In the 1980 and 90's I thought it was interesting that folks would go out and buy Steven Weinberg's book "The First Three Minutes" and Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time". Science books that it seemed like folks wanted. I have no idea how many of them were read or how many were put on the coffee table to show off. Coffee table books they were called to show visitors that the home owners were up to date with current trends. Here are examples of Science books becoming best sellers. Which is great for a variety of reasons. People seemed to be genuinely interested in Science. Carl Sagan "Cosmos" show maybe helped with that (maybe the new "Cosmos" show can help to get folks excited about Science again). I remember in high school it was hard to find good books popularizing science. Books describing what was happening in the frontiers of science just didn't seem so prevalent. Maybe I just wasn't aware of them living in the country in Northern Idaho. Now there are lots of book out describing research in science. Just look how many books came out about the Higgs particle. This is great in that it helps educate folks as to what is going on in science and hopefully will show kids how exciting science is and motivate some to pursue careers in Science. It also gives the authors some needed cash since many of the authors are academics.
The new coffee table book is Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty First Century". A book about income inequality . As everyone knows this is a big current issue and will be for years to come. Piketty's book will be the book to have on your coffee table. Economist Paul Krugman's views on this book are here. Im going to guess that most folks won't read Piketty's book since it is around 700 pages with equations and graphs, so I'm told. I haven't read it. Hopefully most will skim through it and some will read it. I thought about ordering it when I first heard about it but I already have enough unread books and I'm not sure I want to read a 700 page economics tome.
I wonder when the next popular physics book will be on the coffee table and what will be its topic.