The best books about curiosity

7 authors have picked their favorite books about curiosity and why they recommend each book.

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The Book of Barely Imagined Beings

By Caspar Henderson,

Book cover of The Book of Barely Imagined Beings

Imagine a medieval bestiary of whimsical creatures, but with a twist. Instead of being imaginary, the animals here really exist. The book moves alphabetically from axolotl to zebrafish, with a new delight on every page. It’s a perfect reminder of what biologist J.B.S. Haldane once said: that the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine.

Who am I?

Sam Kean is the New York Times bestselling author of five books, including The Bastard Brigade, The Dueling Neurosurgeons, and The Disappearing Spoon. He edited The Best American Nature and Science Writing in 2018, and his stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, and Slate. His work has been featured on NPR’s “Radiolab,” “Science Friday,” “All Things Considered,” and “Fresh Air,” and his podcast, The Disappearing Spoon, debuted at #1 on the iTunes charts for science podcasts.

I wrote...

The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science

By Sam Kean,

Book cover of The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science

What is my book about?

From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes the gripping, untold history of science's darkest secrets. Science is a force for good in the world—at least usually. But sometimes, when obsession gets the better of scientists, they twist a noble pursuit into something sinister. Under this spell, knowledge isn’t everything, it’s the only thing—no matter the cost. Bestselling author Sam Kean tells the true story of what happens when unfettered ambition pushes otherwise rational men and women to cross the line in the name of science, trampling ethical boundaries and often committing crimes in the process.

The Gruffalo

By Julia Donaldson, Axel Scheffler (illustrator),

Book cover of The Gruffalo

Julia Donaldson is the supremo of rhyming. I am certainly not the only writer she has inspired. All her books are really well crafted and the fact that she is a singer and very musical can be felt by reading her exemplary rhyme.  

I recommend this book, the first which made her name in this genre, because it has all the qualities of a best rhyming text. It tells a story to which children can relate, is never boring, and has an unerring and satisfying beat.

Who am I?

I am passionately keen on poetry of many types because, whether rhyming or not, most poetry employs rhythm which is something that has a subconscious appeal to human senses. For children, rhyme provides an easy introduction to poetry and I enjoy using it because children themselves love it. Mums tell me that they are asked to read the same book time and time again – and not to try to skip any spreads! At the age of three, before she could read, my son’s goddaughter knew the whole of You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus by heart. The rhymes children hear when very young remain with them, sometimes forever. 

I wrote...

You Can't Let an Elephant Drive a Racing Car

By Patricia Cleveland-Peck, David Tazzyman (illustrator),

Book cover of You Can't Let an Elephant Drive a Racing Car

What is my book about?

This is the fifth book and latest in the series which began with You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus. These are rhyming books about a gang of silly animals who want to be helpful, do exciting things and excel at things like sports but always get things wrong and end up creating crazy, chaotic situations. This is something most children and quite a number of adults feel. Usually the animals end up having fun in spite of their failings – after all, they meant well.

The whacky illustrations by David Tazzyman aptly portray this …in a way that never fails to make children laugh and adults smile.

The Onion Book of Known Knowledge

By The Onion,

Book cover of The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information

This is one of those books you can open to any page and immediately start laughing. It resembles an encyclopedia but every given subject is shredded with wit and insight. Personally, I’m eternally grateful to the folks at The Onion for trying to keep up with the organically occurring absurdity in modern life that now has rendered most satire obsolete. It must be a whole lot like dogpaddling. In Jell-O. In the dead of winter.

Who am I?

It is said that Michelangelo could see a statue inside of a block of marble. I believe I have a similar gift – I can find the most idiotic angle to any given story or event and free it into the world. Okay, so some gifts are better than others but this “talent” has afforded me the ability to stay relatively sane in a completely nutso era. Relatively. And to underscore my qualifications, I would ask the reader to take a gander at my sample title below. I rest my case.

I wrote...

Zombies for Zombies: Advice and Etiquette for the Living Dead

By David P. Murphy, Daniel Heard (illustrator),

Book cover of Zombies for Zombies: Advice and Etiquette for the Living Dead

What is my book about?

Published in 2009, Z4Z was my first book. The far-fetched premise of this jaunty number involves a global out-of-control virus that wreaks havoc on people and economies (Uhhhh – scratch that far-fetched part…) Anyway, this is a self-help book/system for the recently bitten, offering numerous cheerful products and activities to help slow down the spread of infection. It also features some mighty brilliant artwork by Mr. Daniel Heard. Absurd? Yup, but not as much as, say, Matt Gaetz’s hair. Woof! 

