close Facebook Twitter Instagram LinkedIn
5 mins

Neil deGrasse Tyson Approved: Books To Help You Think About The World

Discover classic sources of profound thinking that scientist extraordinaire Neil deGrasse Tyson considers must-reads. Plus a few extras.
by Joshua H. Phelps | Nov 7 2017

It is easy to look at the world these days and ask what brought us to this point. As a way to help answer this question, in 2011, when asked to provide a reading list on Reddit, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the modern world’s most feted astrophysicist, offered several recommendations that he believed were key in shaping modern thought and the course of history.

He felt that grappling with these books would enable us to better understand the forces that have, to varying degrees, led us or pulled us into the current age. Familiarizing ourselves with these books also provides us the ability to work within and challenge these modes of thinking.


The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Many books have been written on military strategy since Sun Tzu’s time, but leaders in government and business continue to return to The Art of War for inspiration. Sun Tzu’s aim was to help the emperors he served win in battle. However, it is not a far stretch to see how such advice can apply to the modern age. Consider how “know your terrain” has transformed into modern business’ emphasis on big-data.

On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Controversial since its publication in the mid-19th Century, Darwin’s ideas revolutionized humanity’s conception of how it fit into the natural order. Through building on Darwin’s ideas, generations of scientists have been able to develop life-saving drugs and procedures. However, concepts such as natural selection and survival of the fittest have also justified ideas including eugenics and nationalism.

The Prince by Niccoló Machiavelli

Machiavelli turned the gamesmanship and back-stabbing he witnessed amid the tumult of Renaissance Florentine politics into a work that pulls back the curtains on power. He became so influential, we have the word “Machiavellian” in our dictionary. Not that it’s a compliment. Usually, it describes whoever does whatever they can to grab or keep authority.

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

Adam Smith outlines the tenets of capitalism in this work, hoping to answer the question of how best to distribute goods and services. Smith advocated for the idea that rational individuals acted in their self-interest and should be unhindered in this pursuit. While this has led to the massive networks that power our modern economy, it has also been taken by some as a license to do whatever they wish.

Extra Credit Reading:

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

This seminal work by Hawking opened the doors to future explorations into the nature of the cosmos, inspiring generations of scientists since, including Neil deGrasse Tyson. Pair this with Isaac Newton’s The System of the World, which deGrasse Tyson included in his list.

Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore

deGrasse Tyson thought people should read the Bible to get a better sense of how it has contributed to our society and to reach our own conclusions. Montefiore’s “biography” explores the city that plays such a prominent role in the New and Old Testaments.

Common Sense by Thomas Paine

In addition to Thomas Paine’s work The Age of Reason deGrasse Tyson placed on the Reddit reading list, Paine’s book Common Sense helps us understand the motivations of the United States’ Founding Fathers.

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines by Thomas C. Foster

Before you tackle Gulliver’s Travels, like deGrasse Tyson suggests, spend some time with Thomas C. Foster’s book. You’ll gain deeper insights into what Swift was trying to say and how he was trying to say it.

The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James Watson

Follow up on Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by learning more about the molecule that makes evolution possible and the people who uncovered its existence. Watson provides engaging insights and stories about the discovery that made his name in the world of science.

Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Michael Hecht

There is often the temptation to look over the history of a field, including the sciences, and see it as a simple continuation of received wisdom. What tends to be forgotten is how much of what we take for granted nowadays was radical in its time. Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book reminds us of the power of questioning our assumptions.

But don’t stop with these! Browse through Blinkist’s selection to find more works considered classics in their fields alongside the latest thinkers bound to be considered classics in the future. The topics range from science to relationships to investments and beyond. In 15 minutes or fewer, you could gain insight into how people continue to make sense of the world.

Facebook Twitter Tumblr Instagram LinkedIn Flickr Email Print