100 books like On the Shoulders of Giants

By Robert K. Merton,

Here are 100 books that On the Shoulders of Giants fans have personally recommended if you like On the Shoulders of Giants. 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 Unnatural Nature of Science

Peter Macinnis Author Of Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World

From my list on history and science.

Why am I passionate about this?

A lot of the books I write are about science or history, and Mr Darwin just happened to be about both: it was a history of science, as science was in 1859. People say the world changed after Darwin published, The Origin of Species in 1859, but Origin was a symptom not a cause. My book is a history of science that looks at how the world was changing (and shrinking) in the year 1859, as new specimens, new materials, new technologies, and new ideas came into play.

Peter's book list on history and science

Peter Macinnis Why did Peter love this book?

I spend a lot of my time trying to clarify the bilge poured out by the merchants of fake science: the flat-earthers, creationists, and climate deniers mainly, but also medical quacks and other fruitloops who throw out alternative science, stuff which is like normal science, with one small exception. I was already fighting these fights when Wolpert came to Sydney, and I chaired a lecture he gave. He showed us where the problem lay in combatting idiocy: the idiots depend on naïve and naked intuition.

Invariably, these unhinged pseudo-realities rely on a simple misreading of scientific lore, and Lewis explained that this is because a great deal of science is counter-intuitive. We can’t see evolution happening, the world looks flat, the sun appears to go around us, and common sense says that kinetic energy must be proportional to velocity, not it's square. Enter the simpleton who slept through a key…

By Lewis Wolpert,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How is it that nobody--except maybe scientists--sees science for what it is? In this entertaining and provocative book, Lewis Wolpert draws on the entire history of science, from Thales of Miletus to Watson and Crick, from the study of eugenics to the discovery of the double helix. The result is a scientist's view of the culture of science, authoritative and informed and at the same time mercifully accessible to those who find cohabiting with this culture a puzzling experience. Science is arguably the defining feature of our age. For anyone who hopes to understand its nature, this lively and thoughtful…


Book cover of Europe: A Natural History

Peter Macinnis Author Of Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World

From my list on history and science.

Why am I passionate about this?

A lot of the books I write are about science or history, and Mr Darwin just happened to be about both: it was a history of science, as science was in 1859. People say the world changed after Darwin published, The Origin of Species in 1859, but Origin was a symptom not a cause. My book is a history of science that looks at how the world was changing (and shrinking) in the year 1859, as new specimens, new materials, new technologies, and new ideas came into play.

Peter's book list on history and science

Peter Macinnis Why did Peter love this book?

I have to deal, from time to time, with nervous would-be experts who have an abject fear of hybrid species in the sanctuary where I am a volunteer. One of the main lessons you take away from this ecological history is that hybrids drive a great deal of evolution, and trying to wipe out the hybrids is, in fact, an attempt to interfere with nature.

Looking at Europe as an evolutionary melting pot, we see that time and again, species migrated into the continent and were transformed, whether the immigrants were humans, elephants, or plane trees. Like all of Flannery’s books, Europe is food for thought, something to savour.

By Tim Flannery,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Vivid, thrilling, a delight ... Tim Flannery is a palaeontologist and ecologist of global standing, and this is a compelling and authoritative narrative of the evolution of Europe's flora and fauna, from the formation of the continent to its near future ... an exciting book, full of wonder' James McConnachie, Sunday Times

A place of exceptional diversity, rapid change, and high energy, Europe has literally been at the crossroads of the world ever since the interaction of Asia, North America and Africa formed the tropical island archipelago that would become the continent of today.

In this unprecedented evolutionary history, Tim…


Book cover of The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-Line Pioneers

Alex Wright Author Of Informatica: Mastering Information through the Ages

From my list on forgotten pioneers of the Internet.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a researcher, writer, and designer who has spent most of the past twenty-five years working in the technology industry, following an earlier career as a journalist and academic librarian. I've developed an abiding interest in the history of knowledge networks. I've written two books on the history of the information age, as well as a number of newspaper and magazine articles on new and emerging technologies. While the technology industry often seems to have little use for its own history, I have found the history of networked systems to be a rich source of inspiration, full of sources of inspiration that can help us start to envision a wide range of possible futures.

Alex's book list on forgotten pioneers of the Internet

Alex Wright Why did Alex love this book?

Engelbart’s seminal 1962 book on the possibilities of networked computers builds directly on Bush’s ideas, laying out a groundbreaking new vision for how computers might work.

