Big Ideas Reading Group Bookshelf 2024

This is the January 2024 ballot for our next round of reading. By February 20, please send Chris Boyd your completed ballot.

Below are the nominations listed alphabetically, neglecting “The”, with descriptions. We had 5 carryover nominations from last election and 30 new nominations for a total of 35 nominations, four more than last election. It is nice to have even more great options. Thanks for all your nominations!

I would like to take the top 12 for our new list and have 5 carryovers, giving all books a little better chance. The book list includes page counts and publication dates at the bottom of each listing. The ballot is below the book list with directions. Please fill it out, cut and paste to email, and send to me by February 20. Please mail ballots to me directly only, and not to the group.

The Book List

The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness, by Jonathan Haight

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt lays out the facts about the epidemic of teen mental illness that hit many countries at the same time. He then investigates the nature of childhood, including why children need play and independent exploration to mature into competent, thriving adults. Haidt shows how the “play-based childhood” began to decline in the 1980s, and how it was finally wiped out by the arrival of the “phone-based childhood” in the early 2010s. He presents more than a dozen mechanisms by which this “great rewiring of childhood” has interfered with children’s social and neurological development, covering everything from sleep deprivation to attention fragmentation, addiction, loneliness, social contagion, social comparison, and perfectionism. He diagnoses the “collective action problems” that trap us, and then proposes four simple rules that might set us free. He describes steps that parents, teachers, schools, tech companies, and governments can take to end the epidemic of mental illness and restore a more humane childhood. Pub 2024 pg. 320

Ask: Tap Into the Hidden Wisdom of People Around You for Unexpected Breakthroughs In Leadership and Life, by Jeff Wetzler, Amy Edmondson (Foreword).

Jeff Wetzler offers a hands-on, surprisingly effective way to find out what others really think, know, and feel. Ask leads to smarter decisions, more creative solutions, and deeper relationships. Too often, we don’t find out what’s truly on others’ hearts and minds because we don’t know how to ask the right questions in the right ways. Co-founder of Transcend and former international business consultant and Teach for America executive Jeff Wetzler wants to show you how to fix that. He brings you a powerful method called The Ask Approach™, based on a simple premise: that tapping into what other people truly think, know, and feel is a game-changing superpower. Pub 2024 pg.288

Being and Time, by Martin Heidegger.

“What is the meaning of being?" This is the central question of Martin Heidegger's profoundly important work, in which the great philosopher seeks to explain the basic problems of existence. A central influence on later philosophy, literature, art, and criticism -- as well as existentialism and much of postmodern thought. Pub 2019 (Originally published 1927) pages 436

The Birth and Death of Meaning, by Earnest Becker.

This is Becker's first attempt to explain the human condition. It takes its title from the concept of mankind progressing from simple-minded ape to a world of symbols and illusions, and then deconstructing those illusions through our own evolving intellect Pub 1964, latest version 2010, pg. 242

The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect, by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie.

The causal revolution, instigated by Judea Pearl and his colleagues, has cut through a century of confusion and established causality -- the study of cause and effect -- on a firm scientific basis. His work explains how we can know easy things, like whether it was rain or a sprinkler that made a sidewalk wet; and how to answer hard questions, like whether a drug cured an illness. Pearl's work enables us to know not just whether one thing causes another: it lets us explore the world that is and the worlds that could have been. It shows us the essence of human thought and key to artificial intelligence. Pub 2018 pg. 423

A Brief History of Intelligence: Evolution, AI, and the Five Breakthroughs That Made Our Brains, by Max Bennett.

Deploying a fresh perspective and working with the support of many top minds in neuroscience, Bennett consolidates this immense history into an approachable new framework, identifying the “Five Breakthroughs” that mark the brain’s most important evolutionary leaps forward. Containing fascinating corollaries to developments in AI, A Brief History of Intelligence shows where current AI systems have matched or surpassed our brains, as well as where AI systems still fall short. Simply put, until AI systems successfully replicate each part of our brain’s long journey, AI systems will fail to exhibit human-like intelligence. Pub 2023 Pg. 432

The Captive Mind, by Czeslaw Milosz.

The best known prose work by the winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature examines the moral and intellectual conflicts faced by men and women living under totalitarianism of the left or right. A central text in the modern effort to understand totalitarianism. --The New York Times Book Review "As timely today as when it was written."--Jerzy Kosinski Pub 1990 pg. 272

A City on Mars: Can we settle space, should we settle space, and have we really thought this through?, by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith.

