Novare Science Reading Lists
By John D. Mays and Jeffrey Mays
People often think of science as a cold, soulless endeavor. And too often it is studied in the same way. One idea to bring life and zest back to the study of the world is to add some supplemental reading. By listening to beautiful and enthusiastic voices of those who love nature, we can rekindle a student’s natural fascination with the world. And we follow in the steps of the greatest scientists of the past who were always lovers of literature, poetry, and drama.
How might you incorporate supplemental reading into teaching science? One idea is to take a few days mid-year, set aside the textbook, and just focus on a piece of writing. Copenhagen is a play about Werner Heisenberg and Neils Bohr, written by Michael Frayn with only 3 parts that can be read out loud with a small group. Teachers could assign an excerpt from a book like Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, or a selection of poems, to augment an ordinary homework assignment. The instructor can simply read aloud for the class. In the summertime, create a summer reading list with titles on subjects of special interest. Deep dive into the cutting edge of “gut flora” with Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes or get a book of poetry by Richard Wilbur or Billy Collins. Then discuss how these writings affect the way we study the world.
Below are reading lists to accompany each Novare Science textbook, compiled and described by Novare founder and author John D. Mays.
Novare Physical Science, by John D. Mays (Novare Science, 2013, 2015, 2017)
I call this book my manifesto because it summarizes my philosophy of teaching and explains the mastery-based teaching model I designed. All our texts are designed to support mastery-based teaching—one of the hallmarks of our curriculum. Since Novare Physical Science is where our curriculum begins, I always urge all teachers to read Teaching Science before they start their course!
Jack Collins is a beloved professor at Covenant Seminary who has written a number of books about the relationship between Christian belief and scientific claims. This important book is one of the best general treatments out there and addresses many different issues. For Christians who want to understand this crucial area, one so often the source of conflict, this book is a must.
This fun little book is designed for young readers but is fascinating for adults, too. Although we all know that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, most people are completely unaware of the fierce competition between the proponents of DC (Edison) and AC (businessman George Westinghouse and inventor Nikola Tesla) for the future of electricity. Edison got an early lead, but Westinghouse won the battle. It’s a great story.
This book, and the story in it, is discussed at the end of Chapter 4 in Novare Physical Science. This brief autobiography describes Antony Flew’s late-in-life philosophical journey from atheism to belief in God.
Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, by Kevin Nelstead (Novare Science, 2016 and 2020)
This well-known children’s book is designed for readers a bit younger than 8th grade, but it is so good that I recommend it as an auxiliary reading for Earth Science students. Older students will be able to understand Eratosthenes’ method quite easily.
God’s Planet, Owen Gingerich
I love this little book. Gingerich looks at three key developments in the history of science: the Copernican revolution, the origin of evolutionary theory with Darwin, and the discovery of fine-tuning in the sun by astronomer Fred Hoyle. Gingerich brings a deeply Christian and thoughtful perspective to the issue of the relationship between scientific discoveries and Christian belief. This is a good book for adult instructors and earth science students to read together and discuss.
Seven Days that Divide the World, John Lennox
I know that the age-of-the-earth issue is still a hot one among American evangelicals. John Lennox is a committed Christian and professor of mathematics at Oxford University. In this short and accessible treatment, he shows that Christians need not fear that an old-earth perspective conflicts with the Bible. I strongly recommend this book for anyone concerned about the age-of-earth issue.
The Bible, Rocks and Time, Davis Young & Ralph Stearly
This is a major treatment of the evidence supporting old-earth theory. The authors were both geology professors at Calvin College, and both were committed Christians. I found this book to be of immense value when studying the age-of-earth issue for myself years ago. It’s a long book, and takes a while to get through, but it is worth the effort.
Longitude, Dava Sobel
Written in a personal and engaging style, this delightful little book tells the story of how the problem of sailors not knowing their longitude at sea was solved by John Harrison’s invention of the chronometer—a clock that kept time well enough that sailors could use it at sea to determine where they were. This is an excellent companion to the study of earth science.
Introductory Physics by John D. Mays (Novare Science, 2013, 2017, 2019) and Accelerated Studies in Physics and Chemistry by John D. Mays (Novare Science, 2012, 2018)
This is the best book I have ever encountered for understanding the story of Galileo’s trial, a topic discussed at length in Chapter 2 of Intro Physics and ASPC. Reading it will be rewarding for every teacher who discusses this subject in class. The book is erudite and accessible and great fun all in one.
War of the Currents: Thomas Edison Vs Nikola Tesla, Stephanie Sammartino McPherson
This fun little book is designed for young readers but is fascinating for adults, too. Although we all know that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, most people are completely unaware of the fierce competition between the proponents of DC (Edison) and AC (businessman George Westinghouse and inventor Nikola Tesla) for the future of electricity. Edison got an early lead, but Westinghouse won the battle. It’s a great story. The War of Currents is mentioned on pages 266 and 285 in Introductory Physics, and on pages 219 and 239 in ASPC.
This is one of my favorite reads regarding the history of science. Included among the many scientists Holmes discusses are many who are mentioned in both Intro Physics and ASPC—Davy, Herschel, Priestley, Lavoisier, Faraday, Galileo. Also brought into the tale are poets such as Keats, Shelly, Blake, and Coleridge. This is a pretty long book, but an excellent and expansive read.
Johannes Kepler is one of the most significant figures in the history of science. This is a terrific biography that I commend to anyone teaching either Intro Physics or ASPC. Being familiar with Kepler’s story will add valuable depth when covering Chapter 2 in either text.
