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Story of... (11)

Mapping (3)

Essential ideas (1)

15-Minute... (6)

scientists' lives (3)

24 books

last updated January 2024

Yes, I cropped and inverted the picture. Mea culpa. It's from Paysage avec Orion aveugle cherchant le soleil, Nicolas Poussin,1658

What do I know about this?

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Letters, Isaac Newton

Newton was well aware that science is a cumulative endeavour - that new discoveries build on the foundations laid by generations of earlier scientists. Incidentally, Newton wasn't the first to say that thing about giants. John of Salisbury reports that Bernard of Chartres  (d. 1124) -

"used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size."​

Science is central to our society and culture. It's also a source of wonder and marvel about the world. There's plenty of opportunity, in print, online and on television, to follow new developments - to see the view from lofty heights. My job here is to scrutinise the underpinning giants.

I'm not a practising scientist. I don't own a lab coat (though there is a microscope upstairs), but I've always inhabited both of CP Snow's two cultures. I did 'A' levels in sciences and a degree in English. My PhD was half history-and-philosophy-of-science, half literature. Once you know how to research one bit of history of science, you can research any bit. In fact, once you know how to do research, everything else follows.

The fly that led to the Cartesian coordinate system (allegedly)

This is my perfect series — I love writing these books. Each looks at the giants whose shoulders modern scientists stand on, and traces the developments, cleverness and freak events that have led us to where we are now.

Each book goes as far back as we have any kind of records, so some go back to Mesopotamia and Ancient Babylon, others to the Stone Age. And each ends at now. That's a lot to fit into 200 pages. Of course they're not comprehensive — but I hope they will give you a feel for how science has made our world and can make our future. I want them to be a springboard: start here, and then explore the parts that really fire your imagination. These books are for non-specialist adult readers, though they are now set texts on some university courses. (They are not worldwide histories of science, but trace the emergence of the prevailing paradigm. That means you won't find extensive treatment of eastern ideas that have not fed into the modern scientific model.)

By the way, this series would not be half as good as it is without the work of my wonderful editor at Arcturus, Nigel Matheson, who served as midwife to every one of them. This series has been reissued many times with different titles and covers but these are the most picturesque. By the end of the series (top of the image gallery) they were coming out under the title How the World Works.

How the World Works: The Universe (Arcturus, 2019)

How the World Works: The Periodic Table (Arcturus, 2019)

The Story of Chemistry  (Arcturus, 2017)

The Story of Neuroscience  (Arcturus, 2017)

The Story of Astronomy (Arcturus, 2017)
The Story of Biology (Arcturus, 2016)

The Story of Psychology (Arcturus, 2015)

The Story of Philosophy (Arcturus, 2013)

The Story of Physics (Arcturus, 2011)

The Story of Medicine (Arcturus, 2009; harback, paperback, ebook)

The Story of Mathematics (Arcturus, 2008; hardback, paperback, ebook)

This is my best-selling adult book; it's sold well over 100,000 copies in numerous languages

This little series was a spin-off from the above set. The images dominate here, and the format is larger. Big, glossy picture books for grown-ups.

Mapping the Planets (Arcturus, 2020)
Mapping the Universe  (Arcturus, 2017)
The Story of Maps (Arcturus, 2015)

essential ideas copy.png
50 essential science ideas.png

This is the first in a new series — more coming in 2025.

Science: 50 Essential Ideas  (Arcturus, 2023)


If you have ever wondered what you came in here for, or whether you would really want to live for ever, these books will help you work out the answers. Each takes a crucial question and offers some answers from thinkers in the past and present.

15-Minute Scientific Theories (Arcturus, 2017)

The 15-Minute Scientist (Arcturus, 2016)

The 15-Minute Mathematician (Arcturus, 2014)

The 15-Minute Pscyhologist (Arcturus, 2015)

The 15-Minute Economist (Arcturus, 2014)

The 15-Minute Philosopher (Arcturus, 2014)​


scientists' lives_edited.png

Einstein with his sister

While the Story of... series sorts through the pile of giants, these books take one giant at a time. Einstein is all mine, but I was only a contributor to Lives of the Great Scientists.

Flashpoints in Science (Bounty, 2016)
This is not really entirely about scientists' lives but it doesn't fit anywhere else. It's about great scientific discoveries of the 20th century and how they fit in to the history of science.


Einstein in his Own Words (Arcturus, 2006)

Half anthology and half biography - what Einstein, said and what I say about him. Half each. All fair. It's about his life and his thinking on everything, not just physics. I've had the first edition of that theory of relativity on my table. Oh yes.


Great Scientists (Arcturus, 2005; paperback, ebook)

Line up your giants... short biographies of some of the greatest scientists in history. I only did some of it. Other people did the rest.

Do you want to find out about more science books? There are science books for children:
>> earth and space
>> living and dead things
>> your body
>> technostuff
>> science for fun
Do you want to find out about more books for adults?
​>> books about books
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