Big Ideas Reading Group

Big Ideas Reading Group photo

In early 2009, a Special Interest Group of San Francisco Regional Mensa began meeting as a reading group, with the theme of big ideas. We meet the second Saturday of the month at either of two standard meeting locations (exceptions noted).

All are welcome to attend. We have members from all over Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. Each book is selected by the group at least a month in advance. Members are encouraged to read the book before the meeting. The format is open discussion, with just enough moderation to assure everyone gets a fair chance to share. We try to follow these guidelines. Our book list is below. We use this email list for announcements and some discussion. We often reconvene for dinner afterward, so see the restaurants link below. Contact .

Restaurants Nearby

Inspiration to Read


This unsolicited testimonial from Mary E. expresses it well:

I love the Big Ideas Reading Group too (even though for various reasons of life logistics that I won't go into here I have missed the last few sessions). I highly recommend it for anyone within driving distance of Cupertino (California). It is my all time favorite Mensa event. That group reads mostly great non-fiction, and I am really loving this month's book (Too big to know... by David Weinberger). Besides the books being really good (at least for my non-fiction tastes), there are always lots of interesting discussions, which in typical Mensa fashion often wonder far from the book :)

We welcome and encourage cross-participation with M-Readers, a Special Interest Group of American Mensa.

We agreed to meet again in 100 years. I propose that we thank Aubrey de Gray, reread his book, and compare his expectations to what actually happened.

