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Classic Books of Science?

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the autodidacts-do-it-by-themselves dept.

Books 451

half_cocked_jack writes "What are the classic books of science from throughout history? I'm currently reading On the Origin of Species on my Kindle 2, and it's sparked an interest in digging up some of the classic books of science. I'm looking for books from the ancient and medieval worlds and books from the golden ages of scientific discovery. Books like: Galileo's The Starry Messenger; Newton's Principia; Copernicus's On The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres; and Faraday's The Chemical History of a Candle. I know that I can likely find these books in a format I can use on my Kindle (found a few on Gutenberg already), but what I need is a checklist of these books to guide my reading. Suggestions?"

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One Resource (3, Informative)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831273)

- The Book Page - [] provides free on-line classic and not-so-well known books, articles and more. Antiquarian science texts and articles - complete with original wood-cuts and copper-plate Figures read "cover to cover", or use your Browsers search function to find and read specific sections. Choose from HTML, or pdf (eBook) or MS Reader format.
Not a list like you are looking for, but may help in tracking down things you would be interested in reading.

Re:One Resource (5, Interesting)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831331)

You may be interested to read about the role that the Middle East played in the development of modern science. While they are not very mainstream (hey, history gets written by those on top at any point, which at the moment happens to be Western nations), there are many books that deal with the advanced science that was being carried out in that region. Here are some tidbits to get you started:

Modern optics was pioneered by the discoveries of Ibn Sahl (who discovered Snell's law 800 years before Snellius renamed it [] ).

In the 9th century, 500 years before Europeans started arguing whether the world was round, Al-Battani and his ilk calculated the circumference of the Earth at 40,253km. Correct to within 200km!

Al-Jabr [] is the Arab mathematician who discovered (or invented, whichever way you lean on that topic) algebra. It is still named after him.

Good luck with this. Scientific history is fascinating!

(Full disclosure: I am a Muslim, which is why I find this topic so interesting.)

Re:One Resource (4, Informative)

LotsOfPhil (982823) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831557)

In the 9th century, 500 years before Europeans started arguing whether the world was round, Al-Battani and his ilk calculated the circumference of the Earth at 40,253km. Correct to within 200km!

Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth 1000 years before that. "Recent scholarship finds that since about the 3rd century BC, virtually no educated person in Western civilization has believed in a flat Earth." link. []

Re:One Resource (4, Insightful)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831707)

Europeans believed that the Earth was round BEFORE there were any muslims.
My sentiment on this has nothing to do with muslims. The idea that educated Europeans thought the Earth was flat is a myth made up by certain 19th Century writers and popularized by people who were trying to show that Christianity is anti-science.

Re:One Resource (4, Informative)

l2718 (514756) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832161)

"Al-jabr" is one of laws for manipulating algebraic expressions. The man was named Al-Khawarizi, and from his name we derive a different word -- "Algorithm".

Re:One Resource (4, Informative)

Leafheart (1120885) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832277)

Check these and a whole lot of other Arab scientist treaties. They are truly ahead of their time (as kept by western civilization of science advcance, and pearls of an age where the Muslins were the scientific lead.

Ibn al-Haytham [] 's - Book of Optics []

Muhammad ibn Musa Khwarizmi [] - The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing []

Disclamer: I'm not Muslim but I do think we need to give due credit where credit is due

Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831283)

Cool story bro

The only book about science you'll ever need! (1, Funny)

agnosticanarch (105861) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831285)

The Bible!

Oh, wait...


Hawking's Compilation (4, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831291)

On the Shoulders of Giants [] was a book I picked up on the cheap ... a weighty tome assembled by Stephen Hawking of classic books of science (some of which you listed).

