Blind Me With Science
July 13, 2012 9:37 AM   Subscribe

What are some good layman-level introductions to science like chemistry, physics, biology, etc?

I was having a conversation with a friend about my high school science classes and what a debacle they were. We had a coach with no science degree or background teach biology. We had a crazy nun teaching chemistry and she set one of the kids on fire. I don't think we even HAD a physics class since I don't think it was required by the state.

So I'd like to learn something about each of those topics, but I need books (or videos or podcasts or whatever) something suitable for a layman with a...questionable level of knowledge in those topics.

posted by Ghostride The Whip to Education (9 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Why not just pick up a high school textbook?
posted by valkyryn at 9:45 AM on July 13, 2012

You might be interested in the most favorited AskMe thread of all time.
posted by theodolite at 9:46 AM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you like videos, try Khan Academy.
posted by elmay at 10:01 AM on July 13, 2012

You may be surprised to know that "The Cartoon Guide" series by Larry Gonick is superb. For instance:

The Cartoon Guide to Physics
The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry
The Cartoon Guide to Genetics
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:22 AM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thinking Physics is good.
posted by ChuqD at 10:50 AM on July 13, 2012

Try the Very Short Introductions.
posted by morninj at 10:50 AM on July 13, 2012

I actually think you can learn a tremendous amount about a completely new field just by picking up the relevant intro-level college textbook. Take your university of choice, dig around in their course catalog until you find the first course targeted at majors in a given field, and see what textbook they're using. (courses aimed at non-majors can sometimes be completely non-representative of a field.) you can usually find copies of these books for cheap if you use a slightly older edition, which won't make much of a difference. For example, I'm an astronomer, but have really enjoyed reading Molecular Biology of the Cell.
posted by kiltedtaco at 3:38 PM on July 13, 2012

Do you want to learn just a little bit, or do you want to learn each subject to the level of an intro college class?

If you just want to learn a bit, I'd suggest going to your library and checking out the science section of the children's area. Seriously - there are some decent books written for kids, with surprisingly useful pictures.

If you want to learn the equivalent of an intro college course, these are the textbooks I've settled on, after doing a bit of research:

Conceptual Physics for physics. Check your library and any local PBS or college-affiliated TV stations for the videos. (It looks like there are LOTS of Conceptual Physics snippets on YouTube.)

Biology by Campbell and Reece, or Biology by Krogh, for biology. Campbell and Reece gets recommended more, I find, but I'm finding the Krogh surprisingly readable. If you can find cheap textbooks (and they're definitely out there; mine cost a buck or two each), it's nice to have two - if the explanations in one book don't click for you, the other one might.

I'm not sure of the best chemistry book out there; sorry.

Also, though, don't forget astronomy - I've been meaning to pick up a copy of Cosmos by Alex Filippenko, who's totally great in person and I imagine writes a darn good textbook.

To supplement these books, be sure to check out the online courses, especially at MIT's OpenCourseWare. Here's one of the best:

Walter Lewin on Physics at MIT

Finally, if you're looking for more of a layman's perspective, I highly recommend The Science Masters series - I quite enjoyed The Periodic Kingdom. You might also enjoy popular science writers like Dava Sobel - I just picked up a copy of The Planets, which is great. Here are a few AskMe questions with suggestions for good popular science: science book club reading, Who is today's Asimov?, popular science written by scientists.

As you can tell, I LOVE this stuff.

posted by kristi at 6:41 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lotta good stuff here, thanks guys.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:02 PM on July 13, 2012

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