Book nostalgia: The How and Why Wonder Books

In the years after the USSR launched Sputnik (on 4 October 1957), there was a panic in the USA about what we now call STEM education. Part of the subsequent attempt to “catch up with the Russians” involved some good new educational books. Among these were the 1960s How and Why Wonder Books, which I was brought up on. I still feel nostalgic when I see the covers.

Surprisingly advanced concepts (e.g. nuclear binding energy) were covered, and the books were written extremely well. In hindsight, some of the topics are rather frightening. For example, one of the rockets described was the “Honest John,” a tactical battlefield missile intended to hit targets 50 km away… with a nuclear warhead. Other topics, on the other hand, are almost laughable, like the descriptions of cutting-edge 1960s computers. But most of the content was up-to-date (for its time), and guaranteed to get children interested in science and engineering.

Hats off to the people who planned the series (at the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, apparently), to writers like Donald Barr, and to illustrators like Walter Ferguson. Some of the wonderful illustrations from the books are shown below (from Chemistry and Oceanography). For more about the series, see



One thought on “Book nostalgia: The How and Why Wonder Books

  1. Pingback: Making America great again? | Scientific Gems

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