HALF a century ago, biologist Rachel Carson sent shock waves through US society. By the time her book Silent Spring hit the shelves on 27 September 1962, it had already sparked fierce debate. In the weeks before publication, President John F. Kennedy had to field questions about the widespread use of pesticides, an issue he noted had become a central scientific concern - thanks to "Miss Carson's book".

As well as bringing scientific ideas to a broader audience, piquing fascination and providing entertainment, popular science writing helps further scientific and social discussion. Carson's book divided opinion, and drove a public conversation that shaped policy and paved the way for the environmental movement.

There is a wealth of books with similarly powerful legacies - not written for academic circles, but for anyone curious enough to crack the spine. With the help of eminent scientists and writers we made a shortlist of 25 such popular science books. With close to 4000 votes cast, you helped us whittle it down to the top 10 that helped changed the world.

Most influential, according to New Scientist readers, is Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. It marked the foundation of evolutionary biology, but it wasn't just for scientists. From old ladies to philosophers, in the words of Thomas Henry Huxley at the time, "everybody has read Mr Darwin's book".

On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)

Penguin Classics
£9.99/$13
Darwin's hugely influential book, which introduced what Richard Dawkins dubbed "arguably the most important idea ever", was selected by more than 90 per cent of voters.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1988)

Bantam
£8.99/$18
Perhaps the world's best known book on cosmology - by its best known physicist - this modern classic tackles the big questions of the universe.

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976)

Oxford University Press
£8.99/$19.95