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Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

The pop economics bible, this is completely fascinating and utterly unput-downable. The writers, Levitt and Dubner, explore the hidden side of everything: from how to spot a cheating teacher, to why estate agents aren’t always looking for the highest price. The reason this book is so interesting and so readable is that it explores the way the world functions – making links between seemingly remote concepts and analysing the behaviour of individuals and groups to prove that it’s not money that makes the world go round, but incentives.

Guns, Germs & Steel, Jared Diamond

This book is filled with big ideas centring on one key question: why do some civilisations succeed, when others don’t? What is it that allowed Europe to dominate, colonise and rule so much of the world for so many centuries? Diamond looks at factors such as climate, geography, wildlife, produce, landscapes and governance to account for the development of humanity – fascinating reading as it traces human development back to a few chance factors: European invaders in the Americas were able to control vast areas with very little man power quite simply because the natives didn’t have immunity to the diseases they brought – and didn’t have any of their own to infect their conquerors.

Bad Science, Ben Goldacre

Less of a book about science and more a lesson in logical, rational thought and common sense, Goldacre (one of Britain’s leading sceptics) critiques the pseudo-science that we see every day: from nutritional health to misleading statistics. Goldacre’s aim is not only to debunk what has trickled down as scientific fact, without rigorous scientific trial, but to encourage his readers to question received information and – if they can (which you scientists can!) go out and put scientific claims to the test.

1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, James Shapiro

A book about that bard that will go some way to explaining why he was and is so popular, whilst also demonstrating the effect that he has had on the English language – and on drama and literature all together.  Shapiro’s one-year biography doesn’t just look at Shakespeare’s works, but also the events in his life – and the goings-on in England, Europe and the world that influenced his writing: from a country balancing on a knife edge as it tips between becoming protestant or reverting to Catholicism to the imminent threat of invasion from Spain and a government without a guinea to its name. Shapiro’s great skill is to tie the works of one of the world’s greatest writers with the time that he lived him – to give us a real insight into his genius, and our shared history.

Why does E=mc2 and why should we care? Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw

Einstein’s revolutionary theory that E=mc2 is probably the most famous equation of all time – and one that we all sort of know about, but not really.  If dipping into a study of the speed of light seems a little daunting, never fear! True, there are some long strings of numbers that you need to know, but the authors will explain everything to you in a non-scary Physics way. This is definitely a challenging book for the non-scientists. The world of hard sciences is the last to be colonised by the popular science book, largely due to the high level maths required to understand the concepts, but this book is a great introduction to non-Physicists and Mathematicians.  Persevere, and all will become clear!

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