The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg (Basic, $17). A classic of popular science writing, focused on the origin of the universe and the subsequent formation of the simplest chemical elements. Although many discoveries have been made since Weinberg published the original edition of this book in 1977, it’s still a great primer on cosmology, written by a master.

The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski (Little, Brown, $12). A compelling biography of the species, teasing out subtle and critical influences. Science proper plays an important part in later stages, but watching our early brethren cope, adapt, and influence their surroundings, you see the scientific perspective taking shape.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
by Oliver Sacks (Touchstone, $15). Twenty-four case histories of patients with neurological disorders provide an intimate look at the astounding range of brain function. Sacks’ book reads like a novel, and with every chapter we appreciate more fully the depth and complexity of conscious experience.

Consciousness Explained
by Daniel Dennett (Back Bay, $18). I’m frequently asked about my views on consciousness; I’m not sure why. Dennett’s book, while controversial (if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be worth reading), is the most convincing argument that, while a complex phenomenon, consciousness is the experience of physical processes in the brain.

Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris (Harper Perennial, $16). Think Ascent of Man, the sequel. With some of the best turns of phrase in popular science writing, Ferris traces our struggle to understand the cosmos and our place within it.

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (Oxford, $16). Dawkins lays out the case for natural selec­tion’s acting with greatest influence at the level of genes. Entertaining, informative, and convincing—just what you want in a popular science book.