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Science books that changed the world

1 March 2018

Science books that changed the world

To celebrate World Book Day today we asked our science education community to name one science book that they feel has changed the way in which we see the world.  On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin M.A. (1859) won with 35% of the votes. 

In the words of past ASE President, Professor Steve Jones, geneticist and Fellow of the Royal Society ‘Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species is probably the best-known, least-read book. One of the most important achievements of the past millennium, it did for biology what Galileo did for astronomy: made it into a single science rather than a collection of unrelated facts.’

Comments from our voters about the Origin of Species 

"Thinking about humans as a collection of genes and the biological world as a gene battleground had a big impact on me."

"This book challenged many deeply held beliefs and still does; it explains more than any other book in existence."

"Darwin fundamentally changed how we see ourselves and every living thing around us."

"After Darwin we were a part of creation rather than set above it."

"In my view, it affected more disciplines of study and of thought than any other book."

Teaching resources

Let’s talk about evolution. A guide for primary teachers learning and teaching about evolution. This book and CD-ROM resource is a summary of the ideas associated with evolution, at a level suitable for learners in late primary or early secondary schools. It includes activities for learners and background information for teachers. 

Teaching controversial issues. Ten questions about teaching evolution in the classroom by Dr James Williams 

Further reading

Encyclopaedia Britannica On the Origin of Species

Important though Origin remains, its examples and intricate Victorian prose are now a century and a half old. They are ripe for renewal and reaffirmation. Writing as "Darwin's ghost," eminent geneticist Steve Jones updates this seminal work—and restates evolution's case for the 21st century in Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated (1999).

The full list in order of votes

  1. Darwin's Origin of Species (NF)
  2. Isaac Newton's Principia (NF)
  3. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (NF)
  4. Watson's The Double Helix (NF)
  5. Robert Hooke's Micrographia (NF)
  6. A Brief History of Time (NF)
  7. Einstein's Relativity (NF)
  8. Goodall's Life With Chimpanzees(NF)
  9. Mary Shelley Frankenstein (Fic)
  10. Ibn al-Haytham's Book of Optics

Other suggestions for books that changed the world included:

  • Copernicus' De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestrium
  • The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
  • Bill Bryson's A brief history of nearly everything
  • Aristotle's Corpus Aristotelicum 

This survey was part of ASE’s contribution to the Global Learning Programme. Discover the other books that changed the world as suggested by our subject association partners in the Global Learning Programme for World Book Day,

Image: Wikipaedia Origin of Species Title Page CC BY 2.0