One Two Three...Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science by George Gamow (Dover, $13).
I have aspired to write a book as influential to others as this book was to me. I read it in ninth grade, and it did what Gamow, a nuclear physicist, designed it to do: It transformed the physics of the universe into an intellectual playground of delight. From then on, studying to become a scientist was no longer a task but a celebration.
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (Dover, $6).
A reminder that, most of the time, humans are yahoos.
The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (Vintage, $10).
A reminder that space is dangerous — not only because of what we know can kill us, but especially because of all that we have yet to learn can kill us.
The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould (Norton, $19).
A reminder of what can happen when what passes as science is conducted in a landscape of social, political, and cultural bias. Gould was a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, and in his seminal 1981 book he provided a history of biological determinism — the idea that the social and economic standing of different groups of people is rooted in hereditary, inborn distinctions — and then marshaled the evidence to definitively refute it.
Sidereus Nuncius, or The Sidereal Messenger by Galileo Galilei, translated from Latin by Albert Van Helden (Univ. of Chicago, $17).
This is Galileo's 1610 report on what he saw when he first looked through a telescope — and a reminder that the universe brims with undiscovered truths that lie in plain sight before us.
The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design by Richard Dawkins (Norton, $19).
Dawkins is a longtime friend, and a tireless defender of the real story of how we all got here. This 1986 book is a reminder that the laws of evolution and natural selection, given billions of years, have no trouble generating stupefying complexity among life-forms on Earth.
— Astrophysicist and television host Neil deGrasse Tyson is the author of 10 books, including StarTalk, a new companion volume to his podcast and cable show of the same name. The National Geographic series has just begun its third season.