Neil deGrasse Tyson Lists 8 (Free) Books Every Intelligent Person Should Read

tyson intelligent books

A user posed the question to Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on the planet?”

Below, you will find the book list offered up by the astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium, and popularizer of science. Where possible, we have included links to free versions of the books, all taken from our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks collections. Or you can always download a professionally-narrated book for free from Details here.

If you’re looking for a more extensive list of essential works, don’t miss The Harvard Classics, a 51 volume series that you can now download online.

1.) The Bible (eBook) – “to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”

2.) The System of the World by Isaac Newton (eBook) – “to learn that the universe is a knowable place.”

3.) On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (eBookAudio Book) – “to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.”

4.) Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (eBookAudio Book) – “to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.”

5.) The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (eBookAudio Book) – “to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.”

6.) The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (eBookAudio Book) – “to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.”

7.) The Art of War by Sun Tsu (eBookAudio Book) – “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”

8.) The Prince by Machiavelli (eBookAudio Book) – “to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it.”

Tyson concludes by saying: “If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”

He has also added  some more thoughts in the comments section below, saying:

Thanks for this ongoing interest in my book suggestions. From some of your reflections, it looks like the intent of the list was not as clear as I thought. The one-line comment after each book is not a review but a statement about how the book’s content influenced the behavior of people who shaped the western world. So, for example, it does no good to say what the Bible “really” meant, if its actual influence on human behavior is something else. Again, thanks for your collective interest. -NDTyson

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Comments (449)
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  • Andy says:

    That may be the worst one-sentence summary of Adam Smith that I have ever seen.

  • David says:

    Hmmm… NDT says about the Bible, “… it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”

    Says to me he read it, but didn’t understand it, or didn’t fully bother to comprehend vast sections of the New Testament. Though many USE the Bible to keep others from thinking, or use it to assist in repressing others’ thoughts, the Bible itself – if read in its entirety – is actually full of morality tales (whether you believe they happened or not) that should cause any sentient human to think more, not less. The biggest problem with it is that authoritarian types use it to effectively increase their own power and subjugate those who are pre-disposed to requiring an authoritarian figure in their lives – not that it, in and of itself, keeps others from thinking for themselves.

    Case in point: I am quite certain that the Big Bang happened, that the universe is 13.7 billions years old, and that our solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago. I am also a Christian. Theistic evolution explains both for me, precisely because I thought about it myself – not because someone else told me so.

    True enough, others do not see the universe this way – but not because the Bible says as much. It’s because (some) humans twist the Bible’s words and manipulate others to their way of thinking. But manipulation is not limited to (some) Christian leaders; manipulation happens across all societies, religions and political beliefs.

    But don’t blame the Bible for that. Blame humans.

    • Rebecca White says:

      I’d think a good reason to read the Bible would be to find out for yourself what it says instead of listening to what other people say it says… I agree with you that history rather than the Bible is what you’d study if you want to learn the lesson he talks about.

    • Rebecca White says:

      I’d think a good reason to read the Bible would be to find out for yourself what it says instead of listening to what other people say it says… I agree with you that history rather than the Bible is what you’d study if you want to learn the lesson he talks about.

    • Sam says:

      “Theistic evolution explains both for me, precisely because I thought about it myself” — and you’d have to, because there’s no evidence for it elsewhere.

    • Biblescholar says:

      “the Bible itself – if read in its entirety – is actually full of morality tales (whether you believe they happened or not) that should cause any sentient human to think more, not less.”nnnBut you’d only know that by reading it, which is kind of his point.nnnConsider Abraham: God says “kill your son” and he says “sure thing, Lord!” and fetches his knife, at which point God comes back and says “STOP you muppet! What the fuck are you doing?”nnnToo many people still behave like Abraham.

  • Rocko says:

    I concur with Andy.

  • EvieKeen says:

    I’ve always been a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson, but I really think this list (and his summaries)are a very telling representation of his cynical view of the world. I read six out of the eight books listed here in high school, and I think they were definately worthy of the time spent. But they hardly constitute a balanced approach to understanding humanity and the universe in which we live in. Charles Darwin’s work didn’t even allow for feelings of ‘kinship’ between our fellow humans, much less to all other living things. He was a brilliant ,yet bigoted man, who was the scientific father and supporter of eugenics.

