After listing out movies for science lovers and non-fiction books that are must read for tech enthusiasts, we are going to talk about some of the most influential and must-read biographies that you would like to go through. The tech-savvy and modern lifestyle that we are leading today is the result of years of exploration, research, and experimentation on the works contributed by some legendary personalities in our past. This blog will give you a peek into the lives of such scientists and engineers about whom you would want to read in detail through these immaculately researched, illustrated, and inspirational biographies.
So, let’s have a quick look at 10 biographies of famous personalities including engineers and physicists that would leave you inspired and enlightened.
1. Alan Turing: The Enigma
Author: Andrew Hodges
Published in: 1983
Goodreads Rating: 3.8/5
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This book is a biographical journey of Alan Turing, the greatest mathematician of his time. The book was even adapted in the form of a movie named ‘The Imitation Game’, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead actor.
Alan Turing is remembered as the British cryptologist who built a machine, named Enigma, to decipher Nazi Germany’s top-secret codes during the Second World War. However, much before that he had already defined the concept of the universal machine that underpins the computer revolution. In the year 1945, he had become a pioneer of electronic computer design.
His truest goal was to attain the scientific understanding of the mind for machine intelligence. He had far-sighted plans for the digital era and a vision for Artificial Intelligence at a time when nobody was really aware of the subject. He was a brilliant mathematician who made History with his work. However, his homosexuality led him towards humility and he was even regarded as a security risk. It is believed that he took his own life because of the injustice he went through.
2. Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton
Author: Richard S. Westfall
Published in: April 1983
Goodreads Ratings: 4.09/5
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This book by Professor Westfall covers a richly detailed biography of Isaac Newton encompassing his personal life as well as scientific career. A lot of biographies have been written on Newton till date but this one is the oldest and most detailed one with highest ratings by readers. It’s a well-rounded portrayal of Newton as the scientist, philosopher, theologian, and public figure. Although the book has covered all the aspects of Newton’s career, the focus has been laid on his scientific achievements.
A major portion of the book talks about his works regarding the development of calculus, his experiments that changed the direction of optics and his investigations in the celestial dynamics that ultimately led to the law of universal gravitation. With the details of his accomplishments, setbacks, and personality, this book doesn’t merely highlight the positive things but also gives an honest description of his flaws.
3. Tesla: Man out of Time
Author: Margaret Cheney
Published in: October 2001
Goodreads Ratings: 3.8/5
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Tesla: Man Out of Time narrates the life of the famous inventor Nikola Tesla, who was also a renowned electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist. His works in the field of alternating current (AC) and electricity supply system and other astonishing inventions played a big role in shaping up the world we live in today. Right from his childhood to his death, the book explores all the prominent incidents and contributions of Tesla encompassing his accomplishments, obsession, and eccentricities. The fact that Tesla was a genius with a unique personality makes the biography all the more interesting.
About Nikola Tesla:
Apart from being an engineer and a futurist, he was also considered to be a great physicist by many because of his contributions in the form of X-Ray, modulation, magnetic field theory, and so on. He was one of the greatest minds that the world witnessed in the late 19th and early 20th Century. He discovered the rotating magnetic field, which is the basis of most of the machines that presently use alternating current.
Moreover, he introduced the world to the basics of computers, robotics, and missile science. Setting aside his brilliance, he had rather unique traits like having an eidetic memory and an asocial behavior. He was even believed to have an OCD as he was quite particular about his clothing and other habits.
4. The Man who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell
Author: Basil Mahon
Published in: October 2004
Goodreads Ratings: 4.08/5
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This is the first biography of Maxwell who was one of the greatest scientists and a highly influential physicist who is still unknown to the masses. Unbound by conventions and expectations, he brought the most original scientific thinking to the world and led to the discoveries which shaped the twentieth century. Interestingly, unlike most of the scientists, he was totally admirable, thoughtful, caring and friendly.
The beauty of the biography comes from the fact that Basil has not restricted himself to defining the life of Maxwell; rather he has delivered comprehensive details of the theorems and equations that the latter worked on. Apart from the formulation of field equations for electromagnetism, he made a remarkable contribution to statistical mechanics and even practically invented vector calculus. Moreover, he was the first person to explain why there are different primary colors for pigment and light.
5. Rocketman: Astronaut Pete Conrad’s Incredible Ride to the Moon and Beyond
Author: Nancy Conrad, Howard A. Klausner, Buzz Aldrin
Published in: May 2005
Goodreads Rating: 4.06/5
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This book is a biography of Pete Conrad, an American naval officer and aviator, who became the third man to walk on the moon. After facing financial hardships and fighting with dyslexia, he succeeded to attain Navy scholarship to Princeton and became one of the most elite pilots in his country.
Even though he walked out from the selection process for Mercury Mission, he made a comeback and successfully flew two Gemini missions. He also walked on the moon as Commander of Apollo 12, commanded the first Skylab, and developed the first reusable commercial rocket-logging more time in space than all the original astronauts combined. It’s an informative yet candid take on America’s glorious ride to the moon through the eyes of Pete Conrad.
