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Classic Books of Science? 451

Posted by timothy
from the autodidacts-do-it-by-themselves dept.
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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Classic Books of Science?

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  • One Resource (Score:4, Informative)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:17AM (#27831273) Homepage Journal

    - 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 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MrNaz (730548) * on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:20AM (#27831331) Homepage

      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 (Score:5, Informative)

        by LotsOfPhil (982823) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:33AM (#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. []

        • I like how believing that people believed the Earth was flat has become its own little ignorance. In 200 years people will boggle that we believed that most people in the late middle ages thought the Earth was flat.

          • Re:One Resource (Score:5, Insightful)

            by tomhudson (43916) <> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:43PM (#27832889) Journal

            In 200 years people will boggle that we believed that most people in the late middle ages thought the Earth was flat.

            Here, let me fix that for you:

            If we don't get rid of the fundie influence on education, in 200 years people will believe that most people living in the twentieth century were living in the middle ages. With the dinosaurs. And some dude named Flintstone.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by tomhudson (43916)

          Beat me to it, dammit!

          It was obvious to any sea-farers that the earth was round - boats disappeared over the horizon, which could only be explained by either a curved surface, or them falling over the edge. Since most of them came back, the "curved earth theory" was never seriously questioned.

          So, how long have people been using boats? A loooong time.

          Q:Name Christopher Columbus' 4 ships.
          A:The Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria, and the one we don't speak about because it fell over the edge.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by vux984 (928602)

            It was obvious to any sea-farers that the earth was round - boats disappeared over the horizon, which could only be explained by either a curved surface, or them falling over the edge.

            There are plenty of other explanations, such as:

            "the horizon is the limit of sight through atmosphere, just as deeper water becomes increasingly hard to see through until eventually you can't."
            "the horizon is a trick of the light that affects things at extreme distances, similar to a mirage"
            "the earth is shaped like a cont

            • Re:One Resource (Score:4, Insightful)

              by tomhudson (43916) <> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @01:39PM (#27833779) Journal
              Only the last two (#3 and #4) would take into account the fact that the mast is the last thing to disappear, and in nature, there are LOTS of sperical objects to serve as models (apples, oranges, grapes, etc), whereas I don't think they had contact lenses ... (your #3) It's by calculating the curve that they were able to deduce the radius of the earth. If the earth weren't round, the water would flow over the curved edge and disappear, and the seas would have dried up. Also, there would have been a current taking all ships with it over the edge. No such current, so the earth was round, not just "curved like a contact lense."

              The "slight bulges" (your #4) fails for a similar reason - ships have to climb UP a bulge, which takes energy, so either they're going from higher to lower when they start (so no need for wind or rowers) or they're going from lower to higher (so the return doesn't need wind or rowers), so it fails based on simple obsedrvation - you aren't going "downhill" in either direction.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Actually, Aristarchus [] was even earlier, and he even figured out that the earth rotates around the sun in addition to the diameter of the Earth, moon and sun and the earth and moon's orbit, with the correct order of the planets that they could observe at the time, all based on trigonometry and observation by unaided eye. Of course, his figures weren't perfectly accurate (notably the distance of the earth to the sun) but the method is sound and works well with more accurate measurements.
      • Re:One Resource (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:41AM (#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 (Score:5, Informative)

        by l2718 (514756) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:06PM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Yold (473518)

          actually the word derived from Al-Kawarizi "Algorism". From which we get the word algorithm, sorry to split hairs, but this is slashdot after all =)


      • Re:One Resource (Score:5, Informative)

        by Leafheart (1120885) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:12PM (#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

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Great ideas like these great discoveries are only notable if someone does something with it. The Middle East did very little, if anything, with these discoveries, hence... Sorry about bursting the bubble.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          The Middle East did very little, if anything, with these discoveries, hence.

          The multiple religious crusades perpetrated on them during their most intellectually productive centuries might have had a little something to do with that.

      • Re:One Resource (Score:4, Informative)

        by octal_sio (1521925) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:21PM (#27832457)
        Arabic books and their authors indeed played an amazing role in the history of science. It's disturbing seeing them arrive to what they are now...

        Anyway, a few more Arabic classics off the top of my head:

        - Pretty much anything written by Ibn Sina []. (The Canon of Medicine is a pretty good one)
        - Ibn AlNafis's [] Commentary on the Anatomy in Ibn Sina's Canon [] (where he described the circulatory system)
        - As parent mentioned, the original book on algebra [], by AlKhwarizmi. The word "algorithm" is named after him, while "algebra" was named after his book. "Jabr" in Arabic means completion.
        - Omar Khayyam's many treatises on Maths and Astronomy.

