Big Ideas Reading Group Bookshelf 2017

This is the February 2017 ballot for our next round of reading. the next round of reading. By March 15, please send Chris Boyd your completed ballot.

Below are the nominations listed alphabetically with descriptions. We had 5 carryover nominations and 23 new nominations for a total of 28 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 11 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 will be difficult. It’s nice to have so many great options in so many themes. Thanks for all your nominations.

The Book List

Beyond: Our Future in Space by Chris Impev

Beyond tells the epic story of humanity leaving home―and how humans will soon thrive in the vast universe beyond the earth. A dazzling and propulsive voyage through space and time, Beyond reveals centuries of space explorers―from the earliest stargazers to today’s cutting-edge researchers... 336 pages

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space - Janna Levin

“This is a beautifully written account of the quest to open the ‘gravitational-wave window’ onto our universe, and use it to explore our universe’s warped side: black holes and other phenomena made from warped spacetime. As a participant in this wonderful quest, I applaud Janna Levin for capturing so well our vision, our struggles, and the ethos and spirit of our torturous route toward success." —Kip Thorne, author of The Science of Interstellar. 256 pages

Brainwashed: the Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience by Sally Satel, Scott O. Lilienfeld

Since fMRI—functional magnetic resonance imaging—was introduced in the early 1990s, brain scans have been used to help politicians understand and manipulate voters, determine guilt in court cases, and make sense of everything from musical aptitude to romantic love. The increasingly fashionable idea that they are the most important means of answering the enduring mysteries of psychology is misguided—and potentially dangerous. 256 pages

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Pikkety

Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. 577 pages

Cyberspies: The Secret History of Surveillance, Hacking, and Digital Espionage by Gordon Corera

Corera’s compelling narrative takes us from the Second World War through the Cold War and the birth of the internet to the present era of hackers and surveillance. The book is rich with historical detail and characters, as well as astonishing revelations about espionage carried out in recent times by the UK, US, and China. 448 pages

Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe by Roger Penrose

This groundbreaking book presents a new perspective on three of cosmology’s essential questions: What came before the Big Bang? What is the source of order in our universe? And what cosmic future awaits us? Penrose details the basic principles beneath our universe, explaining various standard and non-standard cosmological models, the fundamental role of the cosmic microwave background, the paramount significance of black holes, and other basic building blocks of contemporary physics. 304 pages

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe by Lisa Randall

In this brilliant exploration of our cosmic environment Lisa Randall uses her research into dark matter to illuminate the startling connections between the furthest reaches of space and life here on Earth. Randall tells a breathtaking story that weaves together the cosmos’ history and our own, illuminating the deep relationships that are critical to our world and the astonishing beauty inherent in the most familiar things. 432 pages

Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle by Daniel L. Everett

A riveting account of the astonishing experiences and discoveries made by linguist Daniel Everett while he lived with the Pirahã, a small tribe of Amazonian Indians in central Brazil. Everett quickly became obsessed with their language and its cultural and linguistic implications. The Pirahã have no counting system, no fixed terms for color, no concept of war, and no personal property. Part passionate memoir, part scientific exploration, Everett's life-changing tale is riveting look into the nature of language, thought, and life itself. 314 pages

Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe by Roger Penrose

Acclaimed physicist and bestselling author Roger Penrose argues that researchers working at the extreme frontiers of physics are just as susceptible to fashion, faith and fantasy as anyone else. In this provocative book, he argues that fashion, faith, and fantasy, while sometimes productive and even essential in physics, may be leading today's researchers astray in three of the field's most important areas--string theory, quantum mechanics, and cosmology. 515 pages

Furry Logic:The Physics of Animal Life by Matin Durrani and Liz Kalaugher.