In collaboration with a team of brilliant collaborators at the Stanford Research Institute, Englelbart began to outline a revolutionary vision for a new kind of collaboration between people and computers. He argued for a new class of technology that would enable computers to augment—rather than supplant—human intelligence. Engelbart’s work led directly to the invention of the graphical user interface, hyperlinking, and pointing devices like the mouse (another Engelbart invention).

Though little read today, Augmenting Human Intellect has exerted a lasting impact on contemporary computing, and many computer scientists now acknowledge it as one of the intellectual foundations of the modern Internet.

By Tom Standage,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A new paperback edition of the book the Wall Street Journal dubbed “a Dot-Com cult classic,” by the bestselling author of A History of the World in 6 Glasses-the fascinating story of the telegraph, the world's first “Internet.”

The Victorian Internet tells the colorful story of the telegraph's creation and remarkable impact, and of the visionaries, oddballs, and eccentrics who pioneered it, from the eighteenth-century French scientist Jean-Antoine Nollet to Samuel F. B. Morse and Thomas Edison. The electric telegraph nullified distance and shrank the world quicker and further than ever before or since, and its story mirrors and predicts…


Book cover of The Planet in a Pebble: A Journey Into Earth's Deep History

Hettie Judah Author Of Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones

From my list on making you fall in love with stones.

Why am I passionate about this?

In my day job I write about art for British newspapers and magazines. I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of time talking to artists. As a group they’re always one step ahead in identifying important issues and ideas. So Lapidarium has been fuelled by years of conversations with artists exploring geology as a way to think about things like migration, ecology, diaspora, empire, and the human body. The book is also embedded in personal experience. stone artefacts from cities I’ve lived in, from Washington D.C. to Istanbul. I’m never happier than when walking with my dog, so many of the stories in Lapidarium are also rooted in the British landscape.

Hettie's book list on making you fall in love with stones

Hettie Judah Why did Hettie love this book?

A whole book about a single stone? Whaaaaat?

Sure, The Planet in a Pebble is usually filed under ‘popular science’ but with a premise like that, we could also consider it a work of experimental literature.

Zalasiewicz picks up a pebble on a Welsh beach – humble, rounded grey slate intersected by a seam of white quartz – which starts him on a journey back over 4.5 billion years, looking at the minerals of early Earth.

We watch elements of our pebble progress through the rock cycle, eroding from igneous rock, slowly settling in a bacteria-rich bed of sediment within the early ocean before re-lithifying, metamorphosing under intense heat and pressure as mountains are formed by the movement of continental plates, to at last be exposed again and splintered from its mother rock by the force of wind and waves.

By Jan Zalasiewicz,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Planet in a Pebble as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the story of a single pebble. It is just a normal pebble, as you might pick up on holiday - on a beach in Wales, say. Its history, though, carries us into abyssal depths of time, and across the farthest reaches of space.

This is a narrative of the Earth's long and dramatic history, as gleaned from a single pebble. It begins as the pebble-particles form amid unimaginable violence in distal realms of the Universe, in the Big Bang and in supernova explosions and continues amid the construction of the Solar System. Jan Zalasiewicz shows the almost incredible…


Book cover of Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything

Samuel Arbesman Author Of The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date

From my list on how science actually works.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in startups at the frontiers of science and technology. I have a PhD in computational biology and focused my academic research on the nature of complex systems, but I soon became fascinated by the ways in which science grows and changes over time (itself a type of complex system!): what it is that scientists do, where scientific knowledge comes from, and even how the facts in our textbooks become out-of-date. As a result of this fascination, I ended up writing two books about scientific and technological change.

Samuel's book list on how science actually works

Samuel Arbesman Why did Samuel love this book?

Primarily a historical work, this book explores how curiosity went from a kind of strange and disreputable act to something that became celebrated and tamed as part of the scientific process. With a focus on the early days of modern science, it is filled with a huge number of delightful examples of what passed for curiosity in previous centuries.

By Philip Ball,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

There was a time when curiosity was condemned. To be curious was to delve into matters that didn't concern you - after all, the original sin stemmed from a desire for forbidden knowledge. Through curiosity our innocence was lost.

Yet this hasn't deterred us. Today we spend vast sums trying to recreate the first instants of creation in particle accelerators, out of pure desire to know. There seems now to be no question too vast or too trivial to be ruled out of bounds: Why can fleas jump so high? What is gravity? What shape are clouds? Today curiosity is…


Book cover of Newton: The Making of Genius

John Derbyshire Author Of Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra

From my list on mathematical biographies.

