Below is a running list of some of my favorite nonfiction books that have had the greatest impact on my thinking (or were just especially insightful or entertaining).
The Best Nonfiction Books
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker – an examination of the history of violence that shows how and why violence has declined over time, including the psychological tendencies, political institutions, and historical forces that contributed to its decline.
The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas – one of the best, if not the best, presentations of the history and evolution of western thought.
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud by Peter Watson – a much more in-depth examination of the history of ideas that also includes eastern ideas. This is the single best book on intellectual history I’ve read.
The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch – examines the nature and progress of knowledge and represents a modern continuation, by a leading physicist, of Karl Popper’s philosophy of science and knowledge.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan – one of the best book on critical thinking, skepticism, and the defense of science you’ll find, by a brilliant science communicator.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – a grand sweep of human history from a renowned historian, representing the best book on “big history” out there.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson – one of the best and most entertaining overviews of science and the history of science available.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – a tour of the mind and cognitive psychology, exploring the many biases built into the way we think. If you read one book about how the mind works, it should probably be this one.
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens – shows how the religious mindset poisons and distorts all it touches, representing the ultimate case against religion.
Confessions of a Philosopher: A Personal Journey Through Western Philosophy from Plato to Popper by Bryan Magee – probably the best, clearest, and most entertaining history of philosophy out there.
These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore – the best single-volume history of the United States available. It examines the tragic and exceptional nature of US history, weaving the entire story around the realization or hindrance of the ideals of the founders.
Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert B. Reich – an examination of the political and economic status quo and how to fix the system to work for the many, not the few, by a leading political economist.
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker – a rigorous and extensive defense of progress and the driving forces behind it, namely the enlightenment values of reason, science, and humanism.
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker – one of the best investigation into human nature and evolutionary psychology available, including the numerous social and political ramifications.
The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design by Richard Dawkins – among the best, clearest, and most entertaining explanations and defense of evolution available.
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins – shows why the belief in God is irrational and delusional.
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen – shows how what passes for American history in high schools is misleading and inaccurate, and why a more realistic history is indispensable for an educated electorate.
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson – my favorite travel book, full of humor and insight, providing a nice history of the Appalachian Trail.
A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell – a unique exploration of the history of philosophy from a philosopher that is a big part of that history. You won’t find a similar history with more intellectual depth than this.
The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis – chronicles one of the greatest partnerships in the history of science between Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the inventors of behavioral economics.
American Dialogue: The Founders and Us by Joseph J. Ellis – examines the relevance of the founders to today’s political issues as a dialogue between the past and present.
1776 by David McCullough – a narrative history of the year of the nation’s birth, from the perspective of both sides of the Atlantic.
The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley – shows how and why other countries educate smarter kids than the US and what we can learn about improving our educational system (if we listen).
The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy by Anthony Gottlieb – a very readable and entertaining history of philosophy focusing on the age of enlightenment.
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