Seven Deadly Wonders, 1

By Matthew Reilly,

Book cover of Seven Deadly Wonders, 1

Reilly, unlike my first two picks, is still alive and producing books.  And he's Australian so I'm giving him a plug! On top of that, he's an international bestseller who is now turning his attention to directing films based on his own books. Keep an eye out for Interceptor starring Elsa Pataky in early 2022 on Netflix. Seven Deadly Wonders is the first of a seven-book series following the exploits of hero Jack West Jr. If you like fast-paced then Reilly's stories are for you. He hits the ground at full speed and doesn't slow; you find yourself having to stop reading to catch your breath! Incredibly enjoyable reading.

Who am I?

I'm a career editor living in the place I love most in the world, Australia's federal capital, Canberra. It's a small city encircled by mountains and populated with so many trees it's affectionately known as The Bush Capital. I love reading most genres but contemporary suspense intrigue above all. I know these books generally fall under the larger Thriller genre but I often feel that's a misnomer, and I think that applies to my novels. I love the range of stories this genre encompasses: it can take you anywhere in the world, into any situation, and follow any type of person as they attempt to come to grips with, and usually right, the wrongs of the world.

I wrote...

A Legal Affair

By Alana Woods,

Book cover of A Legal Affair

What is my book about?

For some years I worked with the court reporting system in Canberra. I spent many days in the Supreme Court recording criminal trials. During that time what was indelibly imprinted on my brain was the trauma families endured when a loved one was on trial. Not the families of career criminals, they knew what to expect.  It was the families of those new to the system. The idea for A Legal Affair grew out of that. It's the story of Elisabeth Sharman, a senior solicitor with Canberra's Legal Aid Office, trying to defend the indefensible: a 19-year-old amnesiac. 

How do you defend someone who can't remember the crime they're accused of committing?

Two Truths and a Lie

By Ammi-Joan Paquette, Laurie Ann Thompson,

Book cover of Two Truths and a Lie: Forces of Nature

This series is critical thinking on steroids. The reader is given three fact-filled stories and has to figure out which one isn’t true. Is there really a pit in Turkmenistan that has been burning for 40 years? Are there radioactive boars in Japan? Did Edgar Allan Poe carry his dead wife’s remains around in a snuffbox? The reader has to find facts and think critically to figure them out. There are three books in the series each with 27 stories, nine of which aren’t true. I recommend younger readers have an adult handy because the book is a bit more complicated to navigate than, say, a novel. End matter provides additional information including websites to help the reader analyze each article. Oh, and the three facts? Yes, yep and heck no.

Who am I?

I’m a journalist and a social media prof. I talk to thousands of kids every year about what they read on the Internet. And frankly, they’re confused—as we all are—about what’s true online and what isn’t. To spot misinformation, kids have to become better critical thinkers. That’s why I wrote Can You Believe It? and it’s why I’m recommending these great books. It’s also helpful to know what credible journalism looks like. My (TKN) is a kid-friendly news source that kids and teachers can trust. In addition to publishing TKN, I’ve authored six children’s books and I have a Master’s degree in Creative and Critical Writing. 

I wrote...

Can You Believe It? How to Spot Fake News and Find the Facts

By Joyce Grant, Kathleen Marcotte (illustrator),

Book cover of Can You Believe It? How to Spot Fake News and Find the Facts

What is my book about?

Should we believe everything we read online? Definitely not! And this fascinating book will tell you why. It explores how real journalism is made, what "fake news" is, and how to spot the difference. It’s chock-full of practical advice and thought-provoking examples. Never judgmental, and often hilarious, the book encourages readers to use skepticism and helps them hone their critical thinking skills to make good choices about what to believe and share. It also looks at how bias can creep into news reporting, why celebrity posts may not be truthful and why we should be suspicious of anything that makes us feel super smart. Engaging text is broken into manageable chunks, with loads of Kathleen Marcotte’s playful illustrations on every spread to help explain tricky concepts. 

The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena 2nd Edition

By Bob Rickard, John Michell,

Book cover of The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena 2nd Edition

With scholarly discipline but also with a decidedly English sense of humor, The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena 2 takes a path along that shadowy territory between the known and the unknown, between the dogmas of mainstream scientists and the reality of phenomena that happen regardless of (or even in spite of) such dogmas, much as, in a dramatic reversal, Galileo said centuries ago, after being forced to recant his claim that the Earth moved around the immovable sun: “And yet it moves.” (Back then, science, in its nascent state, was based on unbiased inquiry and rejected dogmas de facto. Today, mainstream science has morphed into a scientific priesthood.) The late John Michell was the author of, among others, View over Atlantis, one of the cult reads of the 1970s; Bob Rickard is the founder and editor of the Fortean Times.

Who am I?

