Big Ideas Reading Group Bookshelf 2013

As of April 2013, these are the candidates for the next round of reading. Selection by ballot is in process.

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

Ben Goldacre has made a point of exposing quack doctors and nutritionists, bogus credentialing programs, and biased scientific studies. He has also taken the media to task for its willingness to throw facts and proof out the window. But he's not here just to tell you what's wrong. Goldacre is here to teach you how to evaluate placebo effects, double-blind studies, and sample sizes, so that you can recognize bad science when you see it. You're about to feel a whole lot better.

Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age by Susan P. Crawford, J.D.

This important book by leading telecommunications policy expert Susan Crawford explores why Americans are now paying much more but getting much less when it comes to high-speed Internet access. Using the 2011 merger between Comcast and NBC Universal as a lens, Crawford examines how we have created the biggest monopoly since the breakup of Standard Oil a century ago. In the clearest terms, this book explores how telecommunications monopolies have affected the daily lives of consumers and America's global economic standing.

Erwin Schrödinger and the Quantum Revolution by John Gribbin

Schrödinger's scientific discoveries only scratch the surface of what makes him so fascinating. More rumpled than Einstein, a devotee of eastern religion and philosophy, and infamous for his alternative lifestyle, his major contribution to physics -- and the work for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1933 -- was to some extent a disappointment to him. Regardless, Schrödinger's masterpiece became an important part of the new physics of his time. This book tells the story of Schrödinger's surprisingly colorful life during one of the most fertile and creative moments in the history of science.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann

In this groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology, Charles C. Mann radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man's first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.

Give and Take--A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Alan M. Grant, Ph.D.

For generations, we have focused on the individual drivers of success: passion, hard work, talent, and luck. But today, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. It turns out that at work, most people operate as either takers, matchers, or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.  Using his own pioneering research as Wharton's youngest tenured professor, Grant shows that these styles have a surprising impact on success.

How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil

Kurzweil presents a provocative exploration of the most important project in human-machine civilization -- reverse engineering the brain to understand precisely how it works and using that knowledge to create even more intelligent machines. He discusses how the brain functions, how the mind emerges from the brain, and the implications of vastly increasing the powers of our intelligence in addressing the world's problems, thoughtfully examining emotional and moral intelligence and the origins of consciousness.

Imagine : How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

From the New York Times best-selling author of How We Decide comes a sparkling and revelatory look at the new science of creativity. Shattering the myth of muses, higher powers, even creative  "types," Jonah Lehrer demonstrates that creativity is not a single gift possessed by the lucky few. It's a variety of distinct thought processes that we can all learn to use more effectively.

Naked Statistics  : Stripping the Dread from the Data by Charles Wheelan

Once considered tedious, the field of statistics is rapidly evolving into a discipline Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, has actually called "sexy." From batting averages and political polls to game shows and medical research, the real-world application of statistics continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Wheelan strips away the arcane and technical details and focuses on the underlying intuition that drives statistical analysis.

Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow

Mlodinow gives us a startling and eye-opening examination of how the unconscious mind shapes our experience of the world and how, for instance, we often misperceive our relationships with family, friends, and business associates, misunderstand the reasons for our investment decisions, and misremember important events.

The 4% Universe--Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality by Richard Panek

In recent years, a handful of scientists has been racing to explain a disturbing aspect of our universe: only 4 percent of it consists of the matter that makes up you, me, and every star and planet. The rest is completely unknown. Richard Panek tells the dramatic story of how scientists reached this cosmos-shattering conclusion. In vivid detail, he narrates the quest to find the "dark" matter and an even more bizarre substance called dark energy that make up 96 percent of the universe.

The Future of Everything -- The Science of Prediction by David Orrell, Ph.D

For centuries, scientists have strived to predict the future. But to what extent have they succeeded? Can past events-Hurricane Katrina, the Internet stock bubble, the SARS outbreak-help us understand what will happen next? Will scientists ever really be able to forecast catastrophes, or will we always be at the mercy of Mother Nature, waiting for the next storm, epidemic, or economic crash to thunder through our lives?  David Orrell looks back at the history of forecasting, from the time of the oracle at Delphi to the rise of astrology to the advent of the TV weather report, showing us how scientists (and some charlatans) predicted the future.

The Golden Ticket: P, NP, and the Search for the Impossible by Lance Fortnow

The Golden Ticket provides a nontechnical introduction to P-NP, its rich history, and its algorithmic implications for everything we do with computers and beyond.  Lance Fortnow gives examples of the problem from a variety of disciplines, including economics, physics, and biology. He explores problems that capture the full difficulty of the P-NP dilemma, from discovering the shortest route through all the rides at Disney World to finding large groups of friends on Facebook. But difficulty also has its advantages. Hard problems allow us to safely conduct electronic commerce and maintain privacy in our online lives. The Golden Ticket explores what we truly can and cannot achieve computationally, describing the benefits and unexpected challenges of the P-NP problem.

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

There was a time when "universe" meant all there is. Everything. Yet, a number of theories are converging on the possibility that our universe may be but one among many parallel universes populating a vast multiverse.

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris

Sam Harris's first book, The End of Faith, ignited a worldwide debate about the validity of religion. In the aftermath, Harris discovered that most people -- from religious fundamentalists to non-believing scientists agree on one point: science has nothing to say on the subject of human values. Sam Harris tears down the wall between scientific facts and human values, argues that most people are simply mistaken about the relationship between morality and the rest of human knowledge.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

As America descends deeper into polarization and paralysis, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has done the seemingly impossible -- challenged conventional thinking about morality, politics, and religion in a way that speaks to everyone on the political spectrum. Drawing on his twenty five years of groundbreaking research on moral psychology, he shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings.

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- but Some Don't by Nate Silver.

Drawing on his own groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data. Most predictions fail, often at great cost to society, because most of us have a poor understanding of probability and uncertainty. Both experts and laypeople mistake more confident predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence is often the reason for failure.

Who Owns the Future?  by Jaron Lanier

Jaron Lanier is a visionary reckoning with the effects network technologies have had on our economy. There is an alternative to allowing technology to own our future. In this ambitious and deeply humane book, Lanier charts the path toward a new information economy that will stabilize the middle class and allow it to grow. It is time for ordinary people to be rewarded for what they do and share on the web.

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

Based on fifteen years of original research Acemoglu and Robinson marshall extraordinary historical evidence from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa to build a new theory of political economy with great relevance for the big questions of today.

Below is the ballot.  There are 18 nominations. Please use the bracket space to post your numbers.  Please give your favorite book an 18, your second favorite a 17, and so on to your least favorite a 1.  Please give all books a number.  You can cut and paste the ballot into a return e-mail.

[   ]Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

[   ]Captive Audience by Susan P.Crawford

[   ]Erwin Schrödinger and the Quantum Revolution by John Gribbin

[   ]1491

[   ]Give and Take by Alan M. Grant

[   ]How to Create a Mind by Ray Kurzweil

[   ]Imagine by Jonah Lehrer

[   ]Naked Statistics by Charles Wheelan

[   ]Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow

[   ]The 4% Universe by Richard Panek

[   ]The Future of Everything by David Orrell, Ph.d

[   ]The Golden Ticket by Lance Fortnow 2013

[   ]The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene

[   ]The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris

[   ]The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

[   ]The Signal and The Noise by Nate Silver

[   ]Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier

[  ]Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and   James Robinson