In his excellent 1980s TV series Cosmos, astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan extols on the magic of reading and writing:

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

When the Library of Congress acquired his papers in 2012, they digitized a handwritten list of “outside readings” Sagan planned to dig into whilst attending the University of Chicago in 1954. Divided into “in whole” and “in part” sections, his list touches not only on astronomy and cosmology, but covers language, religion, philosophy, sociology, morality and more.

Read on for Carl Sagan’s reading list, and complement with the booklists of Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The Berlitz Self-Teacher: German

The Bible (also rec’d by Jane GoodallMartin Luther King Jr.Maya Angelou & Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Scientific American

The Portable Greek Reader by W. H. Auden

An Introduction to Astronomy by Robert H. Baker

Who Speaks for Man? by Norman Cousins

But We Were Born Free by Elmer Davis

Quantitative Aspects of the Carcinogenic Radiations by Harold Thayer Davis

The Immoralist by André Gide (also rec’d by Susan Sontag)

Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther

The Observational Approach to Cosmology by Edwin Powell Hubble

The Autobiography of an Uneducated Man by Robert Maynard Hutchins (out of print)

Young Archimedes by Aldous Huxley

A History of Western Philosophy by W.T. Jones

In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Heinar Kipphardt

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay

An Outline of Abnormal Psychology by William McDougall

The Uses of the Past by Herbert J. Muller

Symposium by Plato

The Republic by Plato (also rec’d by Martin Luther King Jr.)

Timaeus by Plato

Star Science Fiction Stories by Frederik Pohl

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

(via The Library of Congress)

Categories: Scientists


Carl Sagan's Reading List

  1. I went on a trek through the universe. Sagan, thanks for your candlelight. It was cold and dark before the enlightenment.

    Towel was there.

  2. “The Autobiography of an Uneducated Man” is not an out-of-print book. It is actually the first chapter in Hutchins’ 1943 book “Education for Freedom”…which is out-of-print.

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