The World Without Us (2007) outlines the fictional scenario where, all of a sudden, the whole of mankind disappears. With humanity missing, the process by which nature claims back what was once hers is described. Although most of the footprints left by humanity would be gone after a relatively short period, some would remain. Among these remnants would be some of the many toxic substances released by mankind, meaning that, even after we’ve gone, the damaging effects of human civilization would linger.
In Man, the State and War, Kenneth Waltz develops a groundbreaking analysis of the nature and causes of war, offering readers a wide overview of the major political theories of war from the perspective of political philosophers, psychologists and anthropologists.
The Better Angels of Our Nature (2012) takes a close look at the history of violence in human society, explaining both our motivations to use violence on certain occasions and the factors that increasingly restrain us from using it – and how these factors have resulted in massive reductions in violence.
Originally published in 1946, Man’s Search for Meaning details the harrowing experiences of author and psychologist Viktor Frankl during his internment in Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. It offers insights into how human beings can survive unsurvivable situations, come to terms with trauma, and ultimately find meaning.
I Am Malala chronicles the fascinating life of the young Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai. From humble beginnings in a rural village in Pakistan to speaking in front of the United Nations, Malala’s moving autobiography chronicles the unbelievable transformation of a girl who stood up to the Taliban and became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Rational Ritual (2001) offers a profound, game theory-based analysis of the role that rituals, ceremonies and media events play in society. Throughout the ages, these rites have been used to create “common knowledge” that allows people to solve problems such as which ruler to obey and which products to buy. Essential reading for budding Robespierres or Steve Jobses alike.
SuperFreakonomics (2009) explains why thinking like an economist can help us understand our modern world. These blinks illustrate key economic principles and the importance of collecting data with colorful stories from human history, and offers surprising solutions for the global problems that we face today.
Driven (2002) is about the four innate urges that determine our behavior: the drive to defend, the drive to acquire, the drive to bond and the drive to learn. It outlines the reasons these traits arose in humans specifically, what they mean for us in the modern world and how we can use our knowledge of them to our benefit.
Orientalism (1978) shines a light on the often unquestioned assumptions about Eastern civilizations that are persistently prevalent in the West. By unearthing and analyzing the West’s biases, Edward Said aims to undermine Orientalism’s influence on how the West perceives and interacts with the East.
The Muqaddimah (fourteenth century, first English edition 1958), a classic text on the Islamic history of the world, focuses on the rise and fall of civilizations. It offers a unique glimpse into the world of the fourteenth-century Arab Muslim, and is regarded as a foundational text in several academic disciplines.
Energy (2006) offers insights into one of the most elusive concepts in the spectrum of human thought: energy. By understanding what energy is, how it has helped us get where we are today, and what dangers our reliance on certain forms of energy poses, we will be better equipped to handle the challenges faced by modern civilization.
Sapiens (2015) traces the evolution of our species – from the rise of our most ancient ancestors to our current place in the modern, technological age. How have we, a species of hairless, tailless ape, managed to completely dominate the entire planet? These blinks show you the developments and trends that have allowed Homo sapiens to rise to the top.
Nothing to Envy (2010) presents fascinating first-hand anecdotes from North Korean defectors, giving intimate insights into the lives of North Koreans under the rule of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un. The thousands of refugees who arrive in South Korea each year bring with them stories of famine, repression and an isolated nation that has fallen out of touch with the developed world.
China's Second Continent (2014) is about the mass wave of Chinese migrants who have relocated to Africa in the last few decades. These blinks trace the origins of this migration and outline the profound impact it has on both regions, Chinese-African relations and the world at large.
The Botany of Desire (2001) explores the complex and fascinating relationship between humans and plants. In these blinks, we’ll see how plants manipulate humans by taking advantage of our four basic desires for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control, and how, in turn, we help plants reproduce and even grow stronger.
