11 Best Science Books of 2017 - Math, Astronomy and Physics

Whether you are giving gifts to others or to yourself this holiday season, this list of the best popular science books of 2017 in the physical sciences, will inspire you to stay strong in your resolution to read (more) books in 2018. 

1. Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Lifein Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies (Geoffrey West)

Fantastic book about scaling laws and how to understand them. 

“While exponential growth is a remarkable manifestation of our extraordinary accomplishments as a species, built into it are the potential seeds of our demise and the portent of big troubles just around the next corner.” 

The former head of the Sante Fe Institute, visionary physicist Geoffrey West is a pioneer in the field of complexity science, the science of emergent systems and networks. The term “complexity” can be misleading, however, because what makes West’s discoveries so beautiful is that he has found an underlying simplicity that unites the seemingly complex and diverse phenomena of living systems, including our bodies, our cities and our businesses. 

2. Elements of Mathematics: From Euclid to Godel (John Stillwell)

This fascinating book is a thought-provoking, informative, and worthwhile read. 

John Stillwell, an Australian mathematician who won the prestigious Chauvenet Prize, discusses how each sub-discipline informs more advanced topics that build mathematics as a whole. Each chapter ends with informative “philosophical remarks” and “historical remarks” sections that help the reader glimpse the beauty of the area as well as providing new insights into its breadth and limitations. Stillwell also discusses how “reverse mathematics” is essential for proving well-known theorems.

Elements of Mathematics gives readers, from high school students to professional mathematicians, the highlights of elementary mathematics and glimpses of the parts of math beyond its boundaries.

3. Forces of Nature (Brian Cox, Andrew Cohen)

A breathtaking and beautiful exploration of our planet.

“You are exporting disorder [in the form of heat into the Universe] now as you read this book. You are hastening the demise of everything that exists, bringing forward by your very existence the arrival of time known as the heat death, when all stars have died, all black holes have evaporated away and the entirety of creation is a uniform bath of photons incapable of storing a single bit of information about the glorious adolescence of our wonderful Universe.” 

Think you know our planet? Think again.

‘What is motion?’

‘Why is every snowflake different?’

‘Why is life symmetrical?’

To answer these and many other questions, Professor Brian Cox uncovers some of the most extraordinary natural events on Earth and in the Universe and beyond.

The many splendiferous photographs and illustrations in the book, along with the overall sense of wonder captured in the writing more than atone for the complex concepts and mathematical formulae that might scare some readers. This book accompanies the BBC One TV series.

4. Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon (Jeffrey Kluger)

You will not put down this gripping book until you’ve finished - we guarantee!

"Three human beings, he reflected, were about to tear themselves away from the close gravitational grip of Earth, and in three days time would surrender to the gravity of another celestial body. No living creature had done that before." 

In August 1968, one short year after three astronauts had burned to death in their spacecraft, NASA decided that it would launch humankind’s first flight to the moon. Sixteen weeks later, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were aboard the first manned spacecraft to depart Earth’s orbit, reach the moon, and return safely to Earth, delivering a tear-inducing Christmas Eve message along the way.

This fast-paced book includes biographies of these three men and their families in an enticing examination of NASA’s space program at this pivotal time, providing an insider’s view of the Apollo 8 mission for the first time and documenting all that went in to making it happen.

5. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Short and sweet introduction to astrophysics - perfect length for coffee break reading.

“The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”

What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? There’s no better guide through these mind-expanding questions than acclaimed astrophysicist and best-selling author Neil deGrasse Tyson.

But today, few of us have time to contemplate the cosmos. So Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.

6. The Calculus of Happiness: How a Mathematical Approach to Life Adds Up to Health, Wealth, and Love (Oscar E. Fernandez)

This book shows us that math yields powerful insights into health, wealth, and love.

If the thought of calculus makes you nervous, don’t worry, you won’t need calculus to enjoy and appreciate this book. Its actually an intriguing way to introduce some of the precalculus topics that will later be needed in a calculus class, through the examination of some of the basic mathematical ideas that can be used to analyze the problems of how to attain relationship bliss, live long, and prosper and all without being a Vulcan.

Fernandez uses everyday experiences--such as visiting a coffee shop--to provide context for his mathematical insights, making the math discussed more accessible, real-world, and relevant to our daily lives. Every chapter ends with a summary of essential lessons and takeaways, and for advanced math fans, Fernandez includes the mathematical derivations in the appendices.

A nutrition, personal finance, and relationship how-to guide all in one, The Calculus of Happiness invites you to discover how empowering mathematics can be.

7. Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery (Scott Kelly)

If you read only one popular science book this year, make this that book.

“I've learned that most problems aren't rocket science, but when they are rocket science, you should ask a rocket scientist. In other words, I don't know everything, so I've learned to seek advice and counsel and to listen to experts.” 

A stunning memoir from the astronaut who spent a record-breaking year aboard the International Space Station--a candid account of his remarkable voyage, of the journeys off the planet that preceded it, and of his colorful formative years.

A natural storyteller and modern-day hero, Kelly has a message of hope for the future that will inspire for generations to come. Here, in his personal story, we see the triumph of the human imagination, the strength of the human will, and the boundless wonder of the galaxy.

8. Big Data: How the Information Revolution Is Transforming Our Lives (Brian Clegg)

Easy and fun read that serves as a terrific introduction to a topic which has an ever-increasing impact on many aspects of our lives.

It's hard to avoid 'big data' - but we've lived in an information age for decades. What's changed?

An easy to absorb tour of this transformative technology, finding out how big data enables Netflix to forecast a hit, CERN to find the Higgs boson and medics to discover if red wine really is good for you.

Less positively, we explore how companies are using big data to benefit from smart meters, use advertising that spies on you, and develop the gig economy, where workers are managed at the whim of an algorithm.

Is the Brexit vote successful big data politics or the end of democracy? Why do airlines overbook, and why do banks get it wrong so often? With big data unquestionably here to stay, a bright future beckons if we can embrace its good side while guarding against its bad. This book reveals how.

9. Breakthrough!: 100 Astronomical Images That Changed the World (Robert Gendler, Robert Jay Gabany)

Are you a photographer, or do you love looking at space photography? If so, then this is the book for you.

This unique volume by two renowned astrophotographers unveils the science and history behind 100 of the most significant astronomical images of all time. The authors have carefully selected their list of images from across time and technology to bring to the reader the most relevant photographic images spanning all eras of modern astronomical history. Based on scientific evidence today we have a basic notion of how Earth and the universe came to be.

This book presents in pictures and words a photographic chronology of our aspiration to understand the universe. From the first fledgling attempts to photograph the Moon, planets, and stars to the marvels of orbiting observatories that record the cosmos at energies beyond the range of human vision, astronomers have always relied on images to "break through" to the next level of understanding. A subset of these breakthrough images has profound significance in documenting some of the greatest milestones in modern astronomy.

10. Out of the Shadow of a Giant: Hooke, Halley, and the Birth of Science (John Gribbin, Mary Gribbin)

Nicely done work on Hooke, Halley and 'The one who must not be named'.


Although Newton is widely regarded as one of the greatest scientists of all time and the father of the English scientific revolution, John and Mary Gribbin uncover the fascinating story of Robert Hooke and Edmond Halley, whose scientific achievements neatly embrace the hundred years or so during which science as we know it became established. They argue persuasively that, even without Newton, science would have made a great leap forward in the second half of the seventeenth century, headed by two extraordinary figures, Hooke and Halley.

11. American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World  (David Baron)

A fantastic nonfiction account of the human and scientific experience of a solar eclipse.

"[A] sweeping, compelling portrait of the scientific and social aspirations of Gilded Age Americans."

—Wall Street Journal

In American Eclipse, eclipse chaser and prize-winning science journalist, David Baron, tells the fascinating story of three tenacious and brilliant scientists that raced to Wyoming and Colorado to observe a rare total solar eclipse.

One sought to discover a new planet. Another—an adventuresome female astronomer—fought to prove that science was not anathema to femininity. And a young, megalomaniacal inventor, with the tabloid press fast on his heels, sought to test his scientific bona fides and light the world through his revelations. David Baron brings to three-dimensional life these three competitors—James Craig Watson, Maria Mitchell, and Thomas Edison—and thrillingly re-creates the fierce jockeying of nineteenth-century American astronomy. With spellbinding accounts of train robberies and Indian skirmishes, the mythologized age of the last days of the Wild West comes alive as never before. A magnificent portrayal of America’s dawn as a scientific superpower, American Eclipse depicts a young nation that looked to the skies to reveal its towering ambition and expose its latent genius.

Have you read any of these books? Would you recommend any other amazing books released in 2017?

Take a moment to celebrate some of the amazing achievements from people who had virtually no education at all.

He isn’t the one to let something like being the fourth richest man on the planet stop him from getting a good deal.

There is no Nobel Prize for mathematics, but there are equivalents...