moon and Mars and Saturn, and five of the books I’ve published have touched on alien life in one way or another. I’ve worked as a contributing editor for WIRED magazine and the science and technology correspondent for the SyFy channel, and I hold patents in seven countries, including 31 issued U.S. patents.

Wil's book list on peaceful alien contact

Wil Mccarthy Why did Wil love this book?

Of all of Clarke’s works, this one had, for me, the grandest sense of adventure and mystery. We never do find out who the aliens are or what their goals might be, but we get to join them for part of their journey.

There are puzzles to solve, wonders to behold, and dangers bravely faced. I first read the book when I was nine years old, and it communicated to me just as clearly then as it does today.

By Arthur C. Clarke,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Rendezvous with Rama as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the year 2130, a mysterious and apparently untenanted alien spaceship, Rama, enters our solar system. The first product of an alien civilisation to be encountered by man, it reveals a world of technological marvels and an unparalleled artificial ecology.

But what is its purpose in 2131?

Who is inside it?

And why?


Book cover of Dragon's Egg

John Gribbin Author Of Don't Look Back

From my list on science fiction by scientists.

Why am I passionate about this?

John Gribbin has a Ph.D. in Astrophysics and is best known as an author of science books. But he has a not-so-secret passion for science fiction. He is the award-winning author of more than a hundred popular books about science, ranging from quantum mysteries to cosmology, and from evolution to earthquakes. He has also produced a double-handful of science fiction books. He specialises in writing factual books about the kind of science that sounds like fiction (including time travel), and fictional books based on scientific fact (including climate change). His recent book Six Impossible Things was short-listed for the prestigious Royal Society prize, but he is equally proud of Not Fade Away, his biography of Buddy Holly.

John's book list on science fiction by scientists

John Gribbin Why did John love this book?

The idea of intelligent life existing on the surface of a neutron star as massive as our Sun, the size of a mountain, and with a surface gravity 67 billion times that of Earth seems like sheer fantasy but Forward presents impeccable science to make it all seem entirely plausible.

By Robert L. Forward,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dragon's Egg as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“In science fiction there is only a handful of books that stretch the mind—and this is one of them.”—Arthur C. Clarke
 
In a moving story of sacrifice and triumph, human scientists establish a relationship with intelligent lifeforms—the cheela—living on Dragon’s Egg, a neutron star where one Earth hour is equivalent to hundreds of their years. The cheela culturally evolve from savagery to the discovery of science, and for a brief time, men are their diligent teachers.
 
Praise for Dragon’s Egg
 
“Bob Forward writes in the tradition of Hal Clement’s Mission of Gravity and carries it a giant step (how else?)…


Book cover of Cosm

John Gribbin Author Of Don't Look Back

From my list on science fiction by scientists.

Why am I passionate about this?

John Gribbin has a Ph.D. in Astrophysics and is best known as an author of science books. But he has a not-so-secret passion for science fiction. He is the award-winning author of more than a hundred popular books about science, ranging from quantum mysteries to cosmology, and from evolution to earthquakes. He has also produced a double-handful of science fiction books. He specialises in writing factual books about the kind of science that sounds like fiction (including time travel), and fictional books based on scientific fact (including climate change). His recent book Six Impossible Things was short-listed for the prestigious Royal Society prize, but he is equally proud of Not Fade Away, his biography of Buddy Holly.

John's book list on science fiction by scientists

John Gribbin Why did John love this book?

At the other extreme from Contact, Greg Benford’s COSM involves very small wormholes. Or at least, a wormhole that starts out small. In his variation on the theme, an experiment on Earth accidentally opens a wormhole which in effect creates a new universe, which the experimenters can study and eventually communicate with through the wormhole. Again, real science, but technology a little (this time only a little!) beyond our present capabilities. And it raises the intriguing question of whether our Universe might have been made in this way by a race of superior beings (gods?) in another universe.

By Gregory Benford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

COSM brings the extraordinary passion, drama and politics of scientific research to life in a stunning near-future thriller.