    • Michael Harrison says:

      It is two years after the fact, but misinformation is misinformation. Darwin writes in his journal of his time on the Beagle–the very same expedition that led to his famed and lauded scientific discovery–of his experiences of how terrible an institution slavery is. For instance, on April 15th, 1832, he wrote: “During Mr Lennons quarrell with his agent, he threatened to sell at the public auction an illegitimate mulatto child to whom Mr Cowper was much attached: also he nearly put into execution taking all the women & children from their husbands & selling them separately at the market at Rio. u2014 Can two more horrible & flagrant instances be imagined? u2014 & yet I will pledge myself that in humanity & good feeling Mr Lennon is above the common run of men. u2014 How strange & inexplicable is the effect of habit & interest!. u2014 Against such facts how weak are the arguments of those who maintain that slavery is a tolerable evil!”nnEvolution is merely the latest in a long line of scapegoats for human bigotry; for instance, one rationale for slavery was the Bible-inspired notion of the curse of Ham, but I do not see many people decrying the Bible as inherently racist.

  • Khan says:

    I don’t follow you at all. The Bible is also full of terrible acts against all life. On the one hand you are saying you like the good lessons you can gather, but then you completely ignore the rape, slavery, genocide, and ridiculousness. While you may have a great personal relationship with your god, that is exactly how it should stay. No one person has the same picture, and to the rest of us that have a completely different word view we laugh a little inside when you try to defend something we want nothing to do with. My morals didn’t come from god, nor did they need to be written down. I am sorry that you needed a book to get it right.

    • Goddes FourWinds says:

      Perhaps, he’s saying that if you read the bible, instead of just the hearing the stories your pastor/priest/minister tells you, you’ll not believe it at all. :)

  • Gerry says:

    I don’t imagine you meant God himself when you speak of “authoritarian types” using the bible “to effectively increase their own power and subjugate those who are pre-disposed to requiring an authoritarian figure in their lives”.

    …assuming for a second that such a being existed.

  • Thanks for this ongoing interest in my book suggestions. From some of your reflections, it looks like the intent of the list was not as clear as I thought. The one-line comment after each book is not a review but a statement about how the book’s content influenced the behavior of people who shaped the western world. So, for example, it does no good to say what the Bible “really” meant, if its actual influence on human behavior is something else. Again, thanks for your collective interest. -NDTyson

  • Mike de Fleuriot says:

    It should be noted that the title of this article contains the word “Intelligent”, others are not required.

  • emily sours says:

    i love reading about science. but i cannot support telling people to read “on the origin of the species”. it is VERY BORING. of course, there are excellent ideas in there, but i could not read it. instead, i say read “the blind watchmaker”.

  • Mark Hawker says:

    “… it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”

    That applies to all of the aforementioned one-line summaries, right?

  • Doro Moody says:

    I read many of these books when I was too young to do anything but write a paper that addressed a professor’s proposed theme. Most are available free in e-book form, so I suppose I’ll have some reading to do in my time off of work. :)

  • J Mitchell Robertson says:

    Books you should be *familiar* with? Yes. Read? Jeez, I dunno. A lot of these are simply unreadable. I mean, even the Church will tell you that the Bible is not *meant* to be read, as a book. More like “referred to.”

  • John says:

    Amusing to see the apologists starting early. You can interpret the bible in the best possible way as much as you like, it doesn’t change the fact that there is a very large amount of horrible nonsense throughout its pages. It also doesn’t change the fact, that to NDTs point, you’re ultimately demanded to think a certain way.

  • “He was a brilliant ,yet bigoted man, who was the scientific father and supporter of eugenics.”

    You obviously not only did not understand On the Origin of Species, but you didn’t look into his other works. Charles Darwin was neither a bigot nor a eugenicist. His On the Descent of Man was a long argument showing the essential uselessness of race as category, of the unity of the human species. This was a progressive idea at odds with the general bigotry and racism of 19th century Europe.

