These books are written on a generally non-technical level and give a broad overview of their topics with occasional forays into interesting or intriguing subtopics. They include little, if any, mathematical equations or conceptualization. Typically, any high school student should be able to read, follow, and understand the concepts of these books. Though often non-technical, these texts can give some useful insight into the topics at hand, even for the most advanced research.
Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell (review)
Possibly one of the best places to start, this text gives a great overview of most of the major areas of study related to these fields.
Entropy Demystified: The Second Law Reduced to Plain Common Sense by Arieh Ben-Naim
One of the best books on the concept of entropy out there. It can be read even by middle school students with no exposure to algebra and does a fantastic job of laying out the conceptualization of how entropy underlies large areas of the broader subject. Even those with Ph.D.’s in statistical thermodynamics can gain something useful from this lovely volume.
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick (review)
A relatively recent popular science volume covering various conceptualizations of what information is and how it’s been dealt with in science and engineering. Though it has its flaws, its certainly a relatively good introduction to the beginner.
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
The classical text from which major strides in biology have been made as a result. A must read.
Information Theory and Evolution by John Avery
The Touchstone of Life: Molecular Information, Cell Communication, and the Foundations of Life by Werner R. Loewenstein (review)
Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life by Hubert P. Yockey
The three books above have a significant amount of overlap. Though one could read all of them, I recommend that those pressed for time choose Loewenstein, which covers a bit more than Avery who also has a more basic presentation. Most will later read Yockey’s Information Theory and Molecular Biology which is similar to his text here but written at a slightly higher level of sophistication.
The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley
Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language, and Life by Jeremy Campbell
Life’s Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos by Peter M. Hoffmann
Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos by M. Mitchell Waldrop
In the coming weeks/months, I’ll try to continue putting recommended books on the remainder of the rest of the spectrum, the balance of which follows in outline form below. As always, we welcome suggestions and recommendations based on others’ experiences as well. If you’d like to suggest additional resources in any of the sections below, please do so via our suggestion box.
Lower Level Undergraduate
These books are written at a level that can be grasped and understood by most with a freshmen or sophomore university level. Coursework in math, science, and engineering will usually presume knowledge of calculus, basic probability theory, introductory physics, chemistry, and basic biology.
Upper Level Undergraduate
These books are written at a level that can be grasped and understood by those at a junior or senor university level. Coursework in math, science, and engineering may presume knowledge of probability theory, differential equations, linear algebra, complex analysis, abstract algebra, signal processing, organic chemistry, molecular biology, evolutionary theory, thermodynamics, advanced physics, and basic information theory.
These books are written at a level that can be grasped and understood by most working at the level of a master’s level at most universities. Coursework presumes all the previously mentioned classes, though may require a higher level of sub-specialization in one or more areas of mathematics, physics, biology, or engineering practice. Because of the depth and breadth of disciplines covered here, many may feel the need to delve into areas outside of their particular specialization.