5 Science Books Everyone Should Read

Popular science books are one of my favourite things to read – probably because they give me a break from reading research papers which are often dry and difficult to follow, but they still give me the feeling of productivity. This category of scientific research in an easily-readable form that allows non-scientists to get to grips with complex concepts is growing, and rightly so. These books can leave patients feeling more informed, and therefore empowered to think critically about the types of treatment they receive. So, in no particular order – here are the top 5 books I think everyone should read.

I Think You’ll Find it’s a Bit More Complicated Than That by Ben Goldacre

What’s it about?
Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science was the first popular science book I ever read, it was a great introduction to critical thinking, and a book that I think should be given to every school-age child. This more recent book is a bit different in that it’s a collection of Goldacre’s published journalism. For those of us who didn’t follow his various columns and articles, this is such a good book! It covers a huge variety of different topics and as it was all originally written for public audiences (i.e. not scientists), it’s super easy to understand even the most complicated of concepts.

Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst

trick-or-treatmentWhat’s it about?
This book was on the reading list for one of my first year undergraduate courses, and as someone who had never used or believed in the routine use of alternative medicine, I didn’t really see the need to read it. I soldiered on regardless, and actually really enjoyed this book. I had never previously thought of alternative medicines causing harm, I just thought they were largely ineffective and therefore pretty pointless. The pairing of Singh and Ernst is a really good one; easy to follow, really well written and packed with evidence for and against the use of alternative therapies. I wish more people would read this.

Testing Treatments: Better Research for Better Healthcare by Imogen Evans, Hazel Thornton, Iain Chalmers and Paul Glasziou

testing-treatmentsWhat’s it about?
My PhD Supervisor gave me this book on my first day – I think as a more easily digestible read than the pile of research papers that came along with it. This book is brilliant. It covers a diverse range of treatments and examples, from mastectomy to thalidomide, and explores the prospect that even though randomised controlled trials are the so-called ‘gold standard’, even they can be done badly. I think this is a really good resource for researchers to look to when communicating their work, but it’s perhaps even more important for patients to read it in order to make informed decisions about their own treatment.

The Patient Paradox: Why Sexed Up Medicine is Bad for Your Health by Margaret McCartney

patient-paradoxWhat’s it about?
It took me a while to get through this, not because it was a difficult or dry read, but because I found myself getting really frustrated each time I read it. I knew that the way our health services select which treatment to fund or which screening test to implement was not perfect, but this provided me with an overwhelming volume of evidence to suggest the problem was even worse than I thought. In very basic terms, too much testing of well people and not enough care for the sick worsens health inequalities and drains professionalism.

Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

being-mortalWhat’s it about?
This book tackles the thing that we never want to think about; no matter how good medicine is, we will all die at some point. Atul Gawande here talks about this in a really positive way; he provides insight and research into the use of medicine not only to improve quality of life, but to improve quality of death too. He offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.


5 responses to “5 Science Books Everyone Should Read”

  1. A great list! Might I suggest that Gurt Gigerenzer’s ‘Risk Savvy’ is worth adding to the list? We health care professionals are not great at calculating risk, or communicating it. With a number of worked examples, Gigerenzer shows how to approach the former, thus facilitating the latter. Can’t recommend it too highly!


  2. […] while ago I posted about the science books that I think everyone should read – but I read a lot so that list of books has probably changed by now. In recent months […]


  3. […] a large pile of papers, links and books to get my teeth into. He drew particular attention to the Testing Treatments book, and a paper titled ‘The scandal of poor medical research‘. I read that paper multiple […]


  4. […] Today’s inspiring person is Dr Margaret McCartney; she’s a GP based in Glasgow, former columnist for the British Medical Journal, broadcaster for Radio 4’s Inside Health programme, and a fierce advocate for the NHS. She’s also the author of various books focussing on patient health and the NHS – including The Patient Paradox that I’ve read and recommended here. […]


  5. […] I first started this blog (2 years ago, can you believe it?!), I wrote a blog post about 5 popular science books that I recommend to anyone who dares to ask me about the subject. That post had a really good […]


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