In a world hurtling toward human expansion into space, A City on Mars investigates whether the dream of new worlds won’t create nightmares, both for settlers and the people they leave behind. In the process, the Weinersmiths answer every question about space you’ve ever wondered about, and many you’ve never considered. The Weinersmiths investigate perhaps the biggest questions humanity will ever ask itself—whether and how to become multiplanetary. Pub 2023 pg. 447

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, by Walter Isaacson.

The development of CRISPR and the race to create vaccines for coronavirus will hasten our transition to the next great innovation revolution. The past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet. Now we are entering a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code. Should we use our new evolution-hacking powers to make us less susceptible to viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! And what about preventing depression? Hmmm…Should we allow parents, if they can afford it, to enhance the height or muscles or IQ of their kids? After helping to discover CRISPR, Doudna became a leader in wrestling with these moral issues and, with her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the Nobel Prize in 2020. Pub 2021 pg. 450

Determined: A Science of Life without Free Will, by Robert M. Sapolsky

Determined offers a marvelous synthesis of what we know about how consciousness works—the tight weave between reason and emotion and between stimulus and response in the moment and over a life. One by one, Sapolsky tackles all the major arguments for free will and takes them out, cutting a path through the thickets of chaos and complexity science and quantum physics, as well as touching ground on some of the wilder shores of philosophy. He shows us that the history of medicine is in no small part the history of learning that fewer and fewer things are somebody’s “fault”; for example, for centuries we thought seizures were a sign of demonic possession. Pub 2023 pg. 450

Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking, by Leonard Mlodinow.

You make hundreds of decisions every day, from what to eat for breakfast to how you should invest, and not one of those decisions would be possible without emotion. It has long been said that thinking and feeling are separate and opposing forces in our behavior. But as Leonard Mlodinow, the best-selling author of Subliminal, tells us, extraordinary advances in psychology and neuroscience have proven that emotions are as critical to our well-being as thinking. Using deep insights into our evolution and biology, Mlodinow gives us the tools to understand our emotions better and to maximize their benefits. Emotional explores the new science of feelings and offers us an essential guide to making the most of one of nature’s greatest gifts. Pub 2022 p.272

A Field Guide to Lies, by Daniel J. Levitin.

It's raining bad data, half-truths, and even outright lies. Info Literacy means understanding that there are hierarchies of source quality and bias that variously distort our information feeds via every media channel, including social media. We need to think critically about the words and numbers we encounter if we want to be successful at work, at play, and in making the most of our lives. Readers learn to avoid the extremes of passive gullibility and cynical rejection. Levitin's charming, entertaining, accessible guide can help anyone wake up to a whole lot of things that aren't so. And catch some weasels in their tracks! Pub 2019 pg. 236

Genius Thinking: Lessons From History’s Greatest Minds on Innovation, Creativity, and Intelligence , by Peter Hollins.

Learn from some of the greatest thinkers in history. Study their patterns and stand on the shoulders of giants. Learn the five “genius traits” and how to apply them in your daily life. We climb into a time travel machine and examine flashpoints in the lives of famous geniuses. They are all household names, and now you can better understand what made them tick. Learn their traits, absorb their techniques, and forge your own path of genius to accomplish whatever you set your mind to. Walk away with a framework of how to simply think better. Pub 2023 pg. 205

Going Infinite-The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon, by Michael Lewis

Sam Bankman-Fried was the world’s youngest billionaire and crypto’s Gatsby. He catapulted, practically overnight, onto the Forbes billionaire list. Who was this rumpled guy in cargo shorts and limp white socks, whose eyes twitched across Zoom meetings as he played video games on the side? Lewis takes readers into the mind of Bankman-Fried, whose rise and fall offers an education in high-frequency trading, cryptocurrencies, philanthropy, bankruptcy, and the justice system. Michael Lewis, at the top of his game, traces the mind-bending trajectory of a character who never liked the rules and was allowed to live by his own—until it all came undone. Pub 2023 pg. 261

How The World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We Are Going, by Vaclav Smil.

This book explains seven of the most fundamental realities governing our survival and prosperity. From energy and food production, through our material world and its globalization, to risks, our environment and its future, How the World Really Works offers a much-needed reality check—because before we can tackle problems effectively, we must understand the facts. “A new masterpiece from one of my favorite authors… [How The World Really Works] is a compelling and highly readable book that leaves readers with the fundamental grounding needed to help solve the world’s toughest challenges.”—Bill Gates. Pub 2022 pg. 326

Humanly Possible: Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Inquiry, and Hope, by Sarah Bakewell.

