When celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson participated in Reddit’s Ask Me Anything series in 2011, one commenter posed the question: “Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on planet?”

In response, Tyson offered an essential reading list spanning the Bible, Darwin, and Machiavelli, covering the history of the world and how people interact with it, and each other. Along with concise, sometimes wry, commentary on each title, Tyson wrote: “If you read all of [these] works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”

Several years later, he shared a similar list with The Week, which included further work that celebrates science and digs into the truths of how we got here. Read on for Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book recommendations, and complement with his Masterclass on scientific thinking.

The Bible (also rec’d by Carl SaganJane GoodallMartin Luther King Jr. & Maya Angelou)

“To learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.” -NdT

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

“A reminder that space is dangerous — not only because of what we know can kill us, but especially because of all that we have yet to learn can kill us.” -NdT

On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (also rec’d by David Attenborough)

“To learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.” -NdT

The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design by Richard Dawkins

“Dawkins is a longtime friend, and a tireless defender of the real story of how we all got here. This 1986 book is a reminder that the laws of evolution and natural selection, given billions of years, have no trouble generating stupefying complexity among life-forms on Earth.” -NdT

Sidereus Nuncius, or The Sidereal Messenger by Galileo Galilei

“This is Galileo’s 1610 report on what he saw when he first looked through a telescope — and a reminder that the universe brims with undiscovered truths that lie in plain sight before us.” -NdT

One Two Three…Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science by George Gamow

“I have aspired to write a book as influential to others as this book was to me. I read it in ninth grade, and it did what Gamow, a nuclear physicist, designed it to do: It transformed the physics of the universe into an intellectual playground of delight. From then on, studying to become a scientist was no longer a task but a celebration.” -NdT

The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould

“A reminder of what can happen when what passes as science is conducted in a landscape of social, political, and cultural bias. Gould was a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, and in his seminal 1981 book he provided a history of biological determinism — the idea that the social and economic standing of different groups of people is rooted in hereditary, inborn distinctions — and then marshaled the evidence to definitively refute it.” -NdT

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (also rec’d by Martin Luther King Jr.)

“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.” -NdT

The System of the World by Isaac Newton

“To learn that the universe is a knowable place.” -NdT

The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine

“To learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.” -NdT

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

“To learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.” -NdT

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

“To learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.” -NdT

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

“To learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.” -NdT

(via Reddit & The Week)

Categories: Scientists

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