I think I got the hardcover for ~$8 at a used bookstore. Amazon seems to indicate it's not available on the kindle but here's what's in it:

1. Nicolaus Copernicus "On the Revolutions of [the] Heavenly Spheres" (1543)

2. Galileo Galilei "Dialogues [or Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations] Concerning Two [New] Sciences" (1638)

3. Johannes Kepler Book Five of "Harmonies of the World" (1618)

4. Sir Isaac Newton "The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy" (1687)

5. Albert Einstein "The Principles of Relativity: A Collection of Original Papers on the Special Theory of Relativity" (1922)

Some English Links (4, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831499)

1. Nicolaus Copernicus "On the Revolutions of [the] Heavenly Spheres [] " (1543)

2. Galileo Galilei "Dialogues [or Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations] Concerning Two [New] Sciences [] " (1638)

3. Johannes Kepler Book Five of "Harmonies of the World [] " (1618)

4. Sir Isaac Newton "The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy [] " (1687)

5. Albert Einstein "The Principles of Relativity: A Collection of Original Papers on the Special Theory of Relativity [] " (1922)

I am not certain how easy it is to "capture" HTML to read on the Kindle later but here are some decent translations in English if you want them.

Re:Some English Links (4, Interesting)

genghisjahn (1344927) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832125)

Print to PDF. Email the PDF to your kindle email address. Costs ten cents.

Missing Option (5, Funny)

Smidge207 (1278042) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831579)

6. Surak's "A Concise History of Vulcan Logic" (2430)


Re:Missing Option (1)

HasselhoffThePaladin (1191269) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832203)

But Surak lived in the 4th Century [] . Sorry, the nerd in me couldn't let that go.

Re:Hawking's Compilation (1)

digitalhermit (113459) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831609)

I don't remember the title and hope someone here does, but there was a book that explained Einstein's Principles of Relativity. The book started out with some thought experiments then talked about a box floating in space to help explain relativity. Further on it explained the mathematics behind relativity. All one needed was a good understanding of first year calculus.

For the life of me, I can't recall the title..

To the OP, a good "guide" IMHO is Daniel Boorstin's "The Discovers". It's one of my favorite books and does a good job of explaining how developments in science affected the world.

Re:Hawking's Compilation (3, Interesting)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831819)

The problem is that most of these are not particularly good translations and lack commentary -- you won't be able to follow Newton, for example, without the detailed commentary that other editions, such as those edited by the historian of science Bernard Cohen, have. It isn't just converting Latin to English -- the mathematical techniques themselves need "translation" as nobody today does math using the primitive methods available to Newton.

Re:Hawking's Compilation (4, Interesting)

cpricejones (950353) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831883)

I would add to this a some modern classics that are not physics books:

- Watson: The Double Helix

- Hofstadter: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

- Gesteland, Cech, and Atkins: The RNA World

- Stephen J. Gould: The Mismeasure of Man (or Punctuated Equilibrium or another one of his books)

Re:Hawking's Compilation (1)

ILikeRed (141848) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832013)

Not science so much, but an interesting view of history and science in HG Wells:
The Outline of History []

Its all in one place... (0, Troll)

sherpajohn (113531) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831303)

the Bible. The Whole Truth is there. Right Ms. Palin?

Re:Its all in one place... (-1, Troll)

agnosticanarch (105861) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831423)

Looks like the Xian Slashdotters are out in force today. Ah, well. Maybe we should've suggested some Kirk Cameron books instead?


Re:Its all in one place... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831509)

Actually, I am the one who modded it down. If this isn't the very definition of troll, I don't know what is. It was only meant to be a slam on another group of people, nothing even remotely addressing what the subject of the post is.

Re:Its all in one place... (-1, Offtopic)

fubar1971 (641721) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831635)


Two more (2, Informative)

mc1138 (718275) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831309)

Gray's Anatomy... not the show. And I'd add A brief history of time, although fairly recent, I'd tag it in their as a book that will most likely be considered on par with older books in a similar vein.