Voyaging from the literary enthusiasts of the fourteenth century to the secular campaigners of our own time, from Erasmus to Esperanto, from anatomists to agnostics, from Christine de Pizan to Bertrand Russell, and from Voltaire to Zora Neale Hurston, Bakewell brings together extraordinary humanists across history. She explores their immense variety: some sought to promote scientific and rationalist ideas, others put more emphasis on moral living, and still others were concerned with the cultural and literary studies known as “the humanities.” Humanly Possible asks not only what brings all these aspects of humanism together but why it has such enduring power, despite opposition from fanatics, mystics, and tyrants. Pub 2023 pg. 425

Immortality, Inc.: Renegade Science, Silicon Valley Billions, and the Quest to Live Forever, by Chip Walter.

This gripping narrative explores today's scientific pursuit of immortality, with exclusive visits inside Silicon Valley labs and interviews with the visionaries who believe we will soon crack into the aging process and cure death. In Immortality, Inc., veteran science journalist Chip Walter gains exclusive access to the champions of this radical cause, delivering a book that brings together for the first time the visions of molecular biologist and Apple chairman Arthur Levinson, genomics entrepreneur Craig Venter, futurist Ray Kurzweil, rejuvenation trailblazer Aubrey de Grey, and stem cell expert Robert Hariri. Along the way, Walter weaves in fascinating conversations about life, death, aging, and the future of the human race. Pub 2020 pg. 315

I’ve Been Thinking, by Daniel Dennett.

Dennett’s relentless curiosity has taken him from a childhood in Beirut and the classrooms of Harvard, Oxford, and Tufts, to “Cognitive Cruises” on sailboats and the fields and orchards of Maine, and to laboratories and think tanks around the world. Along the way, I’ve Been Thinking provides a master class in the dominant themes of twentieth-century philosophy and cognitive science—including language, evolution, logic, religion, and AI—and reveals both the mistakes and breakthroughs that shaped Dennett’s theories. Dennett compels us to consider: What do I really think? And what if I’m wrong? This memoir by one of the greatest minds of our time will speak to anyone who seeks to balance a life of the mind with adventure and creativity. Pub 2023 pg. 451

The Little Book of Aliens, by Adam Frank.

“With wit and brio, Frank separates current nonsense about aliens from the serious and fascinating search for extraterrestrial life.” —Physicist Carlo Rovelli In The Little Book of Aliens, Frank, a leading researcher in the field, takes us on a journey to all that we know about the possibility of life outside planet Earth and shows us the cutting-edge science that has brought us to this unique moment in human history: the one where we go find out for ourselves. Humankind is on the precipice of finding its neighbors. What comes next? No person is better suited to answer that question—and lead the search—than Adam Frank. Pub 2023 Pg. 240

Love and Math, by Edward Frankel.

Having braved a discriminatory educational system to become one of the twenty-first century's leading mathematicians, Frenkel now works on one of the biggest ideas to come out of math in the last 50 years: the Langlands Program. Considered by many to be a Grand Unified Theory of mathematics, the Langlands Program enables researchers to translate findings from one field to another so that they can solve problems, such as Fermat's last theorem, that had seemed intractable before. At its core, Love and Math is a story about accessing a new way of thinking, which can enrich our lives and empower us to better understand the world and our place in it. It is an invitation to discover the magic hidden universe of mathematics. Pub 2014 pg.304

Material World: A Substantial Story of Our Past and Future, by Ed Conway.

Sand, salt, iron, copper, oil and lithium. They built our world, and they will transform our future. These are the six most crucial substances in human history. They took us from the Dark Ages to the present day. They power our computers and phones, build our homes and offices, and create life-saving medicines. As we wrestle with climate change, energy crises and the threat of new global conflict, Conway shows why these substances matter more than ever before, and how the hidden battle to control them will shape our geopolitical future. Pub 2023 p.491

The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything, by Matthew Ball.

Taking us on an expansive tour of the “next internet,” Ball demonstrates that many proto-Metaverses are already here, such as Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox. Yet these offer only a glimpse of what is to come. Ball presents a comprehensive definition of the Metaverse before explaining the technologies that will power it―and the breakthroughs that will be necessary to fully realize it. He addresses the governance challenges the Metaverse entails; investigates the role of Web3, blockchains, and NFTs; and predicts Metaverse winners and losers. Most importantly, he examines many of the Metaverse’s almost unlimited applications. The internet will no longer be at arm’s length; instead, it will surround us, with much of our lives, labor, and leisure taking place inside the Metaverse. Bringing clarity and authority to a frequently misunderstood concept, Ball foresees trillions of dollars in new value―and the radical reshaping of society. Pub 2022 pages 310

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, by Melinda Gates.