On an otherwise ordinary day not long from now, inside a massive installation of ultra-high-energy scientific equipment, something goes wrong with a brilliant young physicist's most ambitious experiment. But this is not a calamity. It will soon be seen as one of the most significant breakthroughs in history. For the explosion has left something behind: a sphere the size of a basketball, made of nothing known to science. As the forces of academia, government, theology and the mass media fight for control…


Book cover of The Coming of the Quantum Cats: A Novel of Alternate Universes

John Gribbin Author Of Don't Look Back

From my list on science fiction by scientists.

Why am I passionate about this?

John Gribbin has a Ph.D. in Astrophysics and is best known as an author of science books. But he has a not-so-secret passion for science fiction. He is the award-winning author of more than a hundred popular books about science, ranging from quantum mysteries to cosmology, and from evolution to earthquakes. He has also produced a double-handful of science fiction books. He specialises in writing factual books about the kind of science that sounds like fiction (including time travel), and fictional books based on scientific fact (including climate change). His recent book Six Impossible Things was short-listed for the prestigious Royal Society prize, but he is equally proud of Not Fade Away, his biography of Buddy Holly.

John's book list on science fiction by scientists

John Gribbin Why did John love this book?

This might seem a bit off-message because Pohl dropped out of college before finishing his science degree. But he did work as a weather forecaster in the US Navy. And I can’t resist including this book, because it deals with the area of science closest to my heart – many worlds, or parallel universes. The existence of these other worlds next door to our own is the best scientific explanation of the mysteries of quantum physics, such as the famous puzzle of Schrödinger’s Cat, and Pohl wraps it all up in entertaining fashion with a story of what happens when those worlds interact. The fact that Pohl includes a version of myself (actually, several versions of me) in the story has no bearing on my choosing it. I repaid the compliment by including him as a character in my story “Untanglement”, included in my anthology Don’t Look Back' ;-).

By Frederik Pohl,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A brilliant novel of alternate universes by an award-winning science fiction master
 
A breakthrough in quantum physics has shattered the boundaries between alternate worlds. History is in chaos as billions of possible futures collide. As a conquering army mounts an invasion of neighboring realities, a handful of men and women from a dozen different timelines risk their lives to safeguard an infinity of worlds.

Blending thrilling suspense with brilliant scientific speculation, Frederik Pohl’s The Coming of the Quantum Cats is a triumph of the imagination by a Hugo and Nebula–winning master of science fiction.
 
“A powerful novel of parallel worlds…


Book cover of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

Shohini Ghose Author Of Her Space, Her Time: How Trailblazing Women Scientists Decoded the Hidden Universe

From my list on amazing women scientists who will inspire you.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a curious optimist, which means I want to know how the universe works and use that knowledge to imagine and build a better future. That’s why I chose a career as a physicist. Along the way, I learned about the marvelous laws that govern our universe, but I also discovered the many unsung women who played a huge role in uncovering those laws. I love to share the inspiring stories of women scientists who persisted in the face of many challenges in fields dominated by men. I think they too were curious optimists.

Shohini's book list on amazing women scientists who will inspire you

Shohini Ghose Why did Shohini love this book?

As a physicist and a woman of color, Hidden Figures was absolutely unforgettable for me because it was the first book I read that celebrated women scientists of color.

This wonderful account of the remarkable African-American women who broke through societal and racial barriers and played critical roles at NASA during the space race, transformed the way I thought about the history of science. Interlacing history with personal narratives, Shetterly powerfully brings these women to life.

Not only does the book draw these long-forgotten women out of the shadows, but it also shines a light on the biases and challenges they faced which still persist today. This is a must-read for anyone interested in science, history, and achievement in the face of adversity.