It’s easy to assume that our daily rituals are merely recent traditions that have taken shape in recent generations. In reality, a surprising amount of basic habits can be traced all the way back to the Stone Age. Greg Jenner’s A Million Years In A Day (2015) depicts a typical modern Sunday, from brushing one’s teeth to reading the newspaper, and reveals the long and hefty history behind our everyday lives.
In Southern Theory (2007), sociologist Raewyn Connell investigates the emergence of the social sciences in the context of Western imperialism. She explains how sociological knowledge and theory was and is primarily produced from the perspective of the colonizers, and not the colonized.
The Great Escape (2013) clearly explains that humanity is doing better than ever before. But not everyone has benefited from the technological and political developments that have made our prosperity possible. By examining both historical and modern inequality, this book offers solid advice on how to close the gap.
The Big Necessity (2008) takes a detailed look at the issues surrounding human excrement. Most people would rather ignore these issues – but turning a deaf ear is precisely what’s led to the sanitation crises plaguing the world today. Sanitation is too important to dismiss; a lack of it is causing thousands of needless deaths worldwide. Find out what can be done to help in these blinks.
The Global Code (2015) is about a recent worldwide phenomenon: a global unconsciousness, or code, that contains a new system of values, beliefs and principles. This code is formed and shared by the Global Tribe, a highly mobile and cross-cultural group of people who are setting trends, shaking up the old status quo and becoming the target demographic for global luxury brands.
The Age of Empathy (2009) debunks popular theories which suggest that human nature is inherently selfish, cut-throat and prone to violence. Evidence provided by biology, history and science makes clear that cooperation, peace and empathy are qualities that are as natural and innate to us as our less desirable traits.
Beyond Culture (1976) explores how people across cultures display such diverse patterns of behavior, from resolving conflict to perceiving the passage of time. These blinks highlight the contrasts among cultures, showing us why we need to look beyond our culture to better understand other people.
Age of Anger (2017) examines the world and the upheaval it’s undergoing. These blinks look back to earlier societies and dissect the origins of our current travails. They also pay close attention to the philosophical teachings of the Enlightenment, which still influence Western thought today.
In The Almost Nearly Perfect People (2014), Danish resident Michael Booth takes us on a journey through the continent (and beyond) in an attempt to deconstruct and understand the popular belief that Scandinavia is some sort of cultural utopia – albeit a very cold one. Since the turn of the century, the influence and popularity of Scandinavian culture has cropped up almost everywhere, from books and TV to IKEA and Spotify.
Origin Story (2018) tells the story of our universe, from the Big Bang to the present day. It traces how the right conditions have allowed the development of forms, organisms and ultimately societies of incredible complexity. From the emergence of single-celled organisms to the development of agriculture, it tells the epic story of our origins.
Tribe (2016) scans the historical horizon and plumbs psychological depths to ask what it takes for us to feel at home in the world. Drawing on a wealth of evidence from multiple disciplines, author Sebastian Junger has an unsettling answer: it’s often in the midst of chaos and war that we develop our deepest sense of belonging. From the Blitz to American soldiers serving in Afghanistan, extreme danger welds groups together and highlights the sense of community so sorely missing in everyday life.
Discipline & Punish (1975) is a celebrated work of renowned French philosopher and sociologist Michel Foucault. Foucault studies the history of forms of power, punishment, discipline and surveillance from the French Ancien Régime through to more modern times, seeing it as a reflection of a changing society.
In The Third Chimpanzee (1991), Jared Diamond explores the evolution of Homo sapiens, which started out like any other animal and gradually became a unique creature capable of producing speech, making art and inventing technology. The book reveals some extraordinary insights about the nature of human beings.
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived (2016) tells the story of humanity through genetics. These blinks explain how humans evolved, the role that genes played – and continue to play – in our development, and the ways in which our genetic past can shine a light on the present.
Madness and Civilization (1961) explores the bumpy road taken by European society in learning how to understand and treat mental illness. Famed philosopher and critic Michel Foucault offers insight into civilization’s troubled history of treating the mentally ill as social outcasts, wild animals and misbehaving children.
