Big Ideas Reading Group Bookshelf

This is the July 2015 ballot for our next round of reading. the next round of reading. By July 15, please send Chris Boyd your completed ballot.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession's ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified. Pgs-297

How-Nature-Works-Self-Organized Criticality by Per Bak

Self-organized criticality, the spontaneous development of systems to a critical state, is the first general theory of complex systems with a firm mathematical basis. This theory describes how many seemingly disperate aspects of the world, from stock market crashes to mass extinctions, avalanches to solar flares, all share a set of simple, easily described properties Pgs-212

Nothing: Surprising Insights Everywhere from Zero to Oblivion by Jeremy Webb

It turns out that almost nothing is as curious—or as enlightening—as, well, nothing. What is nothingness? Where can it be found? The writers of the world's top-selling science magazine investigate—from the big bang, dark energy, and the void to superconductors, vestigial organs, hypnosis, and the placebo effect—and discover that understanding nothing may be the key to understanding everything. One of Brain Pickings’ Best Science Books of 2014 Pgs-272

Order out of Chaos by llya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers

Ilya Prigogine, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1977 for his work on the thermodynamics of non-equilibrium systems, makes his ideas accessible to a wide audience in this book, which has engendered massive debate in Europe and America. He and his colleague, Isabelle Stengers, show how the two great themes of classic science, order and chaos, which coexisted uneasily for centuries, are being reconciled in a new and unexpected synthesis. Pgs-349

Packing for Mars Mary Roach-The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

With her wry humor and inextinguishable curiosity, Mary Roach has crafted her own quirky niche in the somewhat staid world of science writing, showing no fear (or shame) in the face of cadavers, ectoplasm, or sex. In Packing for Mars, Roach tackles the strange science of space travel, and the psychology, technology, and politics that go into sending a crew into orbit. Packing for Mars is a book for grownups who still secretly dream of being astronauts, and Roach lives it up on their behalf. Pgs-336

Pricing the Future: Finance, Physics, and the 300-year Journey to the Black-Scholes Equation by George G. Szpiro

In Pricing the Future, financial economist George G. Szpiro tells the fascinating stories of the pioneers of mathematical finance who conducted the search for the elusive options pricing formula. He retraces the historical and intellectual developments that ultimately led to the widespread use of mathematical models to drive investment strategies on Wall Street. Pgs-322

Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect by Matthew D. Leiberman, Ph.D.

Matthew Lieberman explores groundbreaking research in social neuroscience revealing that our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental, more basic, than our need for food or shelter. Because of this, our brain uses its spare time to learn about the social world – other people and our relation to them. It is believed that we must commit 10,000 hours to master a skill. According to Lieberman, each of us has spent 10,000 hours learning to make sense of people and groups by the time we are ten. Pgs-384

Symmetry: A Journey into the Patterns of Nature by Marcus du Sautoy

Symmetry is all around us. Of fundamental significance to the way we interpret the world, this unique, pervasive phenomenon indicates a dynamic relationship between objects. Combining a rich historical narrative with his own personal journey as a mathematician, Marcus du Sautoy takes a unique look into the mathematical mind as he explores deep conjectures about symmetry and brings us face-to-face with the oddball mathematicians, both past and present, who have battled to understand symmetry's elusive qualities. Pgs-384

The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely shows why some things are easier to lie about than others; how getting caught matters less than we think in whether we cheat; and how business practices pave the way for unethical behavior, both intentionally and unintentionally. But all is not lost. Ariely also identifies what keeps us honest, pointing the way for achieving higher ethics in our everyday lives. P.336

The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning by Marcelo Gleiser – June 3, 2014

Do all questions have answers? How much can we know about the world? Is there such a thing as an ultimate truth? To be human is to want to know, but what we are able to observe is only a tiny portion of what’s “out there.” In The Island of Knowledge, physicist Marcelo Gleiser traces our search for answers to the most fundamental questions of existence. In so doing, he reaches a provocative conclusion: science, the main tool we use to find answers, is fundamentally limited. Pgs-368

The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle Over General Relativity by Prof. Pedro Ferreirra

Einstein’s theory of general relativity is possibly the most perfect intellectual achievement of modern physics. The expanding universe, the light-speed barrier, black holes, wormholes, time travel—general relativity has allowed scientists’ imaginations to take flight with new possibilities, revealing a universe that is much stranger than anyone ever expected. Just in time for the theory’s hundred-year anniversary, physicist Pedro Ferreira’s The Perfect Theory explains just how staggering an achievement general relativity was while bringing to life the infighting that it sparked in the field of physics over the past century. Pgs-32

The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex by Murray Gell-Mann

From one of the architects of the new science of simplicity and complexity comes an explanation of the connections between nature at its most basic level and natural selection, archaeology, linguistics, child development, computers, and other complex adaptive systems. Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann offers a uniquely personal and unifying vision of the relationship between the fundamental laws of physics and the complexity and diversity of the natural world. Pgs-392

The Science of Interstellar by Kip Thorne

Interstellar, from acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, takes us on a fantastic voyage far beyond our solar system. Yet in The Science of Interstellar, Kip Thorne, the physicist who assisted Nolan on the scientific aspects of Interstellar, shows us that the movie’s jaw-dropping events and stunning, never-before-attempted visuals are grounded in real science. In chapters on wormholes, black holes, interstellar travel, and much more, Thorne’s scientific insights―many of them triggered during the actual scripting and shooting of Interstellar―describe the physical laws that govern our universe and the truly astounding phenomena that those laws make possible. Pgs-336

Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson, and Andrew McAfee

Information technology is the foundation of the next industrial revolution. Its often unarticulated dark side has been the widening of the economic divide. In this book, McAfee and Brynjolfsson do a masterful job of exploring both the promise of computer technology and its profound societal impact. P. 320

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Nicholas Carr carefully examines the most important topic in contemporary culture—the mental and social transformation created by our new electronic environment. Without ever losing sight of the larger questions at stake, he calmly demolishes the clichés that have dominated discussions about the Internet. Witty, ambitious, and immensely readable, The Shallows actually manages to describe the weird, new, artificial world in which we now live. P. 280

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

Millions of people visit each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have an enormous, dedicated following, as do his deeply researched answers to his fans’ strangest questions. The book features new and never-before-answered questions, along with the most popular answers from the xkcd website. What If? is an informative feast for xkcd fans and anyone who loves to ponder the hypothetical. Pgs-321

What Philosophy Can Do by Gary Gutting

With this splendid book, Gary Gutting joins the great tradition of leading philosophers who venture from the ivory tower to speak with the public. Covering a range of topics―politics, science, religion (including atheism), art, and more―What Philosophy Can Do never condescends, never tries to evade the difficult. With wit and flair, Gutting shows how philosophical thinking permeates life’s decisions and can enrich our overall personal sense of worth and happiness. Pgs-320

The 2014 Bookshelf

The 2013 Bookshelf