Melinda’s premise is if you want to lift a society up, you need to stop keeping women down. In this moving and compelling book, Melinda shares lessons she’s learned from the inspiring people she’s met during her work and travels around the world. As she writes in the introduction, Melinda’s unforgettable narrative is backed by startling data as she presents the issues that most need our attention—from child marriage to lack of access to contraceptives to gender inequity in the workplace. And, for the first time, she writes about her personal life and finding her voice. Throughout, she shows how there has never been more opportunity to change the world—and ourselves. Pub 2019 pg. 293

Nomad Century: How to Survive the Climate Upheaval, by Gaia Vince.

In this rousing call to arms, Royal Society Science Book Prize-winning author Gaia Vince describes how we can plan for and manage this unavoidable climate migration while we restore the planet to a fully habitable state. The vital message of this book is that migration is not the problem - it's the solution. Drawing on a wealth of eye-opening data and original reporting, Vince shows how migration brings benefits not only to migrants themselves, but to host countries, many of which face demographic crises and labor shortages. As Vince describes, we will need to move northwards as a species, into the habitable fringes of Europe, Asia and Canada and the greening Arctic circle. Pub 2022 pg. 269

No Miracles Needed, by Mark Z. Jacobson.

The world needs to turn away from fossil fuels and use clean, renewable sources of energy as soon as we can. We still have time to save the planet without resorting to 'miracle' technologies. We need to wave goodbye to outdated technologies, such as natural gas and carbon capture, and repurpose the technologies that we already have at our disposal. We can use existing technologies to harness, store, and transmit energy from wind, water, and solar sources to ensure reliable electricity, heat supplies, and energy security. Together, we can solve the climate crisis, eliminate air pollution and safely secure energy supplies for everyone Pub 2023 p.454

On the Origin of Time: Stephen Hawking’s Final Theory, by Thomas Hertog.

Peering into the extreme quantum physics of cosmic holograms and venturing far back in time to our deepest roots, Stephen Hawking and Thomas Hertog were startled to find a deeper level of evolution in which the physical laws themselves transform and simplify until particles, forces, and even time itself fades away. This discovery led them to a revolutionary idea: The laws of physics are not set in stone but are born and co-evolve as the universe they govern takes shape. As Hawking’s final days drew near, the two collaborators published their theory, which proposed a radical new Darwinian perspective on the origins of our universe. Pub 2023 pg. 338

Plugged In: The Past, Present, and Future of Brain Computer Interfaces, by Audrey Case.

A brain-computer interface (BCI) is exactly what it sounds like, a technology that acts as a go-between for the brain and a computer. This technology has huge potential to vastly improve the quality of life of those with central nervous system damage. Audrey uses her background in bio-engineering to weave the story of how the technology came to be and all the sometimes surprising turns it took to get to where it is today. Plugged In shares the stories of the past, present and future of BCI technology through a uniquely human lens. Pub 2020 pages 164

Psych-The Story of the Human Mind, by Paul Bloom.

Bloom reveals what psychology can tell us about the most pressing moral and political issues of our time—including belief in conspiracy theories, the role of genes in explaining human differences, and the nature of prejudice and hatred. Bloom also shows how psychology can give us practical insights into important issues—from the treatment of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety to the best way to lead happy and fulfilling lives. Psych is an engrossing guide to the most important topic there is: it is the story of us. Pub 2023 pg. 464

Quanta and Fields: The Biggest Ideas in the Universe, by Sean Carroll.

Starting with the basics of quantum mechanics itself, Sean Carroll explains measurement and entanglement before explaining how the world is really made of fields. You will finally understand why matter is solid, why there is antimatter, where the sizes of atoms come from, and why the predictions of quantum field theory are so spectacularly successful. Fundamental ideas like spin, symmetry, Feynman diagrams, and the Higgs mechanism are explained for real, not just through amusing stories. Beyond Newton, beyond Einstein, and all the intuitive notions that have guided homo sapiens for millennia, this book is a journey to a once unimaginable truth about what our universe is. Pub 2024 pg. 450

Quantum Supremacy: How the Quantum Computer Revolution Will Change Everything, by Michio Kaku.

While the media has mainly focused on the startling potential of quantum computers to crack any known encryption method, the race is already on to exploit their incredible power to revolutionize industry, to build more efficient vehicles, create life-saving new drugs, and streamline businesses. But this is only the beginning. Quantum computing could be used to decode the complex chemical processes needed to produce cheap fertilizers and unleash a second Green Revolution; create a super battery that will enable the Solar Age; or design nuclear fusion reactors to generate clean, safe, renewable energy. It may even unravel the fiendishly difficult protein folding that lies at the heart of as-yet-incurable diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Parkinson’s. Already, quantum computers are being put to work to help solve the greatest mystery in science—the origin of the universe. Pub 2023 pg. 330

Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy, by David J. Chalmers.