Drinking Water (2012) looks at our relationship with potable water. Weaving through history to the present day, the book reveals interesting and sometimes shocking facts about drinking water and our thirst-quenching habits.
Today, there is an increasing tendency for groups of people to form alliances based on shared traits, like gender, religion or sexual orientation; this is known as identity politics. But while we should be proud of our identities, they can also divide us. In Identity (2019), Francis Fukuyama charts the evolution of one of modern society’s most divisive topics, explains the problems it raises, and suggests what can be done to fix this situation.
Who Can You Trust (2017) analyzes the past, present and future of trust. Rachel Botsman addresses the most pressing questions of our networked age, asking why it is that we now trust complete strangers with the most intimate aspects of our lives. She also explores how new technologies like blockchains will continue to revolutionize our relationship with others.
Textiles are woven into every part of human history. Our continual reinvention of cloth is a testament to the irrepressibility of human ingenuity. The Golden Thread (2018) surveys the role of fabrics in numerous epochs and cultures, making it clear that fabric has always been more than simply clothing – it is an ever-evolving vehicle for human ingenuity and achievement.
Crowds and Power (1960) is a troubling, prophetic and erudite analysis of human groups and their interaction with power. Written by Nobel laureate Elias Canetti, it asks why humans who prize individuality seek out membership in crowds and how rulers exploit that desire. This study is as wide-ranging in the sources it draws upon as it is thought-provoking in the conclusions it reaches.
The Human Swarm (2019) is a groundbreaking exploration of human society, from its origins to the huge civilizations found on the planet today. Drawing on psychology, anthropology and biology, it shows how humans have managed to create and maintain societies of a size and complexity unrivaled in the animal kingdom.
The Moral Animal (1994) delves into the fascinating – and occasionally controversial – field of evolutionary psychology to ask what really motivates human behavior. Drawing on the work of Darwin as well as a wealth of anthropological sources, Robert Wright sheds new light on a range of familiar everyday situations in the animal kingdom and our own societies.
Gods of the Upper Air (2019) details the story of how Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Zora Neale Hurston and other researchers challenged pseudoscientific theories upholding racism and established the modern discipline of cultural anthropology. Tracing the travels, romances and ideas that bound this group together, these blinks recount what became a seismic shift in notions of race, sex and gender identity.
Blueprint (2019) explores the psychological traits that all humans share. Examining the evolutionary underpinnings of our social behavior, these blinks shine a light on our ancestral past and investigate how love, cooperation and friendship came to be indispensable items in our social tool kit.
America Before (2019) is a mind-expanding quest for an ancient and lost way of life. Drawing on lesser-known DNA and archeological evidence, it proposes the existence of a great, early civilization based in North America. Lost to history in the aftermath of a cataclysmic comet strike, this civilization is visible today only in the traces it left in Egyptian, Native American and other great ancient cultures.
Social Empathy (2018) shows how we can widen our sense of empathy and extend it not just to individuals who are different from us, but to entire social and cultural groups. It explains the ways we’re able to not just imagine what it’s like to be another person, but also consider the historical and political factors that have made them who they are, which increases our ability to be more empathetic. It also explores the barriers that block empathy – like stress and fear of otherness – and the steps we can take to overcome them.
Humankind (2020) is an optimistic study of its namesake. For centuries, the message seemed to be carved in stone: Humans are evil by nature, and only the veneer of civilization keeps us from terrorizing and murdering each other. The author Rutger Bregman aims to dispel that prejudice and reveal that our essential nature is peaceful and friendly. Perhaps humanity – as recent discoveries from disciplines like archeology and criminology suggest – is actually much less selfish than we think.
Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels (2015) argues that the values we hold most dear stem from one fundamental source: energy. While anthropologists have spent centuries attempting to understand differences between cultures, few have attempted to explain those differences. These blinks do just that.
The Chemistry Book (2016) takes us on a tour through the history of chemistry from the first Bronze Age advancements to a possible future where clean, renewable energy is an everyday reality. Learn about the events and discoveries that have changed the world.