John Polkinghorne is one of the heroes in the faith-science debate. He is a physicist (and past president of Queens’ College, Cambridge), Anglican priest, and theologian. This short book is one of my favorites of all books on the relationship between science and Christian faith. It would be a most valuable read to enjoy with students.
General Biology, by Heather Ayala and Katie Rogstad (Novare Science, 2020)
Collins is a committed Christian, former Director of the Human Genome Project, present Director of NIH. This is his book outlining the DNA evidence supporting evolutionary theory.
In the first part, Venema adds to what Collins wrote in the Language of God. In the second part, McKnight talks about how we go about reading Genesis in light of what science is telling us.
This interesting read pushes back the other way, relative to the first two books on this list.
This is a fascinating exploration of what we know after decades of contemporary brain research and 70 years of seeking a scientific theory to explain the origin of life (and so far, not finding one).
Two committed Christian professors of science put forward the various theories of how Christianity relates to theories about human origins.
This is the book that started the Intelligent Design debate back in the 1990s, and still relevant.
In this philosophical treatment, for those who want to lean that direction, Plantinga demonstrates why the issue is not about whether evolution happened or not, since God can create any way he chooses, but is about atheism/naturalism vs our belief that there is a God and there is more to creation than just the material.
Haskell spent a year visiting the same square meter every day in a forest in Tennessee. His descriptions and discoveries are mind blowing. NB: He does come from an evolutionary point of view and mentions it a few times.
This is the crazy story of Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell line, the first line of cells that could be kept in a lab that would continuously replicate without ever dying, raising important ethical questions about how Ms. Lacks’ cells were taken and used. This book is referenced on page 70 in the text.
A Pulitzer Prize winner, this book is another mind blower, as Dillard describes her year or so hanging out at Pilgrim Creek and watching what goes on there.
“The MAY FLY lives so short a time it never eats.” You get the idea. I couldn’t put this book down because I was learning so many unbelievable details about insects we have known about all our lives but have no real idea about. The insect world is beyond bizarre. This 1962 treatment is recommended by Annie Dillard.
General Chemistry, by John D. Mays (Novare Science, 2014, 2016) and Chemistry for Accelerated Students, by John D. Mays (2014, 2018)
Delightful and fascinating stories about the discoveries of the elements, researched and told by the excellent science journalist Sam Kean.
Another fascinating read, this time about key molecules such as caffeine, piperine (pepper), phenol, and the nitro compounds that have had a significant impact on world history.
The best history of modern chemistry out there, told through the lives of the chemists.
This short classic is a sort of autobiography of WWII concentration camp survivor and industrial chemist Primo Levi. Each episode of his career is summarized by an element central to the work he was doing at the time.
A most enjoyable read. Reaches back further into the past than Coffey’s book, but less detailed on the crucial 20th-century developments.
A sort of informal chemistry text, focusing on explaining common substances and reactions found all around us. Includes a number of simple chemistry demonstrations teachers will find useful. A fun, easy read.
A detailed history of the discovery and development of the periodic table. Focuses on the significance of its structure for our understanding of physics and chemistry. A good read for those who want to go deep.
Interesting intersections between science and history don’t get much better. Most enjoyable reading.
Scerri chooses seven particular elements for this historical account. For each he describes the history of discovery and the impact the element had of the development of 20th-century chemistry and history.
Physics: Modeling Nature, by John D. Mays (Novare Science, 2015)
When teaching my senior physics class each year, we read through the first 10 of this terrific book’s 11 chapters. The day before each of our chapter exams we had “Gribbin Day,” when we would devote the entire class to a Harkness discussion of the chapter. This book is a very accessible and popular treatment of the weird world of quantum physics and is great fun to read. My students loved it and eagerly awaited Gribbin Day every three weeks or so.
After reading Gribbin each year in my senior physics class, we would finish off the year by reading and discussing this play, which probes into the close relationship between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg and the crisis that ensued when Heisenberg became head of the Nazi atomic bomb development effort, followed by the occupation of Denmark by Germany. What a great play this is! I loved reading it every year. Following the play in the book is a lengthy treatment of the historical research Frayn did when writing the play. This section is as fascinating as the play itself. I guarantee you will learn many things about WWII history that you have never heard before!
This is a popular treatment of the quantum understanding of light and matter (quantum electrodynamics) by a Nobel-Prize winning physicist. Feynman is also a really fun writer because of his kooky personality, his unbelievably genius mind, and his absolute love for understanding physics.
John Polkinghorne is one of the heroes in the faith-science debate. He is a physicist (and past president of Queens’ College, Cambridge), Anglican priest, and theologian. Like, Belief in God in an Age of Science, this is one of my favorite books on the relationship between science and Christian faith. It would be a most valuable read to enjoy with students.
Despite its title, this engaging book isn’t really so much about Eastern mysticism as it is a fascinating treatment of the weird world of quantum physics and its implications for our understanding of the world. Anyone who reads Gribbin (see above) and wants more can turn here next.
This massive history is comprehensive and is a true work of literature. What makes it so relevant here is that Rhodes goes through not only the history but the science and the scientists starting back at the beginning of modern physics and going through all the key developments. For those who like science history, this is a goldmine. Also included is a detailed account of the work at Los Alamos to design and build functional, working bombs, which is utterly fascinating to anyone with an engineering turn of mind. The book has been widely praised, and deservedly so.