The principles of physics lie behind many of the ways animals go about their daily lives. Each of Furry Logic's six chapters tackles a separate branch of physics and, through more than 30 animal case studies, examines each creature's key features before describing the ways physics is at play in its life, how the connection between physics and animal behavior was discovered, and what remains to be found out. Science journalists Matin Durrani and Liz Kalaugher make the incredible interdisciplinary world of animals accessible to all, in an enthralling and entertaining read. 304 pages

Happy Brain, Happy Life by Wendy Suzuki and Billie Fitzpatrick

Wendy discovered that there is a biological connection between exercise, mindfulness, and action. With exercise, your body feels more alive and your brain actually performs better. Yes—you can make yourself smarter. In this fascinating book, Suzuki makes neuroscience easy to understand, interweaving her personal story with groundbreaking research, and offering practical, short exercises—4 minute Brain Hacks—to engage your mind and improve your memory, your ability to learn new skills, and function more efficiently. 320 pages

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians know as "human computers" used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America's greatest achievements in space. 373 pages

How the Mind Works by Steve Pinker

How do we see in three dimensions? What makes us happy, afraid, angry, disgusted, or sexually aroused? Why do we fall in love? And how do we grapple with the imponderables of morality, religion, and consciousness? How the Mind Works synthesizes the most satisfying explanations of our mental life from cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and other fields to explain what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and contemplate the mysteries of life. 565 pages

How Not to be Wrong The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg

Math isn’t confined to abstract incidents that never occur in real life, but rather touches everything we do—the whole world is shot through with it. Ellenberg chases mathematical threads through a vast range of time and space, from the everyday to the cosmic. From Steve Pinker “...Like Lewis Carroll, George Gamow, and Martin Gardner before him, Jordan Ellenberg shows how mathematics can delight and stimulate the mind. But he also shows that mathematical thinking should be in the toolkit of every thoughtful person—of everyone who wants to avoid fallacies, superstitions, and other ways of being wrong.” 466 pages

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

A “microbe’s-eye view” of the world that reveals a marvelous, radically reconceived picture of life on earth. Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Ed Yong, whose humor is as evident as his erudition, prompts us to look at ourselves and our animal companions in a new light—less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are. 368 pages

Language: The Cultural Tool by Daniel L. Everett

Combining anthropology, primatology, computer science, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and his own pioneering—and adventurous—research with the Amazonian Pirahã, and using insights from many different languages and cultures, Everett gives us an unprecedented elucidation of this society-defined nature of language. In doing so, he also gives us a new understanding of how we think and who we are. 364 pages

Life Unfolding: How the Human Body Creates Itself by Jamie A. Davies

Based on the central principle of 'adaptive self-organization', Davies explains how the interactions of many cells, and of the tiny molecular machines that run them, can organize tissue structures vastly larger than themselves, correcting errors as they go along and creating new layers of complexity where there were none before. Life Unfolding tells the story of human development from egg to adult, from this perspective, showing how our whole understanding of how we come to be has been transformed in recent years. 311 pages

Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Hirari

From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution—a #1 international bestseller—that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.” From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas. 469 pages

The Big Picture: on the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself by Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll brings his extraordinary intellect to bear not only on Higgs bosons and extra dimensions but now also on our deepest personal questions: Where are we? Who are we? Are our emotions, our beliefs, and our hopes and dreams ultimately meaningless out there in the void? Do human purpose and meaning fit into a scientific worldview? Carroll shows how an avalanche of discoveries in the past few hundred years has changed our world and what really matters to us. 434 pages

The Future of Violence--Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones by Benjamin Wittes & Gabriela Blum

Wittes and Blum show how advances in cybertechnology, biotechnology, and robotics mean that more people than ever before have access to technologies—from drones to computer networks and biological data—that could possibly be used to extort or attack states and private citizens. Detailing the challenges that states face in this new world, legal scholars Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum controversially argue that national governments must expand their security efforts to protect the lives and liberty of their citizens. 334 pages

The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

What becomes of being human when we learn to “read” and “write” our own genetic information? Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices. 496 pages

The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone -- Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely

Most of us think of ourselves as honest, but, in fact, we all cheat. From Washington to Wall Street, the classroom to the workplace, unethical behavior is everywhere. None of us is immune, whether it's the white lie to head off trouble or padding our expense reports. In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, award-winning, bestselling author Dan Ariely turns his unique insight and innovative research to the question of dishonesty. 339 pages

