Big Ideas Reading Group Bookshelf

This is the February 2018 ballot for our next round of reading. By February 15, please send Chris Boyd your completed ballot.

Below are the nominations listed alphabetically with descriptions. We had 6 carryover nominations and 22 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, like last election of 28, 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

A Crack in Creation, by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg

The cheapest, simplest, most effective way of manipulating DNA ever known, CRISPR may well give us the cure to HIV, genetic diseases, and some cancers, and will help address the world’s hunger crisis. Yet even the tiniest changes to DNA could have myriad, unforeseeable consequences—to say nothing of the ethical and societal repercussions of intentionally mutating embryos to create “better” humans. Writing with fellow researcher Samuel Sternberg, Doudna shares the thrilling story of her discovery, and passionately argues that enormous responsibility comes with the ability to rewrite the code of life. 304 pages Pub 2017

Artificial Intelligence--What Everyone Needs to Know, by Jerry Kaplan

Over the coming decades, Artificial Intelligence will profoundly impact the way we live, work, wage war, play, seek a mate, educate our young, and care for our elderly. It is likely to greatly increase our aggregate wealth, but it will also upend our labor markets, reshuffle our social order, and strain our private and public institutions. Whether we regard them as conscious or unwitting, revere them as a new form of life or dismiss them as mere clever appliances, is beside the point. They are likely to play an increasingly critical and intimate role in many aspects of our lives. 192 pages Pub 2016

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson

What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? There’s no better guide through these mind-expanding questions than acclaimed astrophysicist and best-selling author Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe. 224 pages Pub 2017

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.. p. 336 Pub 2016

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

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 Pub 2009

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

Exact Thinking in Demented Times: The Vienna Circle and the Epic Quest for the Foundations of Science, by Karl Sigmund

Composed of such luminaries as Kurt Gödel and Rudolf Carnap, and stimulated by the works of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, the Vienna Circle left an indelible mark on science. Exact Thinking in Demented Times tells the often outrageous, sometimes tragic, and never boring stories of the men who transformed scientific thought. A revealing work of history, this landmark book pays tribute to those who dared to reinvent knowledge from the ground up. 464 pages Pub 2017

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff

The first nine months of Donald Trump’s term were stormy, outrageous—and absolutely mesmerizing. Now, thanks to his deep access to the West Wing, bestselling author Michael Wolff tells the riveting story of how Trump launched a tenure as volatile and fiery as the man himself.Never before has a presidency so divided the American people. Brilliantly reported and astoundingly fresh, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury shows us how and why Donald Trump has become the king of discord and disunion. 328 pages Pub 2018

Flatland, by Edwin Abbott

This masterpiece of science (and mathematical) fiction is a delightfully unique and highly entertaining satire that has charmed readers for more than 100 years. Through strange occurrences that bring him into contact with a host of geometric forms, Square has adventures in Spaceland (three dimensions), Lineland (one dimension) and Pointland (no dimensions) and ultimately entertains thoughts of visiting a land of four dimensions—a revolutionary idea for which he is returned to his two-dimensional world. 74 pages Pub 1884

Frames Of Mind: The Theory Of Multiple Intelligences, by Howard Gardener

First published in 1983 and now available with a new introduction by the author, Gardner's trailblazing book revolutionized the worlds of education and psychology by positing that rather than a single type of intelligence, we have several--most of which are neglected by standard testing and educational methods. 530 pages Pub 2011

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 Pub 2017

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

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 Pub 2018

Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, by Max Tegmark

How will Artificial Intelligence affect crime, war, justice, jobs, society and our very sense of being human? The rise of AI has the potential to transform our future more than any other technology—and there’s nobody better qualified or situated to explore that future than Max Tegmark, an MIT professor who’s helped mainstream research on how to keep AI beneficial. 384 pages Pub 2017

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 Pub 2015

Moonwalking With Einstein, by Joshua Foer

An instant bestseller that is poised to become a classic, Moonwalking with Einstein recounts Joshua Foer's yearlong quest to improve his memory under the tutelage of top "mental athletes." He draws on cutting-edge research, a surprising cultural history of remembering, and venerable tricks of the mentalist's trade to transform our understanding of human memory going from the United States Memory Championship to deep within the author's own mind P317 pages, Pub 2011

Proust was a Neuroscientist, by Jonah Lehrer

In this technology-driven age, it’s tempting to believe that science can solve every mystery. After all, science has cured countless diseases and even sent humans into space. But as Jonah Lehrer argues in this sparkling debut, science is not the only path to knowledge. In fact, when it comes to understanding the brain, art got there first. Measurement is not the same as understanding, and art knows this better than science does. An ingenious blend of biography, criticism, and first-rate science writing, Proust Was a Neuroscientist urges science and art to listen more closely to each other, for willing minds can combine the best of both, to brilliant effect. 256 pages P 2008

Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, by Johan Norberg

The daily news cycle reports the deterioration: divisive politics across the Western world, racism, poverty, war, inequality, hunger. While politicians, journalists and activists from all sides talk about the damage done, Johan Norberg offers an illuminating and heartening analysis of just how far we have come in tackling the greatest problems facing humanity. In the face of fear-mongering, darkness and division, the facts are unequivocal: the golden age is now. 288 pages Pub 2017

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, by Martin Ford

“Compelling and well-written… In his conception, the answer is a combination of short-term policies and longer-term initiatives, one of which is a radical idea that may gain some purchase among gloomier techno-profits: a guaranteed income for all citizens. If that stirs up controversy, that's the point. The book is both lucid and bold, and certainly a starting point for robust debate about the future of all workers in an age of advancing robotics and looming artificial intelligence systems.” -- ZDNet 354 pages Pub 2016

Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari has some questions. Among the biggest: How did Homo Sapiens evolve from an unexceptional savannah-dwelling primate to become the dominant force on the planet, emerging as the lone survivor out of six distinct, competing hominid species? Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, describes human development through a framework of three not-necessarily-orthodox “Revolutions”: the Cognitive, the Agricultural, and the Scientific. 469 pages Pub 2015

Superintelligence, by Nick Bostrom

Superintelligence asks the questions: What happens when machines surpass humans in general intelligence? Will artificial agents save or destroy us? Nick Bostrom lays the foundation for understanding the future of humanity and intelligent life. This profoundly ambitious and original book breaks down a vast track of difficult intellectual terrain. After an utterly engrossing journey that takes us to the frontiers of thinking about the human condition and the future of intelligent life, we find in Nick Bostrom's work nothing less than a reconceptualization of the essential task of our time. 390 pages Pub 2016

The Great Unknown: Seven Journeys to the Frontiers of Science, by Marcus Du Sautoy

Marcus du Sautoy takes us into the minds of science's greatest innovators and reminds us that major breakthroughs were often ridiculed at the time of their discovery. Then he carries us on a whirlwind tour of seven "Edges" of knowledge - inviting us to consider the problems in quantum physics, cosmology, probability and neuroscience that continue to bedevil scientists who are at the front of their fields. He grounds his personal exploration of some of science's thorniest questions in simple concepts like the roll of dice, the notes of a cello, or how a clock measures time. 458 pages Pub 2017

The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty, by Peter Singer

For the first time in history, eradicating world poverty is within our reach. Yet around the world, a billion people struggle to live each day on less than many of us pay for bottled water. In The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer uses ethical arguments, illuminating examples, and case studies of charitable giving to show that our current response to world poverty is not only insufficient but morally indefensible. 224 pages Pub 2009

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 arent necessarily who you’de 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 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

The Retreat of Western Liberalism, by Edward Luce

Unless the West can rekindle an economy that produces gains for the majority of its people, its political liberties may be doomed. The West's faith in history teaches us to take democracy for granted. Reality tells us something troublingly different. Combining on-the-ground reporting with intelligent synthesis of the literature and economic analysis, Luce offers a detailed projection of the consequences of the Trump administration, the rise of European populism, and a forward-thinking analysis of what those who believe in enlightenment values must do to defend them from the multiple onslaughts they face in the coming years. 226 pages Pub 2017

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


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 February 15.

___________________________________________________________ [ ]A Crack in Creation [ ]Artificial Intelligence--What Everyone Needs to Know [ ]Astrophysics for People in a Hurry [ ]Beyond: Our Future in Space [ ]Dance to the Tune of Life [ ]Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes [ ]Enlightenment Now [ ]Exact Thinking [ ]Fire and Fury [ ]Flatland [ ]Frames Of Mind [ ]Furry Logic [ ]Homo Deus [ ]I Contain Multitudes [ ]Life 3.0 [ ]Life Unfolding [ ]Moonwalking With Einstein [ ]Progress: Ten Reasons [ ]Proust was a Neuroscientist [ ]Rise of the Robots [ ]Sapiens [ ]Superintelligence [ ]The Great Unknown [ ]The Life You Can Save [ ]The New Geography of Jobs [ ]The Planet Factory [ ]The Retreat of Western Liberalism [ ]The Shape of Inner Space

The 2017 Bookshelf

The 2016 Bookshelf

The 2015 Bookshelf

The 2014 Bookshelf

The 2013 Bookshelf