  • Danielle says:

    Free-thinking intellects don’t bother with the bible. I was excited to see the list and what a disappointment to the see that the bible was first (or there at all).

  • John Shuey says:

    I have an incredible amount of respect for Dr. Tyson, but based on his description of “The Wealth of Nations” I have to wonder if he’s ever read the book himself. If on the other hand he has, then he clearly doesn’t understand the difference between self-interest and “greed”.

  • mark says:

    1)why you should kill people who do not believe the same thing as you.
    2)how to kill people who do not believe the same thing as you.
    3)scientific justification for killing people who do not believe the same thing as you.
    4) keep the liberals happy while you kill people who do not believe the same thing as you.
    5)to explain to the dead people why they are free.
    6) how to pay for killing people who do not believe the same thing as you.
    7)1001 easy ways to kill people who do not believe the same thing as you.
    8)how to get away with killing people who do not believe the same thing as you.

  • Andrew Hess says:

    Read The Art of War to understand why you should read The Bible.

  • Steven says:

    “I mean, even the Church will tell you that the Bible is not *meant* to be read, as a book.”

    There may very well be a reason for that, a fair number of atheists have become atheists simply from reading the bible too thoroughly. This has included ex-priests and people who were studying for the priesthood. This also explains why some atheists know more about the bible than most theists.

    And no I wouldn’t use the bible as a moral authority. while there are some good moral points in it, there are also some very bad moral points (such as slavery (Ex 21), mass murder (Deut 20), misogyny (all over both old and new test.), incest(Gen 19:30), child sacrifice (Gen 22), etc.).

  • Bryan says:

    “to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”

    Sort of like this list tries to tell its readers what to think and believe, instead of leaving questions open.

    Better if Mr. Tyson eschewed a list altogether and encouraged readers to pursue their own interests and think for themselves while being skeptical of any claims to authority.

  • Dan says:

    Thanks Neil for chiming in and clarifying. Appreciate it! And thanks to others for keeping the conversation friendly yet substantive. I’m one lucky editor.


  • Incredibly poor selection of books. Damaging even.

  • Rudy Volkmann says:

    Not sure Gullibles Travels makes the mark (though the justification kind of excuses it), Would like to see “The Only Dance there is,” by Babba Ram Dass; Deamian by Herman Hesse,Cat’s Cradle and Sirens of Titan by Kurt (pre-crazy) Vonnegut; Dune first trilogy and Foundation trilogy on the list.

  • John says:

    Strange article. Seems out of place on this site…

  • Chris says:

    These books are the essential guide to forming a well-rounded 19th century mind.

  • Matt says:

    Great list. Certainly some very influential pieces. Also, if you’re going to read The Prince, you should also take the time to read Anti-Machiavel by Frederick the Great.

  • watermpi says:

    As a physicist myself, I wish scientists would just stick to science, and not society or spirituality. Scientists make poor sociologists and theologians.

  • mswool says:

    guys, guys… these books are FREE that’s why Origin of Species is on there instead of the much more readable “blind watchmaker.” for instance.

  • John says:

    All good and well, except that ‘The Prince’ was meant as satire. Was a decent list up to that point.

  • Steve D says:

    I agree with the Bible, not for the reasons Tyson cites, but simply to know what’s in it, so you don’t start spouting ignorant nonsense about what’s in (and not in) it. Ditto the Koran.

    Origin of Species, Wealth of Nations, etc. are historically important, but you’d be far better off reading more contemporary works on evolution or economics.

    The ink was still damp last time I read The Prince, but I remember wondering what all the fuss was. Machiavelli didn’t advocate ruthlessness; indeed he thought just and moderate rule was more effective. What gave him the bad reputation seems to be that he frankly admitted that sometimes rulers had to be ruthless.

  • John says:

    While I personally believe the Bible is entirely a creation of man, I still think it’s important to at least be familiar with it. It is the literary source of many archetypes in Western Civilization. Whether you agree with these archetypes or not, you should know where they come from.