By Margot Lee Shetterly,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Hidden Figures as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Golden Globe-winner Taraji P. Henson and Academy Award-winners Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA's African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America's space program-and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now. Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as "Human Computers," calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American…


Book cover of Timescape

Andrew Fraknoi

From my list on science fiction books that use good astronomy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an astronomer and college professor who loves science fiction. For many years, I have kept a webpage recommending science fiction stories and novels that are based on good astronomy. I love explaining astronomy to non-scientists, and I am the lead author of OpenStax Astronomya free online textbook for beginners, which is now the most frequently used textbook for astronomy classes in the U.S. I actually learned English at age 11 by reading science fiction comics and then books for kids,  After many decades as a fan, I have recently realized a long-held dream and become a published SF author myself.

Andrew's book list on science fiction books that use good astronomy

Andrew Fraknoi Why did Andrew love this book?

I think this novel, by physicist Gregory Benford, is one of the best fictional representations of how science is really done and of the real world of scientists and graduate students.

It is also an early exploration of the concept of tachyons, particles that cannot move slower or as slow as the speed of light but always have to go faster. (These have been proposed only in theory, but what makes them exciting is that they would travel backward in time.) In the book, that property enables people in the future to communicate with us in their past.

Another thing I like about this book is that some of his characters are thinly disguised (or not disguised) versions of real astronomers of the time.

By Gregory Benford,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Timescape as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The year is 1998, the world is a growing nightmare of desperation, of uncontrollable pollution and increasing social unrest. In Cambridge, two scientists experiment with tachyons - subatomic particles that travel faster than the speed of light and, therefore, according to the Theory of Relativity, may move backwards in time. Their plan is to signal a warning to the previous generation.

In 1962, a young Californian scientist, Gordon Bernstein, finds his experiments are being spoiled by unknown interference. As he begins to suspect something near the truth it becomes a race against time - the world is collapsing and will…


Book cover of The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

Kevin Davies Author Of Editing Humanity: The CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing

From my list on CRISPR and genome editing.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a British science editor and author of a string of books on the scientific, medical, and social implications of advances in genetics research. I trained as a geneticist but found more personal satisfaction wielding a pen rather than a pipette. I’m especially drawn to science stories that have medical implications for the public and a strong narrative thread. Prior to writing Editing Humanity, I covered the race for the BRCA1 breast cancer gene (Breakthrough), the Human Genome Project (Cracking the Genome), and the rise of personal genomics (The $1,000 Genome). I’m currently writing a biography of sickle cell disease, arguably the most famous genetic mutation in human history.

Kevin's book list on CRISPR and genome editing

Kevin Davies Why did Kevin love this book?

I have seldom read a book with as much zeal as The Code Breaker, written by the famous biographer and historian, Walter Isaacson, whom I’d met on the CRISPR conference circuit.

Isaacson focuses on Doudna’s life and science, but also introduces the reader to a large cast of characters, including Doudna’s former colleague and fellow Nobelist, Emmanuelle Charpentier. He even has a crack at running a CRISPR experiment himself.

The success of this book has likely done more than anything to educate the public on the transformative promise of CRISPR.

By Walter Isaacson,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Code Breaker as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The best-selling author of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs returns.

In 2012, Nobel Prize winning scientist Jennifer Doudna hit upon an invention that will transform the future of the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA.

Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions. It has already been deployed to cure deadly diseases, fight the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, and make inheritable changes in the genes of babies.

But what does that mean for humanity? Should we be hacking our own DNA to make us less susceptible to disease? Should…


Book cover of The War of the Worlds

Peter Cawdron Author Of The Artifact

From my list on classic science fiction on first contact.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a hard (plausible) science fiction author, born in New Zealand and currently living in Australia. Over the course of my career, I’ve written 26 novels in my First Contact series, looking at all the various different ways in which First Contact might unfold. If you enjoy stories that leave you thinking long after the final page, check out my First Contact series.  

Peter's book list on classic science fiction on first contact

Peter Cawdron Why did Peter love this book?

Although it is well over a hundred years old, this book is well worth your time to read.

Its insights into the nature of hostile First Contact are far from fictional. H.G. Wells was inspired to write this book after hearing of the genocide of Aborigines in Tasmania, where bounties were put on the heads of natives ($5 for a man, $1 for a child, nothing for women). As Australia was still a British colony at the time, there was a public backlash against the atrocities of these settlers.

