An array of book covers from titles featured in this post including Constellations by Schilling and Underland by Macfarlane. They are arranged on a photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology and meteorology are regarded as physical sciences because they apply to the natural world and can be investigated by using data and models to form a hypothesis that can be tested through carefully controlled experiments. This list is for anyone who’s ever looked at their homework (or the lab) and wondered: What am I ever going to need this for?!?

In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking’s last book, the author touches on some of his earlier works to ask why we’re here and how we can best survive. Despite weighty subjects like the existence of God, climate change, artificial intelligence, and gene editing, Hawking is optimistic that science is the answer and will, if we allow, offer solutions to our greatest dilemmas. This is a wonderful introduction to Hawking’s work.

Liquid Rules: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances that Flow through Our Lives is Mark Miodownik’s companion to 2014’s Stuff Matters. Miodownik, a materials scientist, presents his topic in terms of liquids encountered on a flight – from the fuel that powers the engine to the wine on the trolley, even to the clouds you can see from the window. Although the set-up can be fanciful and some of the chemistry is hard-core, this is a fun, readable guide to liquids.

The Body: A Guide for Occupants is Bill Bryson’s survey of the human body and what goes into it, lives on it, and happens inside it. A prolific writer, Bryson provides a layman’s guide to the human body from skin to skeleton and from head to toe, linking the various elements to the history of medicine and disease – after all, a working body isn’t as “interesting” as a dysfunctional one. Written in plain, understandable language and sometimes gruesome detail, this book will teach you a lot.

Part primer, part sky map, Govert Schilling’s Constellations: The Story of Space Told Through the 88 Known Star Patterns in the Night Sky is an informative and practical guide to stargazing. Journalist and astronomy hobbyist Schilling provides histories of the constellations, naming conventions, and various objects (black holes, nebulae, etc.) that you can observe in the sky. After a general introduction, Schilling then explores each constellation to gradually reveal a fascinating story for fellow enthusiasts, while the included sky maps help even the novice stargazer learn to read the night sky.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey is nature writer Robert Macfarlane’s exploration of the deep places in the earth, be they caves, mines, tunnels, catacombs, and the like. From fungal networks in forests to underground partygoers to repositories of nuclear waste, Macfarlane gives us a travelogue with incredible descriptions of each location, weaving in myriad topics that cover millennia of activity and human interest in underground spaces.

Sam Kean combines science and humor to discuss the atmosphere and other gases in Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us. Using accessible language, Kean covers the early days of our planet and the devastating advent of oxygen, to modern warfare and the use of chemical weapons. He also includes stories of scientists and plain folk (some with extraordinary “talents”) that bring a very real human urgency to the topic. Fun and wide-ranging, sometimes Kean strays off topic – but you will enjoy the ride.

If you would like more science books, or a book list made just for you on any topic, check out My Next Read. Just fill out the form and we will send you some great titles!