Why am I passionate about this?

Bertrand Russell wrote that: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.” I agree. Math is, however, a human thing, all tangled up with the nature of human personality and the history of our civilizations. Well-written biographies of great mathematicians put that “stern perfection” in a proper human context.

John's book list on mathematical biographies

John Derbyshire Why did John love this book?

When I was asked to review this book, my first instinct was to decline. Newton (1642-1727) was a towering genius but a dull fellow, with no interest in other human beings. He often published anonymously for fear that, he explained: "Public esteem, were I able to acquire and maintain it … would perhaps increase my acquaintance, the thing which I chiefly study to decline." How can a biographer make such a person interesting?

The author dodges very nimbly around this problem, giving us an account, not so much of the man as of his reputation and influence. Perhaps this means that her book is not a true biography, but it is done with such skill and wit, I include it anyway.

By Patricia Fara,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Isaac Newton has become an intellectual avatar for our modern age, the man who, as even children know, was inspired to codify nature's laws by watching an apple fall from a tree. Yet Newton devoted much of his energy to deciphering the mysteries of alchemy, theology, and ancient chronology. How did a man who was at first obscure to all but a few esoteric natural philosophers and Cambridge scholars, was preoccupied with investigations of millennial prophecies, and spent decades as Master of the London Mint become famous as the world's first great scientist? Patricia Fara demonstrates that Newton's reputation, surprisingly…


Book cover of Scientific Culture and the Making of the Industrial West

Richard G. Lipsey Author Of Economic Transformations: General Purpose Technologies and Long-Term Economic Growth

From my list on how technologies have transformed our societies.

Why am I passionate about this?

In spite of many setbacks, living standards have trended upwards over the last 10,000 years. One of my main interests as an economist has been to understand the sources of this trend and its broad effects. The key driving force is new technologies. We are better off than our Victorian ancestors, not because we have more of what they had but because we have new things, such as airplanes and indoor plumbing. However, these new technologies have also brought some unfortunate side effects. We need to understand that dealing with these successfully depends, not on returning to the use of previous technologies, but on developing newer technologies such as wind and solar power.

Richard's book list on how technologies have transformed our societies

Richard G. Lipsey Why did Richard love this book?

Using the modern view of science, many economic historians have sought to diminish the effects of science on the technologies in the 18th and 19th centuries. This wonderful book by a sociologist documents how science, as it was then practiced, pervaded the whole structure of British society, from preachers teaching that Newton had revealed the architecture that God had imposed during creation, to a journal teaching Newtonian science to women. As Jacob puts it: “The role of science…was not that of general laws leading to the development of specific applications. Instead it…[provided] the theoretical mechanics and the practical mathematics that facilitated technological change. Brought together by a shared technical vocabulary of Newtonian origin, engineers and entrepreneurs…negotiated…the mechanization of workshops or the improvement of canals, mines, and harbours.

By Margaret C. Jacob,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Scientific Culture and the Making of the Industrial West as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book seeks to explain the historical process by which in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries scientific knowledge became an integral part of the culture of Europe and how this in turn led to the Industrial Revolution. Comparative in structure, Jacob explains why England was so much more successful at this transition than its continental counterparts.


Book cover of Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton

Andrew Zangwill Author Of A Mind Over Matter: Philip Anderson and the Physics of the Very Many

From my list on biographies of physicists.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a physics professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Ten years ago, I switched my research focus from solid-state physics to the history of that subject. This was fertile ground because professional historians of science had almost completely ignored solid-state physics. I began my new career by writing two journal articles about the physicist Walter Kohn and his discovery of what became the most accurate method known to calculate the properties of solids. This experience led me to broaden my perspective and ultimately produce a biography of the theoretical physicist Philip Anderson. My next book will be a historical-sociological study of self-identity and disciplinary boundaries within the community of physicists.  

Andrew's book list on biographies of physicists

Andrew Zangwill Why did Andrew love this book?

Don’t let the length (over 900 pages) of this biography put you off. Instead, immerse yourself in the slow and powerful current of author Richard Westfall’s superbly written and richly detailed portrait of the skills, achievements, and obsessions of the singular genius that was Isaac Newton. Westfall explains in a masterful way Newton’s mathematics, his physics, his heretical theology, his fixation with alchemy, his activities running the Royal Mint, and his disputes with other scientists. These features, and Westfall’s evocative description of the intellectual and social milieu of Newton’s 17th-century world, make Never at Rest a compelling read.   