    There actually is some very good prose in there too, which I’m sure is part of the reason why it’s so seductive to some. But good prose is good prose — you can still appreciate it for what it is, even if you don’t agree with or believe in it.

  • Ben J says:

    mswool is right, which is also the presumable reason that “Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” is not on the list.

  • Matt says:

    IF the bible were written in such a way as to be 100% clear to all who ever read it, I would agree with the Christians who defend it. The bible is used to cherry-pick good passages, and is spoon-fed to many who claim its glory etc. from preachers on Sundays who need an excuse to have a community. Without the church/religion people would think more for themselves and many wars would cease to be caused or fought.

  • David says:

    Amazing…. Darwin himself said “Such simple instincts as bees making a beehive could be sufficient to overthrow my whole theory.” People cling to Darwin’s teachings as scripture, but then in the same breath call the Christian,’religious fanatics’. So who is, so called ‘blinded’, by their faith?

  • Don says:

    Know how to tell when someone is a moron?

    They consider themselves “intelligent”.

    What the fuck kind of question is that…“Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on the planet?”

    What? Are you in some kind of club where some books are for you and not others because they are not “intelligent”?

    I bet most of the losers at OWS think they are intelligent. I bet the guy who crapped on the police car thought he was doing a very intelligent thing.

    Get the fuck over yourselves.

  • neil deAss says:

    “the wealth of nations” helped to deliver more prosperity to the world than any other book in history. if any book will teach us about human greed, it is “the origin of species”. capitalism is freedom, and this fool would have you enslaved believing otherwise.

    • Rebecca White says:

      You’ve obviously never read it. And you know, Darwinism has been misused in the past to justify capitalism. It was a great sorrow to Darwin, predicting people would abuse his writing that way. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, look up “social Darwinism”

  • Aly says:

    ugh… I shouldn’t have read the comments. I think this is a well thought out list, for what he has stated it to be. “If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.” Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. That just about covers it, right? Some of these reading selections just elaborate on those negative aspects whereas Darwin, Newton and Paine’s focused on the positive. He’s saying their theories drove mankind to the point that we are at today, not endorsing them or even agreeing with them. He also didn’t state that the Bible is a ridiculous work of fictitious mythology mostly stolen from other cultures. He simply stated that by making it easier “to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself” this book greatly influenced our current civilization. And if you need examples go to your local high school. Almost every student is assigned a research paper from which they have to draw a conclusion. This used to mean they would research the facts, process the facts, and reach a conclusion based on the facts. Now it means they type the subject into google, change the wording from the wikipedia page slightly so that it resembles their own speech pattern, find a conclusion someone reached at some point, reword it, and turn it in as original work. This is the influence of making it easier to repeat the words of others instead of processing thoughts for ourselves. Now is when I would generally make some long sarcastic speech about the great level of offense I take at Gulliver’s Travels being on the list but as I need to be awake again in three hours, I think I’ll call it a night. And my “intelligent” advice would be: stop taking life so seriously guys. no one gets out alive. That’s an original quote, by me. ;-D

  • Hector Avalos says:

    Evie should have read what Darwin said in The Descent of Man (1871)

    “The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature.”

  • Olivia says:

    I’m sorry to see that some of you are choosing to be so obtuse that you didn’t get NDT’s point. It’s sorely disappointing to see such crap under his book list. I’ve read the Bible, am agnostic, and got the point.

  • Manticore says:

    iBooks doesn’t have ANY Newton :(

  • Matthew Tanner says:

    Tyson’s list is crap. Here’s mine:

    “The Emergence of Consciousness” edited by Anthony Freeman

    “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology” by Raymond Kurzweil

    “The Norton Anthology of World Literature”

    ‎”War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race” by Edwin Black

  • CondescendingIntelligentPerson says:

    amazing how an ‘intelligent’ person thinks that that is why you should read the bible. how wonderfully ignorant.

  • Penultimate says:

    For my part, I heartily second this list. There are hundreds of other books I’d also recommend, to contribute to a well-rounded mind; but I think this list is a great start and very strong evidence of a perceptive, deeply engaged person.

