Books to read before starting University

Next week is Freshers’ Week and across the country, universities will be welcoming enthusiastic students into their departments. These students will be equipped with notebooks, lever-arch files, reading lists and text books.

But there is more that you can do to prepare for university. Here is my own recommended reading list. These are popular science books that I love. You won’t find them on your termly reading list, but they are well written by science advocates, and they may just remind you of your love of science after a particularly dull lecture. Further, they will broaden your horizons, going beyond the scope of your lecturer course and tying together many different concepts.

I’ve read all of these books, and I loved them all. They are all relevant to a broad-minded science education. So here is my list of recommended reading for new students.

1. Ben Goldacre. “Bad Science“. 2008.
Bad Science is all about the medical industry, but it has parallels with all science disciplines. Many of his thoughts on science communication and public understanding of science are broadly applicable. And you’ll never demand a different prescription from your GP again.

2. Bill Bryson. “A short history of nearly everything
You don’t need me to tell you that Bill Bryson writes beautifully, with his love of science coming through clearly. It’s a long book, but highly readable and it covers a broad range of scientific topics.

3. David McCandless. “Information is beautiful“.
You’ll not look at boring statistics in the same way after looking through the wonderful way data is presented through infographics in this book. Information is visual, and can be presented thoughtfully and clearly in many different ways. Something to bear in mind for your final year project or dissertation.

4. Alexander McCall Smith. “The Sunday Philosophy Club” series
Just because I love this (fictional) series and it makes me think deeply about things.

5. Richard Dawkins. “The Selfish Gene” (1976), “The Greatest Show on Earth” (2009), “The Magic of Reality” (2011)
Well, the controversial biologist had to be in here somewhere. I really enjoyed some of his earlier books, like “The Selfish Gene”, from which I learned about genetics and evolution. Essential reading.

6. Lynne Truss. “Eats, shoots and leaves
Even if you’re a grammar nerd, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s the only well-written grammar guide on the market. And you’ll never misuse an apostrophe again. Excellent for making sure you don’t drop any marks on essays due to poor grammar.

7. Chris Stringer. “Homo Britannicus
Because it’s fascinating, it’s got great pictures, and it was written by some of my colleagues.

8. Jarred Diamond. “Guns, germs and steel: the fates of human societies“.
This book is all about crop and animal domestication, and how that influenced all our history and everything around us.

9. Dava Sobel. “Longitude: the true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time“.
This book is about the invention of a timepiece that is accurate enough to measure your longitude at sea, an essential invention to stop sailors getting lost.

10. Douglas Adams. “Last chance to see
All the weird and wonderful animals in the world, many of whom are on the brink of extinction.

Well, that’s my top ten recommended science-y books. They’re all very readable and beautifully written, so you’ve got no excuse. I also enjoy Barbara Kingsolver’s fictional books, which often have a biological or science theme. Get thee to the library!

Please add your favourite popular science books into the comments section below!


I am a Senior Lecturer at Newcastle Univeristy, specialising in glaciology and glacial geology. I wrote and developed the website as part of an ongoing commitment to outreach, education and research impact. Read more about me at

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