Re:Two more (1)

Smidge207 (1278042) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831629)

Dude, you forgot Velikovsky's "Worlds in Collision"


Re:Two more (3, Insightful)

Ecuador (740021) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832259)

Dear God. You compare "A brief history of time" to "Principia" and "On the Origin of Species"???
"A brief history of time" is an excellent read, however it is a "popular science" book that contains the minimum possible amount of physics and math. For, say, lawyers or doctors I guess it is as "scientific" as they can go with physics, but that in no way can make it a "classic book of science". I considered it a light (and very amusing) read when I was 14 when, in contrast, Newton's proofs were still a challenge to read much later.

St john's College New Mexico (4, Informative)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831311)

St. Johns teaches from the "great books". e.g. learn physics from Newton, etc...

just nab their sylabus and you have not only what you want but also what you need, a list the great purged of historical anachronisms and ones that are poor for teaching. (e.g. you probably don't want to learn medicine from a list of bodily humors)

Re:St john's College New Mexico (4, Informative)

Fallingcow (213461) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832139)

There's always the classic list of classics (lol), the Great Books of the Western World list by Adler []

That site has tons of other book lists, too.

Anyway, Adler's list is pretty much the best single answer to this question. I'd add Asimov's many, many essays on science (just start looking for them at used book stores, you'll have a dozen volumes before you know it) and Stephen J. Gould's essay collections.

Mein Kampf (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831327)

Everyone should read it.

Principia Mathematica (1)

linzeal (197905) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831379)

This [] is what got a lot of CS in motion due to its "thorough" axiomatization of mathematics into symbolic logic.

Alice in Quantumland - Robert Gilmore (1)

DomNF15 (1529309) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831381)

Not exactly a "classic", but then again quantum is a relatively new field of study.

Plenty of spare time... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831383)

Hmmm... You might need Double your Dating (David D'Angelo)

Re: Classic Books of Science (Insightful) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831385)

Einstein's "Relativity", Hall & Stevens "Geometry"

Re: Classic Books of Science (Insightful) (1)

haystor (102186) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831831)

Which Geometry book is that. I see some sets of texts, is there a single specific one?

Learning or Collecting? (3, Insightful)

Beetle B. (516615) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831389)

If your goal is to learn the subject material, I wouldn't bother with most - equivalents from the 20th century may likely be better.

Don't forget Euclid's Elements. I also think there were some groundbreaking math books from the Arab era, but don't know if you can find them on the Internet - or whether there are translations available.

Re:Learning or Collecting? (3, Insightful)

CraftyJack (1031736) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832113)

If your goal is to learn the subject material, I wouldn't bother with most - equivalents from the 20th century may likely be better.

Important question there. Keep in mind that notation and scientific writing style have changed significantly over the years.

Naturalis Historia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831395)

don't know why you'd want to waste time collecting them as eBooks, but whatever...

your collection should include this ( [] ), very interesting read

The Double Helix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831437)

"The Double Helix" by James Watson is the best book ever written by a scientist about the process of actually doing science. It's biology, which doen't go down well with the Slashdot crowd, but it's just great.

Re:The Double Helix (1)

HasselhoffThePaladin (1191269) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831643)

What makes you say that? I thoroughly enjoy reading about topics related to biology/biochemistry, and some of the discussions tied to those articles have been hugely informative. Are you referring to how those discussions often devolve into religious debate?

Re:The Double Helix (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831871)

Well there's the fact that EVERY SINGLE MOTHERFUCKING STORY on biology gets tagged "whatcouldpossiblygowrong." It got old real, real fast.

Feynman (4, Informative)

Jamamala (983884) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831457)

What about the Feynman Lectures on Physics?
Although it's obviously much newer than all the books you listed, and is still under copyright.

Physics (5, Informative)

clare-ents (153285) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831469)

Einstein, The principles of relativity.

Very readable papers on special relativity, essentially the same way it's taught now in a modern physics class (at least mine was).

Feynman, QED

Smart arse replaces great big pile of maths with pretty pictures with arrows in. Excellent.

Copernicus, On the revolutions of Heavenly Spheres,

Won't tell you very much, but worth it for the sheer horror of deriving the motions of the planets as viewed from Earth without using fractions.

