In December of 2011, Neil deGrasse Tyson — champion of science, celebrator of the cosmic perspective, master of the soundbite — participated in Reddit’s Ask Me Anything series of public questions and answers.
One reader posed the following question: “Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on the planet?” Adding to history’s notable reading lists — including those by Leo Tolstoy, Alan Turing, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Stewart Brand, and Carl Sagan — Tyson offers the following 8 essentials, each followed by a short, and sometimes wry, statement about “how the book’s content influenced the behavior of people who shaped the western world”:
The Bible (public library; free ebook), to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.
The System of the World (public library; free ebook) by Isaac Newton, to learn that the universe is a knowable place.
On the Origin of Species (public library; free ebook) by Charles Darwin, to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.
Gulliver’s Travels (public library; free ebook) by Jonathan Swift, to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.
The Age of Reason (public library; free ebook) by Thomas Paine, to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.
The Wealth of Nations (public library) by Adam Smith, to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.
The Art of War (public library) by Sun Tzu, to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.
The Prince (public library; free ebook) 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.
“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.”
Reference: Brain Pickings