This left H.G. Wells wondering what it would be like if England were subject to the same kind of invasion, and he penned this book. The astute reader will pick up on references to the massacre in Tasmania as they read the very first page!   

By H.G. Wells,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The War of the Worlds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

But planet Earth was not only being watched - soon it would be invaded by monstrous creatures from Mars who strode about the land in great mechanical tripods, bringing death and destruction with them. What can possibly stop an invading army equipped with heat-rays and poisonous black gas, intent on wiping out the human race? This is one man's story of that incredible invasion, from the time the first Martians land near his home town, to the destruction of London. Is this the end of human life on Earth?


Book cover of The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking)

Sarah Scoles Author Of Astronomical Mindfulness: Your Cosmic Guide to Reconnecting with the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Planets

From my list on making night sky your new BFF.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up intending to become an astronaut. The cosmos always felt within reach of my backyard, from where I could watch the Space Shuttle launch. As I grew up, I began to realize that the space our rockets reached was exceedingly close compared to the rest of the universe. And I became obsessed with what else was out there. I went on to study radio astronomy, fascinated by the parts of the cosmos that our senses can’t detect. After that, I became a science journalist, writing about how space influences Earth and vice versa.

Sarah's book list on making night sky your new BFF

Sarah Scoles Why did Sarah love this book?

Who doesn’t love to think about how the universe—so big, so old already—will ultimately end? Reading the book encouraged me to look at the universe as its own thing, of which I and all of Earth, were tiny parts, and tiny parts that would end long before the cosmos itself would. Katie Mack explores what five such conclusions might look like, getting everybody a little more comfortable with the idea that every story has an ending, even if we don’t know what this one looks like.

By Katie Mack,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY THE ECONOMIST, OBSERVER, NEW SCIENTIST, BBC FOCUS, INDEPENDENT AND WASHINGTON POST

'Weird science, explained beautifully' - John Scalzi

'A rollicking tour of the wildest physics. . . Like an animated discussion with your favourite quirky and brilliant professor' Leah Crane, New Scientist

From one of the most dynamic rising stars in astrophysics, an eye-opening look at five ways the universe could end, and the mind-blowing lessons each scenario reveals about the most important ideas in cosmology

We know the universe had a beginning. But what happens at the end of the story?…


Book cover of Slaughterhouse-Five

Leon Stevens Author Of The View from Here

From my list on for readers who don’t think they like science fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

I like science and math. I’m better at science than math. I grew up reading books from the early pioneers of sci-fi when imagination trumped hard science. Oh, the science was around, there was just a lot more leeway to make up the physics when you needed something to work. As science advanced, authors got more into the technical and theoretical aspects of what they were writing about. I usually skim over technical writing, so when I began to write, it was natural for me to limit what I found to be superfluous to the story. The recommended books are the kind of books I like to read and write.

Leon's book list on for readers who don’t think they like science fiction

Leon Stevens Why did Leon love this book?

I got hooked on Vonnegut after reading his short story, Harrison Bergeron. Most of his books straddle the genres of literary fiction and science fiction, with just enough information to make the science believable.

In Slaughterhouse Five, there’s a time travel element, but how it happens really isn’t as important as where the main character ends up. With some historical content about World War II, which is another subject I enjoy, this book will take you on an interesting ride as the character becomes unstuck in time.

I do recommend anything by Kurt Vonnegut.

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Why should I read it?

24 authors picked Slaughterhouse-Five as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A special fiftieth anniversary edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece, “a desperate, painfully honest attempt to confront the monstrous crimes of the twentieth century” (Time), featuring a new introduction by Kevin Powers, author of the National Book Award finalist The Yellow Birds
 
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time
 
Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous World War II firebombing of Dresden, the novel is the result of what Kurt Vonnegut described as a twenty-three-year struggle to write a book about what he had…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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