Superior (2019) tracks the history of race science, from its origins in the Enlightenment to its hidden – but growing – presence in the twenty-first century. The uncomfortable truth is that science is not always apolitical, and the theory of biological race lives on in subtle ways, despite the mounting evidence against it. Groups of people might look, sound, and do things differently – but genetically, we’re very much the same.
The Alchemy of Us (2020) offers a history of some of the most important technologies ever developed, from clocks to glass to the steel rails used to make railway tracks. It explains how these technologies were created and explores how they shaped human culture.
The Next Great Migration (2020) reveals how humans have always moved across oceans and continents, just like any other migratory species on Earth. Sonia Shah upends the notion that we’ve ever been a stationary species. She also demonstrates how racist and xenophobic belief systems have led us to erect artificial borders and walls.
Caste (2020) takes a revealing look at the caste system that continues to exist in American society, and its disturbing similarities to caste systems in India and WWII-era Germany. It explains how the attitudes of the dominant castes have become ingrained, on conscious and subconscious levels, through generations of subjugation. You’ll find out what it takes to maintain a caste system as well as what can be done to break free from it.
Survival of the Friendliest (2020) presents a scientific look at the origins of human sociability. This history of humanity demonstrates how evolutionary pressure made us the friendly, community-oriented species we are today.
The Social Leap (2018) casts a critical eye on our modern world through the lens of evolutionary psychology. This provocative text argues that human nature is the product of generations spent struggling to survive on the savannah and that many of our contemporary problems can be understood by looking backward.
Black and White Thinking (2020) examines the human brain’s irresistible impulse to sort things into binary categories: black and white, good and evil, right and wrong. The instinct to categorize is strong – and we have evolution to thank for it. But while categorization helped us survive in ancient times – when every trip into the forest was life or death – it’s become an obstacle in the modern world. Today, life’s rarely black-and-white, but often shades of gray.
What’s it about?
Not Born Yesterday (2020) investigates common claims that humans are inherently gullible creatures. With the help of studies, evolutionary biology, and historical anecdotes, the author chips away at these claims one by one. He shows that humans have actually developed sophisticated cognitive mechanisms designed to aid the decisions of who to trust, what to believe, when to change our minds, and how to reject implausible information.
Who’s it for?
Open (2020) traces the progress of ancient and modern human accomplishments, and reveals that behind all of our major advancements is a policy of openness, tolerance, and free trade. You’ll see how, from the Phoenicians to the Dutch East India Trading Company, the free flow of commerce and ideas has led to wealth, innovation, and problem-solving that would have never been possible otherwise.
The Lost Art of Scripture (2019) traces five thousand years of religious tradition. It examines the common purpose and motivations of all scriptural revolutions, how literal readings of scripture birthed violent movements of fundamentalism, and how we can use scripture to address the political and intellectual concerns of today.
Nine Nasty Words (2021) is a foul-mouthed exploration of our linguistic taboos. This title picks apart exactly why some words come to be profane.
Grand Transitions (2020) offers a sweeping overview of global transitions, from population growth to environmental changes. It examines the ways that we’ve shaped the world, for better or worse, and looks at the challenges facing humanity in the decades to come.
Work (2020) is an anthropological history of the human relationship with work. From the first single-celled bacteria in the oceans billions of years ago to the unprecedented wealth inequality we experience today, Work is a sweeping history of what motivates our species.
Transcendence (2020) is a wide-ranging overview of humanity’s history, from its beginnings on the savannas of Africa to the globe-spanning civilization of today. This multifaceted exploration shows how fire, language, beauty, and time came to define our species.
Mine! (2021) explores the hidden rules of ownership that govern our world and influence our behavior. From who rides first at Disney World to who owns the space behind your seat on an airplane, it reveals the secrets of who gets what and why.
Extra Life (2021) looks at some of the breakthroughs that allowed the global human life expectancy to double in just one hundred years. From seat belts to explosives, from Ireland to Constantinople, it’s an account as gripping as it is wide-ranging.