The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach

The human mind is both brilliant and pathetic. Each of us is error prone, sometimes irrational, and often ignorant. The fundamentally communal nature of intelligence and knowledge explains why we often assume we know more than we really do, why political opinions and false beliefs are so hard to change, and why individually oriented approaches to education and management frequently fail. But our collaborative minds also enable us to do amazing things. This book contends that true genius can be found in the ways we create intelligence using the world around us. 304 pages

The Shape of Inner Space: String Theory and the Geometry of the Universe's Hidden Dimension by Shing-Tung Yau

String theory says we live in a ten-dimensional universe. The missing six are curled up in bizarre structures known as Calabi-Yau manifolds. 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. Readers will follow Yau’s penetrating thinking on where we’ve been, and where mathematics will take us next. A fascinating exploration of a world we are only just beginning to grasp. 400 pages

Thing Explainer Complicated Stuff in Simple Terms by Randall Munroe

Have you ever tried to learn more about some incredible thing, only to be frustrated by incomprehensible jargon? Randall Munroe is here to help. In Thing Explainer, he uses line drawings and only the thousand (or, rather, “ten hundred”) most common words to provide simple explanations for some of the most interesting stuff there is, including: microwaves, bridges, datacenters, the International Space Station, the solar system, tectonic plates, the periodic table, helicopters, washers and dryers, and cells. 64 pages

To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science by Steven Weinberg

A masterful commentary on the history of science from the Greeks to modern times, by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg. An illuminating exploration of the way we consider and analyze the world around us, To Explain the World is a sweeping, ambitious account of how difficult it was to discover the goals and methods of modern science, and the impact of this discovery on human knowledge and development. 432 pages

Void: The Strange Physics of Nothing (Foundational Questions in Science) by James Owen

Isaac Newton thought of empty space as nothingness extended in all directions, a kind of theater in which physics could unfold. But both quantum theory and relativity tell us that Newton's picture can't be right. Nothing, it turns out, is an awful lot like something, with a structure and properties every bit as complex and mysterious as matter. In his signature lively prose, Weather explores the very nature of empty space--and solidfies his reputation as a science writer to watch. 224 pages

Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation by Alan Burdick

Do children experience time the same way adults do? Why does it seem to slow down when we’re bored and speed by as we get older? How and why does time fly? Alan Burdick takes readers on a personal quest to understand how time gets in us and why we perceive it the way we do. In the company of scientists, he visits the most accurate clock in the world (which exists only on paper); discovers that “now” actually happened a split-second ago; finds a twenty-fifth hour in the day; lives in the Arctic to lose all sense of time; and, for one fleeting moment in a neuroscientist’s lab, even makes time go backward.


We use the Borda system of voting. This means you give your favorite book, in this case, 28 points, your second favorite 27, your third 26,...your least favorite 1. All books are assigned a number from 28 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 March 15.

___________________________________________________________ [ ] Beyond: Our Future in Space [ ] Black Hole Blues [ ] Brainwashed--Mindless Neuroscience [ ] Capital in Twenty First Century [ ] Cycles of Time _______________________ [ ] Cyberspies [ ] Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs [ ] Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes [ ] Fashion, Faith and Fantasy [ ] Furry Logic _______________________ [ ] Healthy Brain, Happy Life [ ] Hidden Figures [ ] How the Mind Works [ ] How Not to Be Wrong--Mathematical Thinking [ ] I Contain Multitudes _______________________ [ ] Language: The Cultural Tool [ ] Life Unfolding--How Human Body Creates Its [ ] Sapiens-- History of Humankind [ ] The Big Picture--Origins of Life Meaning Universe [ ] The Future of Violence--Robots Germs Hackers Drones ______________________ [ ] The Gene: An Intimate History [ ] The Honest Truth About Dishonesty--How We Lie to Everyone [ ] The Knowledge Ilusion--We Never Think Alone [ ] The Shape of Inner Space--String Theory and Hidden Dimensions [ ] Thing Explainer-Complicated Made Simple ______________________ [ ] To Explain the World [ ] Void--Physics of Nothing [ ] Why Time Flies

The 2016 Bookshelf

The 2015 Bookshelf

The 2014 Bookshelf

The 2013 Bookshelf