Cosmos by Carl Sagan: Tells the amazing story of the development of science and civilization through the ages, while making complex scientific ideas accessible to a general audience. This book redefined the popular science genre (paving the way for bestselling ‘popular science’ books by Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and others, later) and is one that can be re-read many times over for the excellence of its writing. Let me share a couple of quotes from the book here: ‘The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff’… ‘Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors' and ‘A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic’.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: A delightful exploration of social mores in early 19th century England, which has inspired numerous film and television adaptations. While each of Jane Austen’s works is a little gem, this is sheer pleasure to read, with some of the most memorable characters and lines in English fiction.
In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall: An enthralling account of how a young woman, later a world-renowned primatologist, travelled to Africa, observed the behaviour of chimpanzees (our closest living relatives) in the wild, and revealed that they could make and use tools, follow complex social hierarchies and practise both kindness and cruelty —providing us many insights into what makes us human.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: A heart-warming and nostalgic children’s tale that transports readers to a gentler pace of life along the bank of a river. The adventures of the unforgettable characters Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger are narrated in a feel-good story. It presents examples of warm camaraderie and gently cautions against being carried away by an unreasonable fad or passion. (This edition includes a ‘Letter to the Reader’ by me.)
The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov: A stirring science fiction saga that spans a Galactic Empire and introduces the idea of psychohistory — a form of mathematical sociology that can be used to predict how populations might behave. This series of books describes how psychohistory can be used to make decisions to ensure the continued development of civilization and the scientific spirit.