Want some interesting reading for the summer? We took a poll of our tutors for their literary suggestions, and came up with the following, all deemed appropriate for a high school aged audience unless otherwise noted. Our own teacher’s commentary plus Amazon reviews follow each suggestion. We strongly vouch for these as excellent choices for summer reading!
Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom (by Teresa Robeson); appropriate for ages 5-9. When Wu Chien Shiung was born in China 100 years ago, most girls did not attend school; no one considered them as smart as boys. But her parents felt differently. Giving her a name meaning “Courageous Hero,” they encouraged her love of learning and science. This engaging biography follows Wu Chien Shiung as she battles sexism and racism to become what Newsweek magazine called the “Queen of Physics” for her work on beta decay. Along the way, she earned the admiration of famous scientists like Enrico Fermi and Robert Oppenheimer and became the first woman hired as an instructor by Princeton University, the first woman elected President of the American Physical Society, the first scientist to have an asteroid named after her when she was still alive, and many other honors.
Bad Science (by Ben Goldacre) A great debunking of a lot of poor use of information in the contexts of spurious nutritional advice and health advice. Very well written and engaging, Dr. Ben Goldacre takes us on a hilarious, invigorating and informative journey through the bad science we’re fed by the worst of the hacks and the quacks! When Dr Ben Goldacre saw someone on daytime TV dipping her feet in an ‘Aqua Detox’ footbath, releasing her toxins into the water and turning it brown, he thought he’d try the same at home. ‘Like some kind of Johnny Ball cum Witchfinder General’, using his girlfriend’s Barbie doll, he gently passed an electrical current through the warm salt water. It turned brown. In his words: ‘before my very eyes, the world’s first Detox Barbie was sat, with her feet in a pool of brown sludge, purged of a weekend’s immorality.’ Dr Ben Goldacre is the author of the ‘Bad Science’ column in the Guardian and his book is about all the ‘bad science’ we are constantly bombarded with in the media and in advertising. At a time when science is used to prove everything and nothing, everyone has their own ‘bad science’ moments — from the useless pie-chart on the back of cereal packets to the use of the word ‘visibly’ in cosmetics ads.This book will help people to quantify their instincts — that a lot of the so-called ‘science’ which appears in the media and in advertising is just wrong or misleading. Satirical and amusing — and unafraid to expose the ridiculous — it provides the reader with the facts they need to differentiate the good from the bad. Full of spleen, this is a hilarious, invigorating and informative journey through the world of ‘bad science’.
A Brief History of Time (by Stephen Hawking), another book written for those with little or no physics background. Non technical discussion of quantum mechanics and general relativity, the Big Bang and black holes. Read the book that launched Stephen Hawking into popular culture! A landmark volume in science writing by one of the great minds of our time, Stephen Hawking’s book explores such profound questions as: How did the universe begin—and what made its start possible? Does time always flow forward? Is the universe unending—or are there boundaries? Are there other dimensions in space? What will happen when it all ends?
Told in language we all can understand, A Brief History of Time plunges into the exotic realms of black holes and quarks, of antimatter and “arrows of time,” of the big bang…where the possibilities are wondrous and unexpected. The images are exciting, and it is profoundly imaginative.
Richard Feynman – QED: The strange theory of light and matter (by Richard P. Feyman) Richard Feynman presents a tour-de-force of modern quantum, theory, and his unique way of engaging the reader makes this complex area of fundamental physics seem relatively easy to understand. Quantum Electrodynamics explains how electrons interact with matter, and despite some experiments that seem easy to understand, when you ask yourself “why” over and over again you eventually arrive at the fundamental answer “because that’s the way it is”.
For example, why does light bounce off a mirror and get reflected at the same angle it was incident at? Naively you may think because it *obviously* bounces off the part of the mirror in the middle. QED tells us that this simple answer is incorrect. It bounces off every part of the mirror, taking every possible path to the destination, and the observed outcome is all the paths added together. This also explains diffraction gratings! Fenyman’s intuitive explanations guide us through twentieth- century physics with wit and humor, a definite bedtime book, although you won’t get much sleep 🙂
The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus (by Dr. Hannah Fry and Dr. Thomas Oleron Evans) How do you apply game theory to select who should be on your Christmas shopping list? Can you predict Her Majesty’s Christmas Message? Will calculations show Santa is getting steadily thinner – shimmying up and down chimneys for a whole night – or fatter – as he tucks into a mince pie and a glass of sherry in billions of houses across the world?
Filled with diagrams, sketches and graphs, beautiful equations, Markov chains and matrices, mathematics has never been merrier!
The Music of the Primes: Why an Unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters Paperback (by Marcus Du Sautoy) Prime numbers embody one of the most tantalizing enigmas in the pursuit of human knowledge. How can one predict when the next prime number will occur? Is there a formula which could generate primes? These apparently simple questions have confounded mathematicians ever since the Ancient Greeks.
In 1859, the German mathematician Bernard Riemann (many of you may recall Riemann sums from calculus) proposed some novel ideas that thrilled mathematicians around the world. Yet Riemann, a hypochondriac and a troubled perfectionist, never publicly provided a proof for his hypothesis and his housekeeper burnt all his personal papers on his death.