        There's much more on Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Philosophy of Science and the Experimental Method, etc.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          It's disturbing seeing them arrive to what they are now...


          Do you think it's possible that centuries of colonialism and exploitation by western empires could have contributed to their "arrival"?

          I'm not saying this is necessarily so, I'm just wondering.

          It could be coincidental that so many civilizations that happened to occupy land that held abundant resources or strategic value to the West became somewhat backward and dictatorial.

      • by PitaBred (632671)
        Snellius still discovered it independently. Besides... Ibn Sahl may have discovered it first, but nothing happened after that. It was the Europeans that finally applied it, building telescopes and so on. You can feel all racially superior if you want, but make sure you put it in perspective. Besides, you look at the Middle East now, and there's an active fight against science.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by radtea (464814)

          Besides, you look at the Middle East now, and there's an active fight against science.

          So it's just like the United States, eh?

          • The Crusades along with the destruction of Baghdad, the center of worlds intellect, around 1250 started the decline. The fall of Muslim Spain in the 1400's and a rise in religious conservatism finished it off.

            Many of the troubles during those years were seen as punishment from God and ever since then there has been a movement to not go down that path again.

            Most of the knowledge from Spain passed to the West and kicked off the Renaissance.

            I am an American Jew, and I have to point out that the Muslim world wa

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      You will find every classic ever written at this website. [] Enjoy oh heady one.
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * < minus bsd> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:18AM (#27831291) Journal
    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)
  • Two more (Score:3, Informative)

    by mc1138 (718275) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:19AM (#27831309) Homepage
    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 (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Ecuador (740021) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:11PM (#27832259) Homepage

      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.

    • by donweel (304991)
      I took a corrective exercise course and went looking for Grays Anatomy and discovered that most people now are using Frank Netter's Atlas [] I would say it is a classic, illustrations are drawn by hand. Some samples: []
  • by goombah99 (560566) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:19AM (#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)

  • by Beetle B. (516615) <{moc.liame} {ta} {b_elteeb}> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:22AM (#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.

    • by CraftyJack (1031736) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:04PM (#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.

      • by Beetle B. (516615) <{moc.liame} {ta} {b_elteeb}> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:22PM (#27832481)

        That and seminal works are often overhyped. Don't get me wrong - they may have made a great impact, but they're usually indicative of the beginning of a new field, and it may have taken decades/centuries for the field to figure itself out. Only then is it presented in a better manner for learning.

        Take calculus. Limits weren't put on a firm rigorous basis till people like Bolzano, Weierstrauss and Cauchy over a hundred years after Newton. And general integration theory didn't come around until the late 19th century and early 20th.

        Of course, there are always exceptions...

        • Lockhart in his Lament [] indicates that the process of discovery is the real heart of mathematics. In that case, reading original works that presumably showcase that process is vital, especially for those just starting out in the field.

          Ideally, though, you'd read them with updated notation.

  • by OldFish (1229566) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:24AM (#27831419)

    Einstein's relativity paper is free: []

  • Feynman (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jamamala (983884) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:27AM (#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 (Score:5, Informative)

    by clare-ents (153285) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:27AM (#27831469) Homepage

    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.

    • Mod parent up
      for excellent use of short witty summaries.
    • Re:Physics (Score:4, Informative)

      by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy&gmail,com> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:45AM (#27831809) Journal

      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.

    • by Sockatume (732728)
      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.
  • by eggoeater (704775) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:27AM (#27831475) Journal
    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.
  • Ancient Engineers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by earlymon (1116185) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:33AM (#27831553) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • Is that classic enough? Why are you doing this?
  • by Comatose51 (687974)

    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

    • 3. Rants against the kindle because it uses DRM on store-bought files.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      3. Stupid, snarky comments about fake books.

      Such as the disappointing sequel to Newton's Principia, Principia II: The Quickening

      Or Galileo's little known, underground autobiography Lorem Ipsum Pontifex Bicceus Amet" (Literal translation: "The Pope Is A Total Bitch.")

      And "Fuck You, World!", the classic tome by Thomas Midgley (inventor of leaded gasoline *and* chlorofluorocarbons).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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'

  • 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 fe

  • Ooh! ooh! (Score:3, Informative)

    by a whoabot (706122) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:45AM (#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.

  • "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.

  • Orthogonal view (Score:4, Interesting)

    by paiute (550198) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:53AM (#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.

    • by compro01 (777531)

      I disagree with the 2nd criteria. Going back to the original conception of an idea can give considerable insight, even if some modern specificities may be absent. Newtonian mechanics still works just fine for many purposes and provides a base to built higher concepts upon.