Feynman, Lectures

The best presentation of a decent physics course there is. May only be comprehensible to people who already have a physics degree, I never tried reading it until I already had most of one at which point I was entranced.

Re:Physics (1)

FTWinston (1332785) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831591)

Mod parent up
for excellent use of short witty summaries.

Re:Physics (3, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831809)

QED is fucking awesome. Feynman is about the most readable person you'll find on any of these lists (Darwin is dry as dust...100 pages of morphological bone changes in pigeons and you'll gnaw off your own limbs).

I have only an advanced laymans understanding of physics (4 classes at the undergrad level) and his explanations were concise, clear, and very easy to follow.

Re:Physics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27832043)

I find Hawking to be remarkably readable as well, though I can't compare 'A Brief History of Time' to 'QED' having not read Feynman's peice.

Re:Physics (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832053)

I've been listening to the first few Feynman Lectures in Physics via Audible. They're actually restored recordings of his first presentations of those lectures, and they're excellent.

Future Classic (0)

spiedrazer (555388) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831471)

It's not a current classic, but will probably be one in 100 years. "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson is a phenominal read that covers all the main discoveries on most scientific disciplines. And it's somehow a page turner as well!

Re:Future Classic (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831585)

You realise that for something to be a classic it has to break some new ground. A good vulgarisation work can hardly become a classic, mostly not as it becomes outdated and fails to gain any historical importance by not being "groundbreaking".

Re:Future Classic (2, Insightful)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831789)

Bryson is a swell writer -- informative and funny -- but his grip on the science he writes about is marginal. His politics are moderate-left, which biasses his writing somewhat.

Re:Future Classic (4, Funny)

Gotung (571984) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832179)

Facts do have a liberal bias after all.

The Best American Science Writing (3, Informative)

eggoeater (704775) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831475)

An annual publication gathering the best non-fiction science writing for the year. Usually edited by a good science writer (eg. Glick).
I love them because of the variety and it usually gives you a good idea of the science without boring you with mundane details or being too pedantic.

The only classic science book you'll ever need... (2, Funny)

chemosh6969 (632048) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831495)

the Bible(choose your version for different results of science)

Couple Suggestions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831537)

Newton - Opticks
Maxwell - A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism

Re:Couple Suggestions (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27832061)

Newton - Opticks
Maxwell - A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism

Why would I want to read anything from someone who can't even spell "Optics"?
Also "A Treatise" ...what the heck is that... sounds like a toffee-based popsicle, obviously coffee-flavoured since it comes from Maxwell house. In addition, I'm not sure why they chose BOTH Electricity and Magnetism since they are both completely different subjects and have nothing to do with each other. For those less informed: Electricity is measured in volts and amps, and Magnetism is measured in how many pounds of iron something can pick up. You might as well talk about caterpillers and butterflies... two completely different animals.

Ancient Engineers (2, Insightful)

earlymon (1116185) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831553)

Ancient Engineers by L. Sprague De Camp

Absolutely not what you've asked for - but a possibly invaluable essay that I expect would be quite useful to guide your understanding during your quest.

Math Books too, please (1)

BradleyAndersen (1195415) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831587)

I'd like to have this question answered for math books.

Re:Math Books too, please (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831909)

These are secondary, but I like them:
Men of Mathematics by E.T. Bell
Lectures on the Icosahedron and the Solution of the Fifth Degree by Felix Klein

Ptolemy's Almagest (1)

LotsOfPhil (982823) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831593)

Is that classic enough? Why are you doing this?

Godel, Escher, Bach (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831639)

Is not ancient, but I think a definite classic that will probably stand the test of time.

Aristotle on Logic (1)

Geirzinho (1068316) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831641)

Aristotle's Organon ( Without a firm logical science we would be nowhere.

Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (1)

bulbach (668352) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831671)

Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith

Re:Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (2, Insightful)

PhysicsPhil (880677) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831939)

Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith

That, of course, assumes that economics deserves to be treated as science.