    I don’t in general advocate looking at a person’s success as a measure of the quality of their life, but in his case I would make an exception. He is among the scientists accorded with the greatest degree of respect from a wide, general audience. He “teaches with authority,” to borrow a phrase.

    I think that his perspective is worth considering, even if it rubs you the wrong way initially. It can’t hurt you to read the books with his comment in mind, and see if it gives you new insight; if it doesn’t, at least your objections will be better researched.

  • Tess Elliott says:

    Wow! As usual the comments are all over the map. I liked the list in general for covering some major areas of what makes us human, how things work, etc. I have read most of them, excepting for Smith and Newton who I have read about. Darwin’s “The Voyage of the Beagle” is also wonderful if “Origin of Species” is too boring. “Gulliver’s Travels” is a masterpiece for sure. Some people will never get it. To Rudy, Kurt Vonnegut was always crazy and proud to admit it & I miss his voice terribly, but his work will not explain how things works. “The Art of War” is required reading for corporate types, and is a style of thinking that is against almost everything I stand for…but a fact of life none of us can escape. Good list. Part of me also wants to recommend a good Survival manual though I am not sure I would want to live if we had an apocalypse in my lifetime.

  • Dale Cruse says:

    This one confused me the most:

    “The Art of War by Sun Tsu – ‘to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.'”

    That’s not what I took from that book at all. In fact, that book suggests that outhinking & outmaneuvering your opponent is the surest way to end a battle before it begins. If anything, THAT is raised to an art, not the act of killing people.

  • Leo Jones says:

    I disagree with deGrasse’s view that the Bible is worth reading because it teaches us about the nature of propaganda. The Bible is valuable because it records what ancient peoples thought about the human experience. In addition, it chronicles, I believe, the development of the concept of the individual. God is vengeful and jealous in the Old Testament, with few direct contacts with individuals. The New Testament tells the story of an individual relationship with, which in later times would lead to the birth of individualism. In this context, the Bible is worth reading.

  • Shade Ilmaendu says:

    Glad one other person knew that Prince was a satirical novel. :P Seems like most everyone got wayy too hung up over the bible and didnt feel like discussing everything else. Which just kinda proves the point of how influential a book it has been in our history I suppose XD

  • Beth says:

    David, seriously. Do you have any idea how to contextually read sentences? To put it plainly, he’s saying that in order to have your own formulated opinion on the Bible, you need to read it. That singular sentence doesn’t blame any person or an inanimate object; he’s just saying read the damn thing instead of going on the word of your peers, the media, religious leaders, or your cat, who knows. Your whole rant is invalid and pointless in the context of this post. At what point in time will humanity not be plagued with dramatic, assuming people.

  • Beth says:

    And Leo Jones, EVERYTHING is worth reading. Weren’t you ever taught that you can learn from even the most harrowing experience or the most hateful propaganda? I guess we should probably just bury everything about the Holocaust if we’re following your logic. Or wait, the end of your paragraph contradicts your first sentence, so now I feel confused as to what statement you’re trying to make. :/ From these comments, I can tell one thing…our Education system is in serious need of an overhaul. Ugh, get me out of here.

  • Hanoch says:

    Mr. Tyson’s recommendations and related comments are very useful to demonstrate the important point that one can be quite talented in one area (e.g., astrophysics) and be clueless in others (e.g., theology, morality, literature, economics, politics).

  • lol says:

    Watch out guys, we’re dealing with a badass over here

  • PatrickEB says:

    @EvieKeen December 21, 2011 / 9:44 am should also read. I mean, just read. Also EvieKeen should read White and Gribbin, 1995, specifically page 232. They write than when imposed upon by the well-meaning and enthusiastic Ernst Haeckel, Darwin attempted to dissuade him of his attempts to fuse social theory with natural selection.

    Darwin was less bigoted than most people of the time and did not support throwing the poor and less fortunate to the wolves or identifying that they somehow deserved their situation.

  • PatrickEB says:

    @Hector Avalos says . . . | December 22, 2011 / 6:05 am

    Nice one, Hector.