I learned the Western Canon at school and from various teachers during my youth; all along, I was yearning for something other, different, and, possibly, truer. Since my early twenties I've been exploring another canon, which exists in opposition to the Aristotelian-Euclidean-Cartesian-Newtonian-Darwinian/Spencerian one. While the western world in the 21st century is free from alacritous canon-enforcing enterprises such as the Holy Inquisition, it nevertheless operates by a canon that remains very much the mentioned Aristotelian-Euclidean-Cartesian-Newtonian-Darwinian/Spencerian one, inculcated into us all from kindergarten to the grave, echoed not only by schools of all levels, but by governments, the media, official institutions and nonofficial entities, and, last but not least, by the entertainment industry. 

I wrote...

Forbidden Fruits: An Occult Novel

By Joscelyn Godwin, Guido Mina di Sospiro,

Book cover of Forbidden Fruits: An Occult Novel

What is my book about?

Forbidden Fruits is a long-awaited follow-up to Godwin’s and Mina di Sospiro’s first co-authorship, The Forbidden Book. After eight years they have released a novel that will be a favorite among readers of esotericism as scholarship, authentic insights into ancient and modern occult practices and suspense meet in the alchemical retort of the “Society of Harmony.” With “the entheogenic key” as its focus, Forbidden Fruits provides insight into ancient practices and visions, with the island of Malta being the focal point of a near Lovecraftian evil. Complete with psychedelic journeys, therapeutic blasphemy, and child seers, Forbidden Fruits is a voyage into the unknown that will leave readers questioning the nature of reality—and how to know the real from the unreal.


By Kelly DiPucchio, Raissa Figueroa (illustrator),

Book cover of Oona

It’s impossible not to fall head over heels in love with the little mermaid explorer Oona and her sea otter friend Otto. The adorable duo was created by illustrator Raissa Figueroa who has this amazing ability to make all her characters completely irresistible and her environments rich with atmospheric colors and magical details. I can’t wait to see what adventures Oona and Otto go on next!

Who am I?

I am writing this list because I am a sea monster. I’m the sort of sea monster who loves merpeople, pirates, sharks, dolphins, octopuses, shipwrecks, and…did I miss anything? Oh yes, piranhas. Some people have pointed out that I look like a regular adult human, but really it’s just a trick of the light. I like to make stories, draw pictures, and build miniature environments for stop motion animated films. My typical day is spent gluing miniature flowers to miniature rocks, or screwing miniature chairs to miniature floors. It’s the sort of job that makes you feel like magic is around every corner. Because it is, probably.

I wrote...

Can I Give You a Squish?

By Emily Neilson,

Book cover of Can I Give You a Squish?

What is my book about?

My book takes place in the warm waters of a kelp forest, where Kai, a little mer-boy, loves to give squishes! But not everyone is a fan of Kai’s spirited embrace, which he discovers soon after squishing a pufferfish, who swells up in fright! Kai feels awful; but with the help of his underwater friends, he figures out another way to show his affection, and then everyone demonstrates their preferred ways of being greeted. Because, as Kai realizes, “Every fish likes their own kind of squish.”

What I see in each of the books on this list is everything I could possibly have hoped to put into mine--magical underwater adventures, wonderful world-building, and best of all: compelling and lovable characters.


By Philip Ball,

Book cover of Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything

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.

Who am I?

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.

I wrote...

The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date

By Samuel Arbesman,

Book cover of The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date

What is my book about?

Facts change all the time. Smoking has gone from doctor-recommended to deadly. We used to think the Earth was the center of the universe and that the brontosaurus was a real dinosaur. In short, what we know about the world is constantly changing.

I show how knowledge in most fields evolves systematically and predictably, and how this evolution unfolds in a fascinating way that can have a powerful impact on our lives. I explore a wide variety of fields, including those that change quickly, over the course of a few years, or over the span of centuries.

The Big Book of the Dead

By Marion Winik,

Book cover of The Big Book of the Dead

The premise is simple but ingenious. Winik catalogs the lives and deaths of people she’s known throughout her life, some well, others hardly at all. Each entry is no longer than a page or two, and her writing is stark and unruffled, creating moments of dark humor. She never glorifies the departed, yet her emotion buzzes below the surface. And you immediately wonder how your own page or two might go.

Who am I?

Emily Blejwas directs the Alabama Folklife Association. She is the author of The Story of Alabama in Fourteen Foods (UA Press) and two middle grade novels: Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened and Once You Know This (Random House). Emily grew up in Minnesota, attended Auburn University, and now lives in Mobile, Alabama with her husband and four children.

I wrote...

Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened

By Emily Blejwas,

Book cover of Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened

What is my book about?

After his father's death, Justin discovers that some things are just unknowable. He learns that time and space and memory are grander and weirder than he ever thought, and that small moments can hold big things, if you’re paying attention. Just like his math teacher said, even when you think you have all the information, there will be more. There is always more.

Set during the Gulf War era, Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened is a story about learning to go on after loss, told with a warmth that could thaw the coldest Minnesota lake.

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