someone asked in the comments a while back if i could recommend some popular science books that are good for enthusiasts of many ages and backgrounds! i will only recommend books from the collection i've read, but i welcome people to leave suggestions and short reviews in the comments!
A Brief History of Time
by Stephen Hawking
i read this book soon after i started studying physics, so i didnt have a lot of technical background at the time. i thoroughly enjoyed most of the book, but the last part gets a bit more complex. its ok if you dont understand the last few chapters of most of these books.... the point is to get basic introductions, learn the lingo, and see how much deeper your understanding goes than it ever has before. if you make it all the way to the end feeling like you really get everything - then congratulations!!!
Black Holes and Time Warps
by Kip S. Thorne
i've gushed about this book before, but still completely recommend it for the sci-fi-story introduction and clear description of time, space, spacetime, and relativity on attainable levels.
Surely you are Joking, Mr Feynman
by Richard Feynman
feynman was an entertaining genius who enjoyed starting serious shenanigans wherever he went! in this book he shares some very interesting and often hilarious adventures that occurred as his curiosities about the way things worked got him into physics, and into trouble (like when he kept figuring out how to break the high security locks at los alamos scientific laboratory, for example)! interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking, and informative on several topics.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan
sagan and druyan remind us how important it is to investigate problems based on evidence and think critically about issues, as they dissect pseudoscientific fantasies that seem to persist in the public's mind (silly oprah); alien abduction, channeling past lives, communal hallucinations, faith healing, etc...
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
by Edwin Abbott Abbott (yes, thats abbott-squared)
this little gem of scientific (and mathematical) fiction was brilliantly written in 1884!!! it's short, easy to read, includes adorable illustrations by the author and describes "the journeys of A. Square, a resident of Flatland, and his adventures in Spaceland (three dimensions), Lineland (one dimension) and Pointland (no dimensions). A. Square also entertains thoughts of visiting a land of four dimensions; a revolutionary idea for which he is banished from Spaceland."
The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe
by Steven Weinberg
i took a graduate course in cosmology from steven weinberg at the university of texas. i'm happy for the experience, eventhough it was an awful class! he should stick to science and writing about science, because he's much much better at those things than he is at teaching! regardless, this book is a good read about the modern day view of the very very beginning of our universe... it might be completely wrong, but its a relatively successful working theory, and the short book is a good read!
(UPDATE: since i made this list i read and enjoyed...)
How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
by Mike Brown
i really enjoyed this short, cute book. mike tells his first-hand story of how he realized pluto should lose its status as an official planet. through this scientific tale, he shares the excitement of how astronomy, and science in general, is actually done.
there are also several suggestions at cosmic variance for mathematics reading for high school students!
alan boyle at msnbc shares his recommendations for all ages.
and if youre entirely too impatient to go find a book to read, here's a great online general relativity course by stanford professor lenny susskind. you probably need several undergrad math and physics courses to fully keep up, but he's a quality lecturer and its worth a little watch i think!
enjoy and please share your recommendations!