Subtract (2021) explores subtraction as a way to make positive change. It examines the human love affair with adding and having “more” – and it explains how our brains and environments work against subtraction.
Arabs (2021) is a deep dive into the 3,000-year history of the people we know as Arabs. It’s an exploration of the forces that gave birth to the idea of Arabs as a group – and the forces that have kept them apart ever since.
How the Word Is Passed (2021) is a travelogue that underscores how slavery has shaped America’s collective history and its reality today. Nine locations serve as gateways to important stories that are hidden in plain sight. They exemplify how communities have reckoned, or not, with their roles in the history of slavery and invite us all to dig deeper into what we believe – and why.
Ancient Egypt (2021) is a succinct introduction to the history and culture of one of humanity’s oldest civilizations. It touches on different aspects of Ancient Egyptian society and covers topics such as religion and mythology, the hieroglyphic writing system, and Egyptian ideas about death and mummification.
A Brief History of Motion (2021) provides a revealing overview of the history, and possible future, of the automobile. From the invention of the wheel, to early steam engine contraptions and the enticing promises of automated cars, you’ll find out how these vehicles changed the course of human history, and the unexpected problems they’ve caused along the way.
Drunk (2021) is a scientific and historical inquiry into the evolutionary reasons why humans started getting drunk. Drunk examines how inebriation helped our ancestors evolve into creative, communal, cultural beings, and considers whether or not alcohol is an appropriate tool for the modern age.
In the audio version of these blinks, you'll hear "Also Sprach Zarathustra," composed by Richard Strauss, made available under a Creative Commons Attribution license by Kevin MacLeod. Thanks, Kevin!
Our Wild Calling (2020) examines how humans and other animals can enjoy mutually beneficial relationships. It explores stories and philosophy from the ecological movement, and outlines how we can move toward a more hopeful future for all Earthlings.
War (2020) is a philosophical inquiry into the nature of human conflict. It considers war from different angles, examining what causes it, how we think about it, and how it affects us. By making an effort to understand war, we become better prepared to avoid it.
1491 (2005) is a study of the Western Hemisphere before 1492, the year in which an Italian sailor employed by the Spanish empire first set foot in the Americas. Within a century of Columbus’s “discovery” of the New World, some of humanity’s most sophisticated cultures had all but disappeared. In 1491, Charles Mann sets out to recover their ways of life and remarkable achievements.
The Dawn of Everything (2021) is a reimagining of the history of humanity, based on new discoveries in the worlds of anthropology and archeology. According to the authors, new findings challenge what we thought we knew about hierarchies, inequality, property, and the state.
Purity and Danger (1966) presents a framework for understanding different societies and religions according to what they find pure and sacred and what they consider unclean and out of place. Cultures organize their experiences, values, and worldview into binary categories: either something is “dirty” and does not belong, or it is pure or holy. Sometimes, something – or someone – is both or neither. By looking at how other cultures make these distinctions, you can become more aware of how your own is organized.
Starry Messenger (2022) is about a way of looking at the world called the cosmic perspective. It’s the view that opens up when we think about human life in its largest possible context – that of the universe itself. This isn’t an exercise in making our worldly affairs seem small and trivial, though. It’s about unlocking insights that can help us live more happily and meaningfully on the cosmic anomaly we call Earth.
Indigenous Cultures in an Interconnected World (2000) examines how globalization and new technologies are affecting indigenous peoples. It provides an analysis of the many opportunities and threats that globalization entails for indigenous societies, along with success stories of how indigenous activists are using technology to benefit their communities. The book’s chapters present the perspectives of 14 authors from around the world.
The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is (2022) offers startlingly new ways of understanding the world wide web, and strongly challenges us to examine our long-held beliefs about the supremacy of human cognition. It confronts our most closely-held (and least examined) ideas about the internet and social media, and weaves together observations from centuries of philosophy, mathematics, science and history.