Re:Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (1)

chazd1 (805324) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831953)

In these times we probably should remember that Economics is a scientific discipline. When reading it it seems it could have been written yesterday, but was really written in 1776. []

Nerd Fest Pending... (1, Insightful)

Comatose51 (687974) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831683)

Asking a question like that on Slashdot will inevitably lead to:
1. A flame war over which book/scientist is the most important
2. An outpouring of obscure references as every nerd tries to out-nerd the other with more and more obscure references

another 20th cenury classic (2, Informative)

rnaiguy (1304181) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831691)

Erwin Shrodinger's "What is life?" is a fantastic collection of his ideas of the physical basis for life. He wrote this when the idea of a molecule was just coming into existence (referring to the genetic material as an "irregular crystal"), and inspired the first generation of molecular biologists.

It's a great example of the power of "back of the envelope" estimations, and a very interesting read.

Softer sciences? (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831697)

Depending on your definition of science, there are many other classics that should make for an interesting read. Adam Smith - The Wealth of Nations and/or Karl Marx - The Communist Manifesto for example. As with many soft sciences, they make excellent observations. But ability to predict trends isn't quite as good.

A Marx joke (abbreviated) in former communist countries goes: He was right about capitalism. He was wrong about communism.

Old School (1)

mindbrane (1548037) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831729)

Euclid "The Elements" trans T.L. Heath 3 vols. and "The Almagest" by Ptolemy represent the core world view of the ancients although, in the Almagest, you have to slog through all the mystical stuff. The Almagest held sway as one of the most read seminal books up to Newton's time.

math books (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831733)

Lebesgue, "Leçons sur l'intégration et la recherche des fonctions primitives".

The Teaching Company (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831761)

Download the courses, crank VLC Player's speed up to 2x, and you can learn the equivalent of a Bachelors Degree in a few weeks. Just yesterday I finished the course called "String and Particle Physics" and learned more in one afternoon than four semesters of Physics.

Isn't modern technology great?
Books are so passe'

Make sure you pick up some context too (1)

Brandee07 (964634) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831775)

Try and pick up a biography or companion piece to the books you're reading. Each of these authors and works were shaped by their times.

If you're trying to understand the evolution of science as a whole, it will help to understand the cultural influences that acted on these people, and what they might not have published for fear of reprisal.

Remember, the Origin of Species never goes so far as to suggest that humans had evolved from anything, much less monkeys. It was certainly implied, but he probably felt that it was too great a leap for his contemporaries to accept, and he kept his theories to plants and animals.

Of course, he did go back and explicitly state his theory as applies to man in the Decent of Man, 10 years later.

Ooh! ooh! (2, Informative)

a whoabot (706122) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831797)

I suggest the New Organon by Francis Bacon. This edition [] seems to be available for the Kindle.

Or how about even Aristotle's Physics? That's a nice book to read if you've never read any Aristotle or even any philosophy before. Bacon in the New Organon was trying to advocate a new method of science against the Aristotelian tradition.

And it probably cannot be called a classic, but Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions would probably be interesting to you. And as a foil to Kuhn's work, Popper's Conjectures and Refutations.

Re:Ooh! ooh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27832229)

I second the vote for Bacon. If I remember correctly, that book basically set down the scientific method as it's used today. It was the book that got the ball rolling for experimental science.

Mmmm... Bacon.

Leon Cooper (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831803)

"An Introduction to the Meaning and Structure of Physics"

Granted, it's only half century old, but imho a classic. Definatelly a good read for anybody even vaguedly interested in physics or science generally.

The Great Books (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831811) ... and, links to online copies:

Oh, sorry, didn't mean to hone in on everyone's ability to drone on incessantly about how smart they are -- I mean, this or that 'great book'. ;-)

Historical math books and papers (1)

AbyssWyrm (1344987) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831849)

For math, remember that you'll also need to look at papers published. One of Gauss' works launched the field of intrinsic differential geometry, I think it's title went something like "On the geometry of curves and surfaces." Also Gauss' Disquisitiones Arithmeticae. You might try history books for other good leads -- the standard references in the history of math is Morris Kline's "Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times." Something of Riemann should be important, since he developed multivariable integration.