About Pete Conrad
Pete Conrad was an American naval officer and aviator, aeronautical engineer, test pilot, and NASA astronaut. He set an 8-day space endurance record on the Gemini 5 mission and commanded the Gemini 11 mission. He also commanded the Skylab 2 mission, where he repaired significant launch damage to the Skylab space station.
6. Einstein: His Life and Universe
Author: Walter Isaacson
Published in: April 2007
Goodreads Ratings: 4.07/5
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Einstein: His Life and Universe is an engrossing and definitive biography of Albert Einstein. The book shows how Einstein’s scientific imagination sprang from his rebellious personality. It describes how his mind worked and explores his journey from an impertinent patent clerk (who couldn’t get a doctorate) to the mind reader of the creator of cosmos and unraveled the mysteries of the universe.
He questioned the conventional wisdom and excelled at solving mysteries which others found mundane. His amazing mind gave us some of the most incredible scientific discoveries in history. The book has been researched meticulously researched with eleven pages covering the sources. Besides, it’s well-explained, beautifully written, and sends out a message that one has to be creative and think differently in order to be successful.
7. The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom
Author: Graham Farmelo
Published in: August 2009
Goodreads ratings: 4.08/5
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The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom discloses the life of the great theoretical physicist Paul Dirac. He was one of Einstein’s most admired colleagues and in 1933 became the world’s youngest theoretician ever to win the Nobel Award in Physics. The book tells about many facets of Dirac’s brilliance and an exciting era in scientific history.
Paul made fundamental contributions to the field of quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics and also formulated the Dirac equation. Besides, his prediction of antimatter proved to be one of the greatest victories in history of Physics.
He had an extraordinarily peculiar personality with least empathy for most of the people around him. He was eccentric, relentlessly lonely, direct, honest and completely obsessed with his work. Despite all these facts, he was a family man and was loved by his friends. Even Albert Einstein said this about him, “This balancing on the dizzying path between genius and madness is awful”.
8. Ghost in the Wires: My Adventure as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnick and William L. Simon
Author: Kevin D. Mitnick, William L. Simon, and Steve Wozniak
Published in: April 2012
Goodreads Rating: 3.94/5
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This book narrates the life story of Kevin Mitnick who is considered to be the most elusive computer break-in artists in history. He was able to access the computer networks at the world’s biggest companies like Sun Microsystems, Motorola, and Pacific Bell. Although it covers the events in the past when Windows 95 was not even released, yet there are no stale techniques in the book that might be considered as boring.
It’s an adventurous real life story of a hacker who knows how to manipulate almost anyone and fetch out the information that he needs. No matter how fast the authorities are, he is always ahead of them and manages to escape with the help of his wit and creativity. His hacking style and unbelievable skill set have brought a permanent change in the way companies and people protect their sensitive information.
Interestingly, the book has got mixed reviews as some of the readers think that Kevin is being arrogant and tries to gain sympathy for what he did; yet if you are technically inclined and have a deep interest in hacking, this book is a complete entertainment package revealing the story of ‘the most wanted hacker’ the world has ever seen.
9. Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science
Author: Lawrence M. Krauss
Published in: March 2011
Goodreads Ratings: 4.02/5
Image Courtesy: Arizona State University
Quantum Man is the biography of the renowned physicist Richard Feynman who changed the world’s perspective about Quantum Mechanics, the most confusing physical theories. Being a physicist himself, Lawrence focuses more on the Science than Feynman’s life which some readers might find baffling. The author has made sure that the book does complete intellectual justice to Feynman and appreciates quantum physics to the fullest.
However, the book doesn’t miss the intriguing anecdotes and insights which were often used by Feynman. The physicist revolutionized our understanding of nature and most of his work is responsible for driving the modern Physics that we study today. He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, was a part of the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster and even introduced the concept of nanotechnology. He broke all the rules to tame a theory which not only fueled his own success but also fascinated millions of people.
10. Elon Musk: Tesla, Space X, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
Author: Ashlee Vance
Published in: May 2015
Goodreads Ratings: 4.23/5
Image Courtesy: talkingpointz
Undoubtedly, Elon Musk is one of those geniuses who inspire the whole generation of the modern world to innovate and create unique things out of technology. That is why not only Science lovers but the engineers from all over the world are fascinated by his work. This biography would give you a perfect day of insightful reading about Musk’s exemplary contributions in the form of Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and SolarCity.
The book captures Musk’s whole journey from being a geeky child to being bullied at school, and from setting up his first startup to buying Tesla and turning it into one of the most expensive brands in the market at the present date. Apart from being a successful entrepreneur who doesn’t think twice before taking risks, he is also an inspiring innovator with a brilliant mind like some of the visionary and legendary personalities like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs. The narration is full of appreciation clearly showing that Ashlee is a big fan of Musk.
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