How the World Really Works (2022) tackles a paradox at the heart of the modern world: we’ve never had so much information at our fingertips and never known so little about how things actually work. Of course, we can’t be experts in everything. But, Vaclav Smil argues, it’s our duty as citizens to be informed about the basics – the big questions that shape our societies and their futures.
Tsunami (2021) uses a combination of ancient legends, scientific research, and survivor stories to take readers on an in-depth learning journey about some of the most significant tsunamis that have occurred throughout history. Through detailed descriptions of these incredible natural disasters, it teaches us that the lessons we learn from the past can help us live a safer future.
Future Stories: What’s Next? (2022) explains the roots of how we make decisions about the future and illuminates the urgent responsibility on humanity’s shoulders today, with a multidisciplinary approach to time informed by biology, philosophy, and cosmology.
The Science of Happily Ever After (2014) digs into the history of mating throughout the history of the human species and answers the question of why some couples live happily ever after and some don’t. Part history and anthropology lesson, part self-help, it offers explanations and advice for anyone seeking love.
American Psycho (1991) is a controversial cult novel that uses graphic violence to satirize modern capitalism and consumer culture. It follows the life of Patrick Bateman, a wealthy and handsome investment banker living in Manhattan in the 1980s. Beneath his polished exterior lies a psychopathic killer who preys on his victims without remorse. Bateman’s exploits quickly grow more and more extreme, and his mask of sanity starts to slip.
Power vs. Force (2014) explains how anyone can tap into their inner power to change their lives and the lives of those around them. It demonstrates that with consciousness, intention and discernment, anyone can find their truth and follow it toward a more fulfilled and impactful life.
Things Fall Apart (1958) was the first in the African Writers Series of 350 books published between 1962 and 2003 which provided an international audience for many African writers. It tells the story of a respected leader of an Igbo community and the problems faced by the community as white men arrive and bring with them their laws and religion.
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) argues that the work ethic and values of early Protestant sects like Calvinism strongly influenced the development of capitalism in Western Europe. Weber's classic text traces these cultural origins, exploring how religious changes catalyzed the rise of modern economic systems by reshaping mindsets surrounding work, enterprise, and the accumulation of wealth.
Snow Crash (1992) is a cyberpunk sci-fi novel starring katana-wielding, pizza-delivering hacker Hiro Protagonist and his partner, spunky teen skateboarder Y.T. It features a virus called Snow Crash which pervades both the physical world and the virtual world, also known as the Metaverse. But it soon becomes apparent that Snow Crash is more than just a virus – as Hiro delves deeper, he discovers a conspiracy that has its roots in ancient Sumerian legends and poses a dire threat to humanity.
What Napoleon Could Not Do (2023) explores the contrasting experiences of two Ghanaians, Jacob and Belinda, and their aspirations in the United States. Jacob, an awkward computer programmer who still lives with his father, wants to join his wife in America but is foiled by visa denials. His sister, Belinda, meanwhile, has studied in the US and married an American – Wilder, a prosperous Black Texan businessman. But she, too, contends with disappointment: as she waits for her green card, her perception of America is soured by racism. Their journeys reflect the allure and letdowns of life in a foreign land, and the narrative insightfully captures how each grapples with dreams both realized and thwarted.
Women Who Run with the Wolves (1989) is a profoundly influential work of Jungian psychology that has shown countless women how to connect with the wise, abiding, and untameable presence of the Wild Woman archetype in their own psyches.
Killing the Witches (2023) revisits one of the most frightening episodes in American history: the Salem Witch Trials, which saw over 200 people accused of witchcraft and 20 killed. This dramatic history reveals how Puritan tradition shaped early America and examines its repercussions to this very day.
Death Without Weeping by Nancy Scheper-Hughes is a thought-provoking account of the daily struggles faced by poor women in the shantytowns of Brazil. Through powerful narratives and meticulous research, the book explores the devastating consequences of extreme poverty and how it shapes the lives of women and children. Scheper-Hughes challenges societal norms and offers a deep examination of the complexities surrounding motherhood and survival in a harsh reality.