By Richard S. Westfall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Never at Rest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This richly detailed 1981 biography captures both the personal life and the scientific career of Isaac Newton, presenting a fully rounded picture of Newton the man, the scientist, the philosopher, the theologian, and the public figure. Professor Westfall treats all aspects of Newton's career, but his account centres on a full description of Newton's achievements in science. Thus the core of the work describes the development of the calculus, the experimentation that altered the direction of the science of optics, and especially the investigations in celestial dynamics that led to the law of universal gravitation.


Book cover of Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum

Patricia Fara Author Of Life after Gravity: Isaac Newton's London Career

From my list on enlightenment science.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an Emeritus Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and I’ve written several popular books as well as featuring in TV/radio programmes such as In Our Time and Start the Week (BBC). I love the challenge of explaining to general audiences why the history of science is such an exciting and important subject – far more difficult than writing an academic paper. I believe that studying the past is crucial for understanding how we’ve reached the present – and the whole point of doing that is to improve the future. My underlying preoccupations involve exploring how and why western science has developed over the last few centuries to become the dominant (and male-dominated) culture throughout the world.

Patricia's book list on enlightenment science

Patricia Fara Why did Patricia love this book?

James Delbourgo’s book shows that history matters. As the founder of London’s British Museum, Sir Hans Sloane has always played an important part in displaying our national heritage, and Delbourgo’s book explores the wondrousness of the artifacts he amassed from all over the world. But it also reveals how his wealth, fame, and success depended on the international trade in enslaved peoples during the eighteenth century. Sloane’s statue has not been destroyed, but it no longer stands prominently in the Museum’s entrance hall. Like Delbourgo, I believe we need to examine and confront the deeds of previous generations, and his book appeared while I was grappling with similar dilemmas about Sloane’s predecessor as President of the Royal Society, Sir Isaac Newton.

By James Delbourgo,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Leo Gershoy Award
Winner of the Louis Gottschalk Prize
A Times Book of the Week
A Guardian Book of the Week

"A wonderfully intelligent book."
-Linda Colley

"A superb biography-humane, judicious and as passionately curious as Sloane himself."
-Times Literary Supplement

When the British Museum opened its doors in 1759, it was the first free national public museum in the world. Collecting the World tells the story of the eccentric collector whose thirst for universal knowledge brought it into being.

A man of insatiable curiosity and wide-ranging interests, Hans Sloane assembled a collection of antiquities, oddities, and…


Book cover of The Illustrated Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

Georgia Irby Author Of Conceptions of the Watery World in Greco-Roman Antiquity

From my list on how to read maps.

Why am I passionate about this?

I still remember the day I discovered the family atlas (I must have about five; it then lived in my room, and my dad was probably irked, but too kind and encouraging to show it). Since then, I have been mesmerized by maps. How lucky I am to turn an early passion into a focus of research and teaching (I am a Classicist and Historian of Ancient Science). My publications include studies of narrative maps in Greco-Roman literature (they too were mesmerized by maps). You can find maps in the most unexpected places!

Georgia's book list on how to read maps

Georgia Irby Why did Georgia love this book?

2500 years ago, Pytheas, a clever Greek explorer, figured out latitude.

While there has always been a concept of longitude, it proved impossible to pinpoint, until... Sobel and Andrewes engagingly unravel the cipher of longitude that was cracked by the plucky John Harrison (he created the right tool, a clock that kept accurate time at sea: why is this important? Read the book!).

Convinced that the solution could only be astronomical, the scientific community was not amused. It was a dramatic conflict between the skeptical Board of Longitude (probably also jealous) and the skilled workaday carpenter-turned-clockmaker whose solution to navigation’s oldest puzzle was banausic.

In the end, our hero, the underdog, prevails (even if it took 250 years for Harrison to receive the respect he so richly deserved and earned).

By Dava Sobel, William J.H. Andrewes,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Illustrated Longitude recounts in words and images the epic quest to solve the greatest scientific problem of the eighteenth and three prior centuries: determining how a captain could pinpoint his ship's location at sea. All too often throughout the ages of exploration, voyages ended in disaster when crew and cargo were either lost at sea or destroyed upon the rocks of an unexpected landfall. Thousands of lives and the fortunes of nations hung on a resolution to the longitude problem. To encourage a solution, governments established prizes for anyone whose method or device proved successful. The largest reward of…


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