Want to know why we use fossil fuels to power our buildings and cars? How the US came to be the “leader of the free world”? How we transitioned from floating single-celled organisms to walking, talking humans?
Then you should read eight books, says Hayden Planetarium director, COSMOS narrator, StarTalk host, and author Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Each of the books on Tyson’s must-read list, which he first described during a Reddit Ask-Me-Anything in 2011, contain a powerful lesson about how the world as we know it came to be.
Here are Tyson’s eight selections, along with a one-liner he gave during his AMA on the importance of each book:
1. The Bible, “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, “to learn that the universe is a knowable place.”
3. On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin, “to learn that we have a kinship with all other life on Earth.”
4. Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift, “to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.”
5. The Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine, “to learn that the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.”
6. The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith, “to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.”
7. The Art of War, by Sun Tsu, “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”
8. The Prince, by Machiavelli, “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.”
Beyond these eight, Tyson has a few other must-reads on his list, he recently told The New York Times. These reads are for everyone from newborns to presidents.
To encourage a child’s interest in science, for example, he recommends On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier, which explains how the forces of the Earth work together to make this planet a perfect home for all of us.
“On the day you were born,” the book opens, “the Moon pulled on the ocean below, and, wave by wave, a rising tide washed the beaches clean for your footprints.”
And when he or she reaches middle or high school, books like One, Two, Three . . . Infinity by George Gamow and Mathematics and the Imagination by James Newman and Edward Kasner can help show him or her how the world works. Both of these reads, Tyson says, helped transform the fields of maths and science “into an intellectual playground.”
Adults, too, can benefit spectacularly from a good read. Every American president, says Tyson, should read Physics for Future Presidents, by Richard A. Muller. The book takes basic physics concepts and applies them to current issues from energy and climate change to terrorism.
But, he adds, “I’d like to believe that the president of the United States, the most powerful person in the world, has time to read more than one book,” Tyson tells the Times.
A good reminder for us all to get reading.
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