From a middle age engineer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831859)

De Re Metallica by Georgius Agricola (a.k.a. Georg Bauer)

Thermodynamics... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831899)

"Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire" by Carnot

helped everything become more efficient. Big Time.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831907)

Credited as one of the levers that started the Environmental Movement. Published in 1962 and wonderfully written.

Micrographia - Robert Hooke (1665) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27831935)

Micrographia, by Robert Hooke (1665).

Orthogonal view (3, Interesting)

paiute (550198) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831943)

Although I do not adhere to it strictly (for one instance, I keep a copy of Herodotus by the hopper for intermittant rereading), I have rules of thumb that I go by when considering books worth my while:

1. Read fiction by the dead
2. Read nonfiction by the living.

Paradigm Shift (2, Informative)

giltwist (1313107) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831945)

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn

Coined the phrase "paradigm shift" and thoroughly smashed the romanticized view of science as linearly progressive.

Go back to the ancient world (2, Interesting)

Ecuador (740021) | more than 5 years ago | (#27831963)

Well, how about going further back. Copernicus is quite "modern" I would say. He himself had read the work of Aristarchus from the 3rd century BC entitled "On sizes and distances", which not only proposes the heliocentric theory, but even does calculations on the sizes and distances (didn't expect that?) of the Sun and the Moon.
Allow me to note here that although the heliocentric theory was not accepted by many in ancient Greece, the fact that the earth and the heavenly bodies were spheres was common knowledge from the 5th/4th century BC. In fact by the 3rd century BC they knew the radius within 10%. So sad that all this knowledge was lost for centuries...
Anyway, another classic book that is almost a century older than Aristarchus' book is Aristotle's "Physica" (or "Physics"). Aristotle wrote on many subjects (e.g. politics, ethics, physics etc) and his works an all fields were considered the definitive works of the era.
I know you said science, but I thought I should also mention the oldest Science-Fiction book I have read, which is Lucian's "True Story" or "True History" (the Greek word is the same for both, in any case the title has the same effect). The two science books I mentioned are not that easy reads, however this one is a very amusing book from the 2nd century AD. I mean it has battles on the Moon, what else do you want!

Since the biological sciences seem to be absent... (1)

toppavak (943659) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832005)

Robert Hooke's Micrographia Paul de Kruif's Microbe Hunters R.A. Fisher's The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (Considered to be one of the most important works on the topic since Darwin's) James D. Watson's The Double Helix Richard Dawkin's The Selfish Gene And also some good philosophical works by scientists: Erwin Schrodinger's What is Life? and Mind and Matter Albert Einstein's Ideas and Opinions and The World as I see it Enjoy!

Don't forget Gibbs (1)

Hoplite3 (671379) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832063)

I'd go for the collected papers of JW Gibbs. There's a Dover edition out there, so I think it is in the public domain. One of the bright lights of last century's science. He pretty much made modern thermodynamics, and his work is at the heart of a lot of material science.

Not free, but definitely a good read is GI Barenblatt's Scaling, Self-similarity, and Intermediate Asymptotics. You can learn a lot of applied math/ applied physics from that book. The scaling analysis of the atomic bomb and of Olympic rowers are both really neat.

I would avoid pop-press physics books. They're light on science and heavy on BS.

Harvey, Lavoisier, Einstein (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832075)

I can't remember the names of the books, but I remember finding William Harvey [] and Antoine Lavoisier [] interesting back when I was in school. Harvey studied the circulation of blood and Lavoisier did some early work in chemistry, including the discovery of oxygen.

I was also pretty interested in the electromagnetism work by Faraday and Benjamin Franklin, but I remember less about them. By the time it got to Maxwell it was a little too much work. Strangely, I found Einstein much easier to understand than Maxwell, even though the theory itself is a bit whackier.

