Neil deGrasse Tyson: 8 books every intelligent person should read

I heart books – how they smell: a musty mix of mold and dust, leather, ink. Next to sleep, they are the easiest way to lose track of time and location. I’ve definitely missed metro stops with my nose in a book and stayed up all night to read “just one more chapter.” But I’m not opposed to e-books; I read the entire Hunger Games trilogy on my Android.

Books can be powerful and life-altering; they can also be plain crap or lighthearted fluff. For example, I enjoy Dirk Pitt novels and admit to reading the Twighlight series — neither of which will ever win a Pulitzer. In the spirit of appreciating book recommendations from friends, I thought I’d pass this list of suggestions along.

A user posed the question to Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on the planet?” Below, you will find the book list offered up by the astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium, and popularizer of science. Where possible, they have included links to free versions of the books.

“The one-line comment after each book is not a review but a statement about how the book’s content influenced the behavior of people who shaped the western world.  So, for example, it does no good to say what the Bible “really” meant, if its actual influence on human behavior is something else.” -NDTyson

1.) The Bible (eBook) – “to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”

2.) The System of the World by Isaac Newton (eBook) – “to learn that the universe is a knowable place.”

3.) On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.”

4.) Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.”

5.) The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.”

6.) The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.”

7.) The Art of War by Sun Tsu (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”

8.) The Prince by Machiavelli (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it.”

Tyson concludes by saying: “If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”

If you’d like to read some of what Neil deGrasse Tyson has written, you’ve got options. He’s also on Twitter.

This piece is courtesy of Open Culture.

2 thoughts on “Neil deGrasse Tyson: 8 books every intelligent person should read

  1. I will add another: Frances A. Yates’ The Art of Memory. Although, having lived through the self-help generation of publishing, I can lament that the title does now perhaps do this remarkable volume a considerable disservice. (This book came before the modern imperative of carrying an elaborative subtitle.) Nevertheless, it’s about a very specific history that lasted through an array of incarnations for a very impressive length of time and touched just about every aspect of life in the Western world, if not globally. Then we invented computers and the amnesia set in. Anyway, the book is still available to those curious enough (“One of Modern Library’s 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century”). It’s all invaluable, but the first third is much more what one might call accessible. The rest is esoteric as hell, if not Dantesque (Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!). One could do worse than Ms. Yates for a guide. (Especially amongst all those men heralded by NdGT.)

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