by Bill Bryson (2003)
Bryson's unassuming style make this a joy to read - welcoming, continually interesting, and with warm and often laugh-out-loud humour firmly woven through almost every paragraph.
The book's only failing is perhaps in attempting to do too much - in less capable hands, its ambitious remit would cause it to sprawl far beyond the extent of this middling-sized tome. But Bryson deftly manages to give an overview of not just the most prominent fields in science, but their history, and most delightfully, the eccentricities of their practitioners to boot. In performing such a feat he is obliged to omit a great deal, and is only able to skim nuggets of trivia from the surface of each topic. However, his sure, deliberate style, like an educational Sunday afternoon sightseeing stroll, guides us deftly to appreciate each notable landmark upon the way, and then he unobtrusively ushers us onward, to the next worthy vista.
Heartily recommended, for its perspective on the human background to how we know what we know, and the sheer jolliness with which it is presented.