  • PatrickEB says:

    @David says . . . | December 21, 2011 / 8:10 pm

    …and yet another misquote. Where do people get these things from? Rather than read the original, they seem to pluck things out of mid-air, or from some reference to them in a book written by someone else who misquotes.

    Seriously people, the one thing you should learn from an education is to check the facts.

    To quote Darwin from ‘The Origin of Species’, page 207:

    “The subject of instinct might have been worked into the previous chapters; but I have thought that it would be more convenient to treat the subject separately, especially as so wonderful an instinct as that of the hive-bee making its cells will probably have occurred to many readers, as a difficulty sufficient to overthrow my whole theory. I must premise, that I have nothing to do with the origin of the primary mental powers, any more than I have with that of life itself. We are concerned only with the diversities of instinct and of the other mental qualities of animals within the same class.”

    “…it would be more convenient to treat the subject separately, especially as so wonderful an instinct as that of the hive-bee making its cells will probably have occurred to many readers, as a difficulty sufficient to overthrow my whole theory.”

    He believes that many readers would think that honey bees’ instincts would be a difficultly sufficient to overthrow his theory. So, he decides to develop issue separately.

    He doesn’t write “I” think this is too difficult. He says some readers may think this.

    Now, before people think they must go out and buy the book to read it…it’s free to download and read so go ahead.

  • PatrickEB says:

    @Leo Jones says . . . | December 22, 2011 / 8:08 am

    “The Bible is valuable because it records what ancient peoples thought about the human experience.”

    Only some people and then only what some people wrote about others who preceded them…with no notes, no research evidence and purely their person views.

    “In addition, it chronicles, I believe, the development of the concept of the individual.”

    Given a great number of the characters in the Old Testament are written as engaging in discussions with an imaginary super friend, I cannot see how the New Testament creates any sense of ‘individualism’.

    Furthermore, sociological and anthropological research (which is voluminous) would posit the construct of the individual as being a more recent development and, in that, being developed through a struggle with hegemonic, authoritarian religious thinking such as that surrounding Christian churches.

    The history of many theologies is to oppress and restrict thinking and individualism which does not conform to the senior religious leaders views.

    Christianity is just one of those theologies which has had to adapt to the facts as they arise (evolution, astronomy, physics, chemistry) and then change to fit in.

    In fact, religion as a means of understanding has been on a long march of retreat. It has yet to provide any evidence to cause major scientific thinking to change but has itself had to adopt to the advances of scientific thinking.

    The bible is interesting to read as a collection of stories…and to give non-Christians an idea of the myths and stories important to some Christians.

  • sees says:

    @ david – you still think god is “real”. find evidence, or you cannot be in the same realm as science. a.k.a the study of reality. things that aren’t disprovable aren’t useful. science has proved that. common sense will ultimately prevail.

  • misanthropope says:

    _the wealth of nations_ has been seriously mis-characterized here. _the art of war_ has been so badly slandered, that it’s difficult to imagine that mr. Tyson has actually read it.

  • CB says:

    I agree with some of the comments about Wealth of Nations. I was very disappointed to hear someone as intelligent as Tyson make such a plain ignorant statement about such a profound book. There are almost a limitless amount of wannabe-rebel pseudo-intellectuals who will make up all sorts of ignorant slander about this book, and Adam Smith. Some will call him a supporter of “free markets” or a “conservative.”

    To those who have read his book, Adam Smith is none of those things. I will take this time to point out that he was in fact quite a moderate man, who was afraid of the inevitability of income inequality and the negative social effects that might have. To this end, he was one of the first to openly speak about “progressive taxation” brackets– where you pay a higher tax rate the more money you earn.

    So no, Neil. Normally I am the biggest fan of yours, but you obviously either failed economics class or just didn’t read Wealth of Nations.

    Also, to those saying “well i guess this means scientists just arent good at economics,” I respond; economics is very much a science. No, I don’t mean “it’s a social science” like sociology or anthropology. Economics relies on statistics to a much greater degree than the natural sciences, and it relies on mathematics just as much if not more than- say- physics. Don’t believe me? