Big Ideas Reading Group Bookshelf 2019

This is the January 2019 ballot for our next round of reading. the next round of reading. By January 18, please send Chris Boyd your completed ballot.

We had 6 carryover nominations and 27 new nominations for a total of 33 nominations. We normally take the top ten vote getters for our new list and keep five carryovers for the next election. Due to the number of nominations, I would like to take the top 12 for our new list and have 6 carryovers, giving all books a little better chance.

All of the nominations seem interesting to me and I think the ballot choices will again be difficult. Themes include AI, health, simplified science, futurist ethics, genetics, education, consciousness, quantum physics, psychology and perception, future in space, optimism and pessimism about the future, economics, philosophy, philosophy of mathematics, and space exploration,

It’s nice once again to have so many great options. Thanks for all your nominations.

The ballot is below listed alphabetically. The list of books with descriptions is attached as a pdf file which you can print out easily if necessary, also in alphabetical order. Please fill the ballot out, cut and paste to e-mail to me by Friday, January 18. Please mail ballots to me directly only, and not to the group.

The Book List

AIQ: How People and Machines are Smarter Together, by James Scott and Nick Polson

AIQ has what everyone needs to know to understand how artificial intelligence is changing the world and how we can use this knowledge to make better decisions in our own lives. It will teach you a little bit of the mathematical language spoken by intelligent machines—but in an unconventional way, anchored in stories rather than equations. You'll see how these same ideas are playing out in the modern age of big data and intelligent machines—and how these technologies will soon help you to overcome some of your built-in cognitive weaknesses, giving you a chance to lead a happier, healthier, more fulfilled life. 261 pages Pub 2018

The Art of Doing Nothing: Simple Ways to Make Time for Yourself, by Veronique Vienne & Erica Lennard

The Art of Doing Nothing gives us permission to celebrate idleness in all its mesmerizing forms. Véronique Vienne's delightfully informative essays on the art of breathing, meditating, bathing, listening, waiting, and more offer useful tips on such skills as how to whistle, stay in the moment, take a nap, cure a cold, or watch the sun set over the horizon. Without further ado--and without feeling guilty--we learn to unwind, exhale, and, yes, stop and smell the roses. A practical guide to rest and relaxation, it ushers us into a world where "being" is more compelling than "doing." 96 pages Pub 1998

A Bee in a Cathedral: and 99 other Scientific Analogies, by Joel Levy

Levy uses analogies to demonstrate 100 basic scientific truths and principles in new and exciting ways, describing the unbelievably massive, the inconceivably tiny and the unfathomably complex in everyday terms. Readers will be drawn to the book by its combination of intuitive reasoning and a highly visual presentation style. Each analogy is explained in direct terms and clearly illustrated. A range of facts and figures -- presented in uniquely accessible "infographics" -- complements the analogies. A bee in a cathedral: the nucleus compared to the size of an atom . 224 pages Pub 2011

Brief Answers to the Big Questions, by Stephen Hawking

Now, As we face immense challenges on our planet—including climate change, the threat of nuclear war, and the development of artificial intelligence—Hawking turns his attention to the most urgent issues facing us. Will humanity survive? Should we colonize space? Does God exist? ​ These are just a few of the questions Hawking addresses in this wide-ranging, passionately argued final book from one of the greatest minds in history. 227 pages Pub 2018

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, by Adam Rutherford and Siddhartha Mukherjee

Geneticists have suddenly become historians, and the hard evidence in our DNA has blown the lid off what we thought we knew. Acclaimed science writer Adam Rutherford explains exactly how genomics is completely rewriting the human story—from 100,000 years ago to the present. p. 416 Pub 2018

The Coddling of the American MInd: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure, by Jonathon Haight & George Lukianoff

What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people. These three Great Untruths contradict basic psychological principles about well-being and ancient wisdom from many cultures. Embracing these untruths—and the resulting culture of safetyism—interferes with young people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development. It makes it harder for them to become autonomous adults who are able to navigate the bumpy road of life. Lukianoff and Haidt investigate the many social trends that have intersected to promote the spread of these untruths. This is a book for anyone who is confused by what is happening on college campuses today, or has children, or is concerned about the growing inability of Americans to live, work, and cooperate across party lines. 352 pages Pub 2018

The Consciousness Instinct, by Michael Gazzaniga

The problem of consciousness has gnawed at us for millennia. In the last century there have been massive breakthroughs that have rewritten the science of the brain, and yet the puzzles faced by the ancient Greeks are still present. Michael Gazzaniga puts the latest research in conversation with the history of human thinking about the mind, giving a big-picture view of what science has revealed about consciousness. New research suggests the brainis actually a confederation of independent modules working together. Understanding how consciousness could emanate from such an organization will help define the future of brain science and artificial intelligence, and close the gap between brain and mind. 288 pages Pub 2018

Dance to the Tune of Life: Biological Relativity, by Denis Noble

Denis Noble formulates the theory of biological relativity, emphasising that living organisms operate at multiple levels of complexity and must therefore be analysed from a multi-scale, relativistic perspective. Noble explains that all biological processes operate by means of molecular, cellular and organismal networks. This humanistic, holistic approach challenges the common gene-centered view held by many in modern biology and culture. 302 pages Pub 2017

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, by Steven Pinker

In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing. 576 pages Pub 2018

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling

Factfulness reveals the ten instincts that distort our perspective―from our tendency to divide the world into two camps (usually some version of us and them) to the way we consume media (where fear rules) to how we perceive progress (believing that most things are getting worse). Our problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know, and even our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases. It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think. “One of the most important books I’ve ever read --an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.” -- Bill Gates. 352 pages Pub 2018

The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between, by Abigail Marsh

What is responsible for the extremes of generosity and cruelty humans are capable of? By putting psychopathic children and extreme altruists in an fMRI, acclaimed psychologist Abigail Marsh found that the answer lies in how our brain responds to others' fear. While the brain's amygdala makes most of us hardwired for good, its variations can explain heroic and psychopathic behavior. 320 pages Pub 2016

The Future of Humanity Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth, by Michio Kaku

Michio Kaku explores in rich, intimate detail the process by which humanity may gradually move away from the planet and develop a sustainable civilization in outer space. He reveals how cutting-edge developments in robotics, nanotechnology, and biotechnology may allow us to terraform and build habitable cities on Mars, to nearby stars, beyond our galaxy, and even beyond our universe, to the possibility of immortality, showing us how humans may someday be able to leave our bodies entirely and laser port to new havens in space. 368 pages Pub 2018

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari

As the self-made gods of planet earth, what destinies will we set ourselves, and which quests will we undertake? Homo Deus explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century—from overcoming death to creating artificial life. It asks the fundamental questions: Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world from our own destructive powers? This is the next stage of evolution. This is Homo Deus. 450 pages Pub 2017

How not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, by Michael Greger M.D. and Gene Stone

Dr. Michael Greger, examines the fifteen top causes of premature death in America and explains how nutritional and lifestyle interventions can sometimes trump prescription pills and other pharmaceutical and surgical approaches to help prevent and reverse these diseases, freeing us to live healthier lives. By following Dr. Greger's advice, all of it backed up bystrong scientific evidence, you will learn which foods to eat and which lifestyle changes to make to live longer. 404 pages Pub 2015

How to Change Your Mind What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, by Michael Pollan

Pollan’s natural skepticism and wry humor is a good match for the detailed accounts he includes of mind-blowing, trip-induced revelations. Can magic mushrooms be used more broadly for “the betterment of well people”? Readers who begin reading Pollan’s book feeling doubtful about the responsible use of psychedelics may find their own minds changed by his engaging, enlightened, and persuasive combination of personal and journalistic research. 480 pages Pub 2018

Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, by Sabine Hossenfelder

Whether pondering black holes or predicting discoveries at CERN, physicists believe the best theories are beautiful, natural, and elegant, and this standard separates popular theories from disposable ones. The belief in beauty has become so dogmatic that it now conflicts with scientific objectivity: observation has been unable to confirm mindboggling theories, like supersymmetry or grand unification, invented by physicists based on aesthetic criteria. To escape, physicists must rethink their methods. Only by embracing reality as it is can science discover the truth. 270 pages Pub 2018

The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life, by Rival Ricard

Jean Francois-Revel became world famous for his challenges to both Communism and Christianity. His son, Matthieu Ricard, gave up a promising career as a scientist to study Tibetan Buddhism. Together they explore questions like: Does life have meaning? What is consciousness? Is man free? What is the value of scientific and material progress? Why is there suffering, war, and hatred? they ask each other questions about ethics, rights, and responsibilities, about knowledge and belief, and they discuss frankly the differences in the way each has tried to make sense of his life. This remarkable dialogue engages East with West, ideas with life, and science with the humanities, providing wisdom on how to enrich the way we live our lives. 384 pages Pub 2000

The New Geography of Jobs, by Enrico Moretti

An unprecedented redistribution of American jobs, population, and wealth is under way, and it is likely to accelerate in the years to come. In this important and persuasive book, Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti reveals this new geography of jobs that’s benefiting centers of innovation like San Francisco, Boston, Austin, and Durham. And the winners and losers aren't necessarily who you’d expect. Moretti’s groundbreaking research shows that you don’t have to be a scientist or an engineer to thrive in one of these brain hubs. 304 pages Pub 2013

The Order of Time, by Carlo Rovelli

Time is a mystery that does not cease to puzzle us. Philosophers, artists and poets have long explored its meaning while scientists have found that its structure is different from the simple intuition we have of it. From Boltzmann to quantum theory, from Einstein to loop quantum gravity, our understanding of time has been undergoing radical transformations. Time flows at a different speed in different places, the past and the future differ far less than we might think, and the very notion of the present evaporates in the vast universe. Carlo Rovelli unravels this mystery, inviting us to imagine a world where time is in us and we are not in time. 176 pages Pub April 2019

The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing, by Merve Emre

First conceived in the 1920s by the mother-daughter team of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, a pair of devoted homemakers, novelists, and amateur psychoanalysts, Myers-Briggs was designed to bring the gospel of Carl Jung to the masses. Drawing from original reporting and never-before-published documents, The Personality Brokers takes a critical look at the personality indicator that became a cultural icon. Along the way it examines nothing less than the definition of the self--our attempts to grasp, categorize, and quantify our personalities. Surprising and absorbing, the book, like the test at its heart, considers the timeless question: What makes you, you? 336 pages Pub 2018

The Planet Factory: Exoplanets and the Search for a Second Earth, by Elizabeth Tasker

Exoplanets are one of the greatest construction schemes in the universe and they occur around nearly every star you see. Each result is an alien landscape, but is it possible that one of these could be like our own home? The Planet Factory discusses the way these planets form, their structure and features, and describes in detail the detection techniques used (there are many) before looking at what we can learn about the surface environments and planetary atmospheres, and whether this hints at the tantalizing possibility of life. 336 pages Pub 2017

Principles: Life and Work, by Ray Dalio

Ray Dalio, one of the world’s most successful investors and entrepreneurs, shares the unconventional principles that he’s developed, refined, and used over the past forty years to create unique results in both life and business. He describes an “idea meritocracy that strives to achieve meaningful work and meaningful relationships through radical transparency”, built around cornerstones of “radical truth” and “radical transparency.” Principles also offers a clear, straightforward approach to decision-making that Dalio believes anyone can apply, no matter what they’re seeking to achieve. p.544 Pub 2017

QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, by Richard Feynman Feynman

provides a classic and definitive introduction to QED (namely, quantum electrodynamics), that part of quantum field theory describing the interactions of light with charged particles. Using everyday language, spatial concepts, visualizations, and his renowned "Feynman diagrams" instead of advanced mathematics, Feynman clearly and humorously communicates both the substance and spirit of QED to the layperson. 192 pages Pub 2014

Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, by Antonio Damasio

A leading neuroscientist explores how the brain constructs the mind and how the brain makes that mind conscious. In his most ambitious and stunning work yet, he rejects the long-standing idea that consciousness is somehow separate from the body, and presents compelling new scientific evidence that posits an evolutionary perspective. His view entails a radical change in the way the history of the conscious mind is viewed and told, suggesting that the brain’s development of a human self is a challenge to nature’s indifference. This development helps to open the way for the appearance of culture, perhaps one of our most defining characteristics as thinking and self-aware beings. 416 pages Pub 2012

The Shape of Inner Space: String Theory and the Geometry of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions, by Shing-Tung Yau

String theory says we live in a ten-dimensional universe, but that only four are accessible to our everyday senses. According to theorists, the missing six are curled up in bizarre structures known as Calabi-Yau manifolds. In The Shape of Inner Space, Shing-Tung Yau, the man who mathematically proved that these manifolds exist, argues that not only is geometry fundamental to string theory, it is also fundamental to the very nature of our universe. The Shape of Inner Space will change the way we consider the universe on both its grandest and smallest scales. 400 pages Pub 2012

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert

Over the last half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. 336 pages Pub 2016

The Soul of an Octopus - A Surprising Exploration into the world of Consciousness, by Sy Montgomery

In pursuit of the wild, solitary, predatory octopus, popular naturalist Sy Montgomery has practiced true immersion journalism. From New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, she has befriended octopuses with strikingly different personalities—gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma. Each creature shows her cleverness in myriad ways: escaping enclosures like an orangutan; jetting water to bounce balls; and endlessly tricking companions with multiple “sleights of hand” to get food. Scientists are watching octopuses solve problems and are trying to decipher the meaning of the animal’s color-changing techniques. With her "joyful passion" for these intelligent and fascinating creatures Montgomery chronicles the growing appreciation of this mollusk. The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about the meeting of two very different minds. 272 pages Pub 2016

Tales of the Quantum, by Art Hobson

The quantum has developed the reputation of being capricious, bewildering, even impossible to understand. The peculiar habits of quanta are certainly not what we would have expected to find at the foundation of physical reality, but these habits are not necessarily bewildering and not at all impossible or paradoxical. This book explains those habits--the quantum rules--in everyday language, without mathematics or unnecessary technicalities. This book follows the phenomena: wave-particle duality, fundamental randomness, quantum states, superpositions (being in two places at once), entanglement, non-locality, Schrodinger's cat, and quantum jumps, and presents the history and the scientists only to the extent that they illuminate the phenomena. 296 pages Pub 2016

A Universe Of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination, by Gerald Edelman and Giulio Tononi

Gerald Edelman builds on the radical ideas he introduced in his monumental trilogy (Neural Darwinism, Topobiology, and The Remembered Present) to present for the first time an empirically supported full-scale theory of consciousness. He and the neurobiolgist Giulio Tononi show how they use ingenious technology to detect the most minute brain currents and to identify the specific brain waves that correlate with particular conscious experiences. The results of this pioneering work challenge the conventional wisdom about consciousness. 288 pages Pub 2001

We Have the Technology: How Biohackers, Foodies, Physicians, and

Scientists Are Transforming Human Perception, One Sense at a Time, by Kara

Platoni How do we know what's real? Sensory science is increasingly finding that we don't perceive reality: we create it through perception. The author introduces us to researchers who are changing the way we experience the world, whether creating scents that stimulate the memories of Alzheimer's patients, constructing virtual limbs that approximate a sense of touch, or building augmented reality labs that prepare soldiers for the battlefield. These diverse investigations not only explain previously elusive aspects of human experience, but offer tantalizing glimpses into a future when we can expand, control, and enhance our senses as never before -- a fascinating tour of human capability and scientific ingenuity. 304 pages Pub 2015

What if?:Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Monroe

What if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live? If there was a robot apocalypse, how long would humanity last? In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, complemented by signature xkcd comics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion. The book features new and never-before-answered questions, along with updated and expanded versions of the most popular answers from the xkcd website. 320 pages Pub 2014

What Is Real?: The Unfinished Quest For the Meaning of Quantum Physics by Adam Becker

Every physicist agrees quantum mechanics is among humanity's finest scientific achievements. For a century, most physicists have followed Niels Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation and dismissed questions about the reality underlying quantum physics as meaningless. And yet, from the 1920s to today, physicists like John Bell, David Bohm, and Hugh Everett persisted in seeking the true meaning of quantum mechanics. What Is Real? is the gripping story of this battle of ideas and the courageous scientists who dared to stand up for truth. 384 pages Pub. 2018

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by MatthewWalker

In this “compelling and utterly convincing” [The Sunday Times] book, preeminent neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker provides a revolutionary exploration of sleep, examining how it affects every aspect of our physical and mental well-being. Charting the most cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, and marshalling his decades of research and clinical practice, 368 pages Pub 2018


We use the Borda system of voting. This means you give your favorite book, in this case, 33 points, your second favorite 32, your third 31, ... your least favorite 1. All books are assigned a number from 33 to 1, favorite to least favorite.

For new members, common mistakes:

When there are this many books one simple method I use is to select the top three, assign them 28, 27, 26. Take the next top three and then assign numbers 25,24,23, take the next three, etc. It is sort of a double filter that simplifies. You may have your own methods. There are only approximately 3 x 10^29 ways to sort these. So tree trimming simplifiers help. Any questions? Email me.

Please enclose your numbers in the brackets, then cut, paste and email to me. I hope to get all ballots back by January 18.

___________________________________________________________ [ ]AIQ [ ]The Art of Doing Nothing [ ]A Bee in a Cathedral [ ]Brief Answers to Big Questions [ ]A Brief History of Everyone _______________________ [ ]The Coddling of the American MInd [ ]The Consciousness Instinct [ ]Dance to the Tune of Life [ ]Enlightenment Now [ ]Factfulness _______________________ [ ]The Fear Factor [ ]The Future of Humanity [ ]Homo Deus [ ]How Not to Die [ ]How to Change Your Mind _______________________ [ ]Lost in Math [ ]The Monk and the Philosopher [ ]The New Geography of Jobs [ ]The Order of Time [ ]The Personality Brokers _______________________ [ ]The Planet Factory [ ]Principles: Life and Work [ ]QED [ ]Self Comes to Mind [ ]The Shape of Inner Space _______________________ [ ]The Sixth Extinction [ ]The Soul of an Octopus [ ]Tales of the Quantum [ ]A Universe of Consciousness [ ]We Have the Technology _______________________ [ ]What If? [ ]What is Real? [ ]Why We Sleep

The 2018 Bookshelf

The 2017 Bookshelf

The 2016 Bookshelf

The 2015 Bookshelf

The 2014 Bookshelf

The 2013 Bookshelf