  1. The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the 21st Century, edited by John Brockman
  2. Conversations on Consciousness, a collection of interviews conducted by Susan Blackmore
  3. Decoding the Universe by Charles Seife
  4. The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, by Ray Kurzweil
  5. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel Dennett
  6. Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins
  7. How We Believe by Michael Shermer
  8. Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman
  9. 12-12-2009 The Political Mind by George Lakoff
  10. 01-16-2010 Descartes Error:Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain by Antonio Damasio
  11. 02-13-2010 The Monty Hall Problem: The Remarkable Story of Math's Most Contentious Brain Teaser, by Jason Rosenhouse
  12. 03-13-2010 Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
  13. 04-10-2010 Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking, by Thomas Kida
  14. 05-08-2010 The Intelligent Universe, by James Gardner
  15. 06-12-2010 How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer
  16. 07-10-2010 The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, by Richard Dawkins
  17. 08-14-2010 Quantum Evolution, by Johnjoe McFadden
  18. 09-11-2010 Introducing Evolutionary Psychology, by Dylan Evans and Oscar Zarate
  19. 10-09-2010 If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens... Where Is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to Fermi's Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life, by Stephen Webb
  20. 11-13-2010 Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell
  21. 12-11-2010 The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved & Why It Endures, by Nicholas Wade.
  22. 01-08-2011 Visions, by Michio Kaku
  23. 02-12-2011 Fabric of Reality, by David Deutsch
  24. 03-12-2011 (no March meeting)
  25. 04-02-2011 Godel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter
  26. 05-14-2011 Godel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter
  27. 06-11-2011 The Grand Design by Hawking and Mlodinow
  28. 07-09-2011 Unbounding the Future: The Nanotechnology Revolution by Drexler, Peterson, and Pegamit.
  29. 08-13-2011 Beyond AI, by J. Storrs Hall
  30. 09-10-2011 Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, by M. Mitchell Waldrop
  31. 10-08-2011 Guesstimation: Solving the World's Problems on the Back of A Cocktail Napkin, by Lawrence Weinstein
  32. 11-12-2011 Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs that Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime, by Aubrey de Gray
  33. 12-10-2011 Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, by Peter D. Ward & Donald Brownlee
  34. 01-14-2012 Physics for Future Presidents, by Richard Muller
  35. 02-11-2012 The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievment, by David Brooks
  36. 03-10-2012 The War of Worldviews--Science vs Spirituality, by Leonard Mlodinow with Deepak Chopra
  37. 04-14-2012 The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility. The ideas Behind the World's Slowest Computer, by Stewart Brand
  38. 05-12-2012 The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch
  39. 06-16-2012 Note date change. Truth: A Guide, by Simon Blackburn
  40. 07-14-2012 Do Not Go Gentle, Book One, Discovery [book one of three], by Mark Millstorm (Muhlestein). Mark is a member of our group. This is his new book that has just came out on Kindle. You can download a free copy of Kindle and then download the book at $0.99.
  41. 08-11-2012 Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room, by David Weinberger
  42. 09-08-2012 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, with a 2pm pre-meeting event
  43. 10-13-2012 Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World, by Lisa Randall
  44. 11-10-2012 [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Evolution of Cooperation (Revised Edition) by Robert Axelrod with forward by Richard Dawkins.
  45. 12-08-2012 The Drunkard's Walk:How Randomness Rules Our Lives, by Leonard Mlodinow.
  46. 01-12-2013 [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Perfect Swarm: The Science of Complexity in Everyday Life by Len Fisher.
  47. 02-09-2013 Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics, by Jim Al-Halili.
  48. 03-09-2013 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today's Computers, by John MacCormick.
  49. 04-13-2013 NOTE: The book originally scheduled has been set aside. The publisher has retracted it because of accusations of plagiarism etc. In its place, we will discuss Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain by Michael Gazzaniga.
  50. 05-11-2013 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Models. Behaving. Badly.: Why Confusing Illusion with Reality Can Lead to Disaster, on Wall Street and in Life.
  51. 06-08-2013 The Mind--Leading Scientists Explore the Brain, Memory, Personality, and Happiness.
  52. 07-13-2013 The Future of Everything -- The Science of Prediction by David Orrell, Ph.D
  53. 08-10-2013 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow
  54. 09-14-2013 [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene
  55. 10-12-2013 The Golden Ticket: P, NP, and the Search for the Impossible by Lance Fortnow
  56. 11-02-2013 date change and [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
  57. 12-14-2013 The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don't by Nate Silver
  58. 01-11-2014 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. We followed the discussion with a holiday celebration, a Chinese dinner.
  59. 02-08-2014 Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.
  60. 03-15-2014 [date change and 4pm at Kepler's Books] The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality by Richard Panek
  61. 04-12-2014 Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better by Clive Thompson
  62. 05-10-2014 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Naked Statitistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data by Charles Wheelan.
  63. 06-14-2014 How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil
  64. 07-12-2014 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Probably Approximately Correct: Nature Algorithms for Learning and Prospering in a Complex World by Leslie Valiant.
  65. 08-09-2014 Kinds of Minds:Toward An Understanding Of Consciousness by Daniel C. Dennett. After the meeting, we met for dinner to celebrate 5 years of BIRG!
  66. 09-06-2014 [date change and 4pm at Kepler's Books] Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality by Max Tegmark
  67. 10-11-2014 Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
  68. 11-08-2014 Computing with Quantum Cats: From Colossus to Qubits, by John Gribbin. (replacing the original chice of Quantum Computing Since Democritus by Scott Aaronson)
  69. 12-06-2014 [date change and 4pm at Kepler's Books] Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe by Lee Smolin
  70. 01-10-2015 [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Map & The Territory, by Alan Greenspan
  71. 02-14-2015 Will You Be Alive 10 Years From Now?
  72. 03-14-2015 [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Improbability Principle
  73. 04-11-2015 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Intuition Pumps, by Daniel Dennett
  74. 05-09-2015 [4pm at Kepler's Books] How We Learn, by Benedict Carey
  75. 06-13-2015 [4pm at Kepler's Books] A Skeptics Guide to the Mind, by Robert A. Burton
  76. 07-11-2015 [3pm at Le Boulanger, followed by 6th anniversary dinner] Explaining the Computational Mind. 
  77. 08-08-2015 Entanglement, by Amir D. Aczel
  78. 09-12-2015 [4pm at Kepler's books] Quantum Computing Since Democritus by Scott Aaronson. ... more
  79. 10-10-2015 [4pm at Kepler's books] The Island of Knowledge -- The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning, by Marcelo Gleiser.
  80. 11-14-2015 [4pm at Kepler's books] Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, by Mary Roach.
  81. 12-12-2015 Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, by Matthew D. Leiberman, Ph.D..
  82. 01-09-2016 [3pm at Le Boulanger] Nothing: Surprising Insights Everywhere from Zero to Oblivion, by Jeremy Webb.
  83. 02-13-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] How-Nature-Works-Self-Organized Criticality, by Per Bak.
  84. 03-12-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle Over General Relativity, by Prof. Pedro Ferreira.
  85. 04-09-2016 The Science of Interstellar, by Kip Thorne.
  86. 05-15-2016 The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex, by Murray Gell-Mann.
  87. 06-11-2016 Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson, and Andrew McAfee.
  88. 07-09-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] What Philosophy Can Do, by Gary Gutting.
  89. 08-13-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins.
  90. 09-10-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Spooky Action at a Distance by George Musser.
  91. 10-08-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Symmetry: A Journey into the Patterns of Nature, by Marcus du Sautoy.
  92. 11-12-2016 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier.
  93. 12-10-2016 Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie or Die by Eric Siegel.
  94. 01-14-2017 Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gwande.
  95. 02-11-2017 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Evolution of the Social Contract by Brian Skyrms.
  96. 03-11-2017 [4pm at Kepler's Books] Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard H. Thaler.
  97. 04-08-2017 [4pm at Kepler's Books] A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down by Robert Laughlin.
  98. 05-13-2017 Dinner on the Deck Now: The Physics of Time by Richard A. Muller, author of Physics for Future Presidents.
  99. 06-10-2017 NOTE: [4pm at Kepler's Books] Void: The Strange Physics of Nothing (Foundational Questions in Science) by James Owen.
  100. 07-08-2017 The Big Picture: on the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself by Sean Carroll.
  101. 08-12-2017 Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe by Roger Penrose.
  102. 09-09-2017 How Not to be Wrong The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg.
  103. 10-14-2017 How the Mind Works by Steve Pinker.
  104. 11-11-2017 The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach.
  105. 12-09-2017 Brainwashed: the Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience by Sally Satel, Scott O. Lilienfeld.
  106. 01-13-2018 Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Pikkety.
  107. 02-10-2018 Cyberspies: The Secret History of Surveillance, Hacking, and Digital Espionage by Gordon Corera.
  108. 03-10-2018 Language: The Cultural Tool by Daniel L. Everett.
  109. 04-14-2018 The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

An expanded book list has a brief description of some of the books. This bookshelf has the candidates for our next round of reading.

Big Ideas Reading Group photo

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