Through his best-selling books and wildly popular Making Sense podcast, philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris explores some of humanity’s deepest, most controversial questions. Delving into topics of religion, rationality, ethics, free will, spirituality, self-transcendence and psychedelics, Harris has become one of America’s most popular public intellectuals – a longtime proponent of meditation and leading voice in the “New Atheism” movement.

In a recommended reading piece for Brain Pickings, Harris provided “a stimulating selection of twelve books to enrich any human life.” From morality and philosophy of mind to social discomfort and artificial intelligence, find his thought-provoking picks below. Complement with the reading lists of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Elon Musk and Joe Rogan.


The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (also rec’d by Bruce Springsteen)

“Bertrand Russell … is one of the great philosophers of his time… a remarkably clear thinker and writer… a great example of how English should be written and just a great voice to have in your head.” -SH

Reasons and Persons by Derek Parfit

“Brilliant and written as though by an alien intelligence. A deeply strange book filled with thought experiments that bend your intuitions left and right. A truly strange and unique document, and incredibly insightful about morality and questions of identity.” -SH

The Last Word by Thomas Nagel

“I’m a big fan of Thomas Nagel’s earlier work… He is a very fine writer — a very clear writer — and just as a style of communication … he’s worth going to school on.” -SH

The Holy Qur’an

“Everyone should read the Holy Qur’an… Read it — it’s much shorter than the Bible; you can read it in a weekend, and you’ll be informed about the central doctrines of Islam in a way that you may not be, and it’s good to be informed, given how much influence these ideas have currently in our world.” -SH

Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom (also rec’d by Elon Musk)

“The clearest book I’ve come across that makes the case that the so-called ‘control problem’ — the problem of building human-level and beyond artificial intelligence that we can control, that we can know in advance will converge with our interests — is a truly difficult and important task, because we will end up building this stuff by happenstance if we simply keep going in the direction we’re headed. Unless we can solve this problem in advance and have good reason to believe that the machines we are building are benign and their behavior predictable — even when they exceed us in intelligence a thousand-, a million-, or a billion-fold — this is going to be a catastrophic intrusion into our lives that we may not survive.” -SH

Humiliation: And Other Essays on Honor, Social Discomfort, and Violence by William Ian Miller

The Flight of the Garuda: The Dzogchen Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism by Keith Dowman

I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (also rec’d by St. Vincent)

The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm

Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak by Jean Hatzfeld

(via Brain Pickings)

Categories: Scientists Writers

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