But if you're more interested in the process of figuring things out than the actual discoveries, then I think Harvey, Lavoisier, and Einstein were all pretty interesting.

Mismeasure of Man, Stephen J. Gould (1)

rockmuelle (575982) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832079)

You will never look at statistics the same way again after reading this book. Great story about how different measures if intelligence (e.g., IQ) were developed to prove prejudices rather than seek objectivity.


it Kant be science (1)

chazd1 (805324) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832095)

C'mon.. from the best selling Author of the Golden Rule. "The Critique of Pure Reason" Immanual Kant

It is not the easiest read, but the discussion of the nature of scientific thought is provoking.

How do you know when it is really science? How can you be so sure? Slash-dotters are so sure. []

Philosophy of science is important too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27832121)

The structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

Conjectures and Refutations by Karl Popper

The two had a philosophical battle back in the '60s, worth a read to get some info about what science really means and how to properly practice it.

I agree with most of the other posts. Feynman, Einstein, Darwin, Berenbaum, E.O. Wilson etc

Archimedes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27832143)

The works of Archimedes, a seemingly unending series of geometric proofs that given the technology he had available to him, should make anyone feel like a mathematical idiot by comparison.

I also recommend Brunelleschi's Dome because of the architectural sections and the explanation of medieval project management, etc.

Prerequiste to studying science (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832195)

Before embarking on a study of science, one must first know what the limits of science and understanding are. In this regard, I would recommend Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding [] , Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach [] , and Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance []

Gravitation by Misner, Wheeler and Thorne (1)

eprparadocs (992983) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832201)

Personally I think this should be on any list of important science books.

Bootstrapping Tech (1)

phrostie (121428) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832223)

Years ago I read a book about an engineer that was sent back in time.
He took it upon himself to bootstrap 12th century Poland's technology in order to fight off the Mongols. Many things he does in his book are glazed over and lack a lot of detail I'd like to have seen, but it made me appreciate "low tech tech" for lack of a better term. Too many modern books on subjects assume an industrial base and that certain items can be purchased so they skip over the original processes used to make things. The foxfire books are a good source, but I would have like something a lot more focused on the how to part and less on the wise tails.

Any suggestions?

Gutenberg project (1, Redundant)

Temujin_12 (832986) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832239)

The Gutenberg project is a good resource for free texts: []

Though strictly not a classic "science" book, I'm currently reading Pascal's Pensees [] , written by one of the great mathematicians in history.

Demon Haunted (1)

Faux_Pseudo (141152) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832243)

I strongly recomend Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. It does a really good idea of exploring why and how science works and has changed the world, for good and bad, through time. As an added bonus you get a full set of debunking tools to learn how to spot junk pretending to be science.

Classic Books of Religion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27832285)

I think you mean to say "Classic Books of Religion". "On the Origin of Species" has nothing to do with anything that can be proven via the scientific method.

René Descartes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27832299)

Le discours de la méthode (Discourse on method). One of the founding books of the scientific method.

Carl Popper (2, Interesting)

digitig (1056110) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832331)

I'd strongly recommend Carl Popper's "The Logic of Scientific Discovery" -- quite readable (as these things go) and of critical importance in understanding what science actually is -- even if you don't accept Popper's view of what science is, he shows thoroughly why what often passes for "science" amongst amateurs is actually a mash of incompatible views.

In Fact vs. In Theory (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 5 years ago | (#27832337)

Most "classic" books are theoretical and sometimes philosophical in nature (insert plug for Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" here). How science is actually conducted, and how what's reported differs from what happens, is a matter of examining the facts surround scientific progress. Reporting of these things is extremely illuminating, surprising, sometimes even discouraging. But for anyone interested in real science in the real world, it's at least as necessary as all the other. The sole best work IMO examining this is Collins & Pinch's "The Golem". It's required reading in my 'history and system' and methodology classes.

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