  • Paradigm Shift (Score:2, Informative)

    by giltwist (1313107)

    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn

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

  • by Ecuador (740021) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:54AM (#27831963) Homepage

    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!

  • 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!
  • Jefferson (Score:2, Interesting)

    by adwarf (1002867)
    Might want to try taking a look at what Jefferson had in his library: []
  • 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 row

  • 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 Ma

  • 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.


  • 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 []
  • 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 foxf

  • Gutenberg project (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Temujin_12 (832986)

    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.

  • 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.

    • I didn't find the "debunking tools" to be anything new to me. If you've already got skeptical thinking down alright, you're just going to be reading a bunch of world-view-affirming stuff in that book.

      That said, I thought it was (mostly) well written and found it to be interesting. Lagged a bit around the 1/3 mark and near the end, IMO. I'd recommend the two collections of Feynman anecdotes over that, though, if you already grok scientific skepticism. Fun stuff, and loaded with examples of it.

  • Carl Popper (Score:3, Interesting)

    by digitig (1056110) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:15PM (#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.
  • 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 so

  • The Discoverers (Score:2, Informative)

    by Zentakz (618981)
    I would highly recommend reading The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin. It is a fascinating book in itself, but more importantly, it references hundreds of important works that you might choose to explore more thoroughly.
  • affectation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:26PM (#27832539) Homepage

    My advice would be not to make an affectation of reading original works. Here [] is a good article that discusses this "Great Books" paradigm, and points out how poorly it fits in the sciences especially.

    One example you gave was Newton's Principia. Well, I'm a physicist, and I've read most of the Principia. I would not recommend it to anyone. First off, it's all written in the language of Euclidean geometry, merely because most of Newton's audience wasn't familiar with algebra, and certainly not with calculus, which had only been published a few years before the Principia came out. Today, the way to approach the subject is to read a treatment that uses modern math that you're familiar with. If you know calculus and analytic geometry, you can read a two-page proof [] of the elliptical orbit law, a result that took Newton the bulk of his entire book to prove because of the mathematical tools to which he limited himself.

    Of course there are exceptions to every rule. I think the first 1/3 of Euclid's Elements is still something that everyone interested in mathematics should read.

  • Here are excerpts from Science Made Stupid [] -- be sure to look up the Universe, Life, Chemistry, and Evolution. This book, by Tom Welling (not Tom Weller), has all our Slashdot favorites and more! It is now out of print. I saw a price for a used copy of $195-- which makes me want to sell my beater copy of this book for $100! The master of the pan flute, Zamfir, loved it. You will never have a finer science laugh.
  • Reading and discussing the Great Books is the way to receive a true education. 99% of what passes for a college education these days is just vocational training. One of the few exceptions is Thomas Aquinas College in Ojai, California. Their syllabus is available for free (there are no electives -- all students follow the same well-thought out track): []

  • Euclid's Elements (Score:4, Informative)

    by Bueller_007 (535588) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @01:20PM (#27833511)

    For the love of God, Euclid's Elements. Available for free here: []

  • here are some (Score:3, Insightful)

    by portscan (140282) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:04PM (#27834283)

    euler - introductio in analysisin infinitorum -- brilliant work of euler from 1748 containing many striking results. english translation available.

    bernhard riemann - on the number of primes less than a given magnitude -- riemann's one paper (~15 pages) on number theory, which introduced his famous zeta function (english version available in riemann's zeta function by edwards, a book dedicated to the very rich subtext of this terse paper)

    shannon - a mathematical theory of communication [] -- seminal paper founding information theory

    schrodinger -- find yourself a decent exposition of the analysis of the hydrogen atom using schrodinger wave mechanics. learn where all that junk they taught you in high school chemistry actually comes from!

    Feynman Lectures on Physics -- comprehensive account from the man who knew physics as well as anyone.

    ahlfors - complex analysis -- best text i know of on this subject in mathematics that shows up in the most surprising places in the sciences.

    landau & lifschitz - course on theoretical physics -- 10 volumes on modern physics from classical mechanics to electrodynamics, relativity, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, fluids, etc. from nobel prize winner lev landau.

    Fourier Analysis - t w korner -- intro to fourier analysis with many applications (after all, applications are the whole point of fourier analysis) from your basic heat equation stuff to calculating the age of the earth and other interesting things.

    i think that in compiling this list, you will find two things to be true:
    1. increasingly (in the last century, for example), important work is not (initially) published in books, but in papers.
    2. trying to read the original works is fun for about 5 minutes. if you really want to learn, modern expositions in textbooks tend to be far better than the originals.

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft ... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. -- Wernher von Braun