In a highly original work of “techno philosophy,” Chalmers conducts a grand tour of big ideas in philosophy and science. He uses virtual reality technology to offer a new perspective on long-established philosophical questions. How do we know that there’s an external world? Is there a god? What is the nature of reality? What’s the relation between mind and body? How can we lead a good life? All of these questions are illuminated or transformed by Chalmers’ mind-bending analysis. Studded with illustrations that bring philosophical issues to life, Reality+ is a major statement that will shape discussion of philosophy, science, and technology for years to come. Pub 2022 pg. 450

Size: How It Explains the World, by Vaclav Smil.

Using the interdisciplinary approach that has won him a wide readership, Smil draws upon history, earth science, psychology, art, and more to offer fresh insight into some of our biggest challenges, including income inequality, the spread of infectious disease, and the uneven impacts of climate change. Size explains the regularities—and peculiarities—of the key processes shaping life (from microbes to whales), the Earth (from asteroids to volcanic eruptions), technical advances (from architecture to transportation), and societies and economies (from cities to wages). This book about the big and the small, and the relationship between them, answers the big and small questions of human existence: Pub 2023 pg. 303

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe-How to Know What’s Really Real In a World Increasingly Full of Fake, by Steven Novella.

It is intimidating to realize that we live in a world overflowing with misinformation, bias, myths, deception, and flawed knowledge. There really are no ultimate authority figures-no one has the secret, and there is no place to look up the definitive answers to our questions (not even Google). Luckily, The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe is your map through this maze of modern life. Here Dr. Steven Novella-along with Bob Novella, Cara Santa Maria, Jay Novella, and Evan Bernstein-will explain the tenets of skeptical thinking and debunk some of the biggest scientific myths, fallacies, and conspiracy theories-from anti-vaccines to homeopathy, UFO sightings to N- rays. You'll learn the difference between science and pseudoscience, essential critical thinking skills, ways to discuss conspiracy theories with that crazy co- worker of yours, and how to combat sloppy reasoning, bad arguments, and superstitious thinking. Pub 2019 pages 458

Third Millennium Thinking: Creating Sense in a World of Nonsense, by Saul Perlmutter, John Campbell, et al.

In Third Millennium Thinking, a physicist, a psychologist, and a philosopher introduce readers to the tools and frameworks that scientists have developed to keep from fooling themselves, to understand the world, and to make decisions. We can all borrow these trust-building techniques to tackle problems both big and small. Using provocative thought exercises, jargon-free language, and vivid illustrations drawn from history, daily life, and scientists’ insider stories, Third Millennium Thinking offers a novel approach for readers to make sense of the nonsense. Pub 2024 pg. 304

White Holes, by Carlo Rovelli

Let us journey, with beloved physicist Carlo Rovelli, into the heart of a black hole. We slip beyond its horizon and tumble down this crack in the universe. As we plunge, we see geometry fold. Time and space pull and stretch. And finally, at the black hole’s core, space and time dissolve, and a white hole is born. Rovelli writes just as compellingly about the work of a scientist as he does the marvels of the universe. He shares the fear, uncertainty, and frequent disappointment of exploring hypotheses and unknown worlds, and the delight of chasing new ideas to unexpected conclusions. Guiding us beyond the horizon, he invites us to experience the fever and the disquiet of science—and the strange and startling life of a white hole Pub 2023 pg. 176

[ ] The Anxious Generation [ ] Ask [ ] Being and Time [ ] Birth and Death of Meaning [ ] Book of Why [ ] Brief History of Intelligence [ ] Captive Mind [ ] City on Mars [ ] The Code Breaker [ ] Determined [ ] Emotional [ ] Field Guide to Lies [ ] Genius Thinking [ ] Going Infinite [ ] How the World Really Works [ ] Humanly Possible [ ] Immortality [ ] I’ve Been Thinking [ ] Little Book of Aliens [ ] Love and Math [ ] Metaverse [ ] Material World [ ] The Moment of Lift [ ] Nomad Century [ ] No Miracles Needed [ ] Origin of Time [ ] Plugged In [ ] Psych [ ] Quanta and Fields [ ] Quantum Supremacy [ ] Reality+ [ ] Size [ ] Skeptics Guide [ ] Third Millennium [ ] White Holes

The 2023 Bookshelf

The 2022 Bookshelf

The 2021 Bookshelf

The 2020 Bookshelf

The 2019 Bookshelf

The 2018 Bookshelf

The 2017 Bookshelf

The 2016 Bookshelf

The 2015 Bookshelf

The 2014 Bookshelf

The 2013 Bookshelf