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​An end-of-year reading list from Stanford Engineering

​Recommended science, technology and engineering books for younger readers or adults.

Grab a warm drink and a cozy spot on the couch and dive into one of these books. | Illustration by Kevin Craft

Grab a warm drink and a cozy spot on the couch and dive into one of these books. | Illustration by Kevin Craft

As the days get shorter, the weather gets colder (even here in California!) and winter vacations begin, it’s a good time to catch up on reading. We asked members of the Stanford Engineering community to recommend some of their favorite books for adult or younger readers in science, technology and engineering. Here’s what they said:

  • Scott Calvert, senior associate dean for administration:
    A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson. Very approachable for non-scientific audiences. I learned a lot about fields that I’d never studied.
  • Steve Eglash, executive director of strategic research initiatives in computer science:
    Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, by Joseph Aoun. The best book I know about the future of higher education. The author is the president of Northeastern University.

    Higher Education and Silicon Valley: Connected but Conflicted, by W. Richard Scott and Michael W. Kirst, both Stanford authors.

    Artful Design: Technology in Search of the Sublime, by Ge Wang. A wonderful and weird book about computer music by another Stanford author.

    Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling. Things aren’t as bad as you think.

    AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order, by Kai-Fu Lee. The AI landscape.
  • Sharad Goel, assistant professor of management science and engineering:
    What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe. It’s an inspiring work of creative, imaginative thinking. It’s amazing how much one can learn by taking the absurd seriously.
  • Lynn Hildemann, professor and chair of civil and environmental engineering:
    The Secret Life of a Snowflake: An Up-Close Look at the Art and Science of Snowflakes, by Kenneth Libbrecht. Beautiful photographs plus fundamentally sound yet easy-to-understand scientific explanations, for anyone curious about how snowflakes are formed, ages 8 and up. My son loved this book.
  • Philip Levis, associate professor of computer science and of electrical engineering:
    Rosie Revere, Engineer, written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts. This book, aimed at 3- to 5-year-olds, tells the story of a girl who loves building things but becomes dispirited with some failures until her aunt encourages her to persist.
  • Marco Pavone, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics:
    The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger and translated into English by Michael Henry Heim, tells the illustrated story of a math-averse boy who learns basic principles through a series of dreams.

    The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins. In 2017, it was named the most inspiring scientific book of all time in a poll by the British Royal Society (Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything came in second).

    A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar. A biography of the mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., whose work in game theory earned the Nobel Prize in economics. The book inspired a movie by the same name.
  • Marina Radulaski, postdoctoral scholar in electrical engineering:
    “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character, by Richard Feynman, is a humorous and motivating autobiographical sketch of science and life by this Nobel Prize-winning physicist.

    The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, by Jon Gertner, reveals how management style, political climate and even architecture came together over the course of a century to influence the development of peacetime and wartime technologies.

    Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, is my current read, and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military, is next.