Whoever cracks Riemann’s hypothesis will go down in history, for it has implications far beyond mathematics. In business, it is the lynchpin for security and e-commerce. In science, it has critical ramifications in Quantum Mechanics, Chaos Theory, and the future of computing. Pioneers in each of these fields are racing to crack the code and a prize of $1 million has been offered to the winner. As yet, it remains unsolved.
The Colossal Book of Short Puzzles and Problems (by Martin Gardner) For more than twenty-five years, Martin Gardner was Scientific American’s renowned provocateur of popular math. His yearly gatherings of short and inventive problems were easily his most anticipated math columns. Loyal readers would savor the wit and elegance of his explorations in physics, probability, topology, and chess, among others. Grouped by subject and arrayed from easiest to hardest, the puzzles gathered here, which complement the lengthier, more involved problems in The Colossal Book of Mathematics, have been selected by Gardner for their illuminating; and often bewildering; solutions. Filled with over 300 illustrations, this new volume even contains nine new mathematical gems that Gardner, now ninety, has been gathering for the last decade. No amateur or expert math lover should be without this indispensable volume; a capstone to Gardner’s seventy-year career.
Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics (by William Dunham) is a beautifully written history of mathematics filled with treachery, deception, betrayal, and, of course, math. Dunham places each theorem within its historical context and explores the very human and often turbulent life of the creator — from Archimedes, the absentminded theoretician whose absorption in his work often precluded eating or bathing, to Gerolamo Cardano, the sixteenth-century mathematician whose accomplishments flourished despite a bizarre array of misadventures, to the paranoid genius of modern times, Georg Cantor. He also provides step-by-step proofs for the theorems, each easily accessible to readers with no more than a knowledge of high school mathematics. A rare combination of the historical, biographical, and mathematical, Journey Through Genius is a fascinating introduction to a neglected field of human creativity.
“It is mathematics presented as a series of works of art; a fascinating lingering over individual examples of ingenuity and insight. It is mathematics by lightning flash.” —Isaac Asimov
Code Girls (by Liza Mundy) Recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II. While their brothers and boyfriends took up arms, these women moved to Washington and learned the meticulous work of code-breaking. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives, and gave them access to careers previously denied to them. A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history; now, through dazzling research and interviews with surviving code girls, bestselling author Liza Mundy brings to life this riveting and vital story of American courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.
Human Compatible (by Stuart J. Russell) Stuart J. Russell is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley.
Russell begins his book by asserting that the standard model of AI research, in which the primary definition of success is getting better and better at achieving rigid human-specified goals, is dangerously misguided. Such goals may not actually reflect what human designers intend, such as by failing to take into account any human values not included in the goals. If an AI developed according to the standard model were to become super-intelligent, it would likely not fully reflect human values and could be catastrophic to humanity. Russell asserts that precisely because the timeline for developing human-level or superintelligent AI is highly uncertain, safety research should be begun as soon as possible, as it is also highly uncertain how long it would take to complete such research.
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (by Carlo Rovelli) – One of our two English tutors commented “even I started to begin to understand astrophysics! This was a marvel, and beautifully written – I suspect any of his books would be fabulous”.
This playful, entertaining, and mind-bending introduction to modern physics briskly explains Einstein’s general relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, gravity, black holes, the complex architecture of the universe, and the role humans play in this weird and wonderful world. Carlo Rovelli, a renowned theoretical physicist, is a delightfully poetic and philosophical scientific guide. He takes us to the frontiers of our knowledge: to the most minute reaches of the fabric of space, back to the origins of the cosmos, and into the workings of our minds. The book celebrates the joy of discovery. “Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world,” Rovelli writes. “And it’s breathtaking.”
Mathematics for the Million (by Lancelot Hogben )Here is what one reviewer had to say: “It makes alive the contents of the elements of mathematics.”―Albert Einstein
Taking only the most elementary knowledge for granted, Lancelot Hogben leads readers of this famous book through the whole course from simple arithmetic to calculus. His illuminating explanation is addressed to the person who wants to understand the place of mathematics in modern civilization but who has been intimidated by its supposed difficulty. Mathematics is the language of size, shape, and order―a language Hogben shows one can both master and enjoy.
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (by Richard P. Feynman) With his characteristic eyebrow-raising behavior, Richard P. Feynman once provoked the wife of a Princeton dean to remark, “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman!” But the many scientific and personal achievements of this Nobel Prize-winning physicist are no laughing matter. In addition to solving the mystery of liquid helium, Feynman has been commissioned to paint a naked female toreador and asked to crack the uncrackable safes guarding the atomic bomb’s most critical secrets. He has traded ideas with Einstein and Bohr, discussed gambling odds with Nick the Greek, and accompanied a ballet on the bongo drums. Here, woven with his scintillating views on modern science, Feynman relates the defining moments of his accomplished life.
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (by Sam Kean) May be suitable for 8th grade Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I-53)? How did radium (Ra-88) nearly ruin Marie Curie’s reputation? And why is gallium (Ga-31) the go-to element for laboratory pranksters?
The Periodic Table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it’s also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow every element on the table as they play out their parts in human history…The Disappearing Spoon masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, and discovery — from the Big Bang through the end of time.
Though solid at room temperature, gallium is a moldable metal that melts at 84 degrees Fahrenheit. A classic science prank is to mold gallium spoons, serve them with tea, and watch guests recoil as their utensils disappear.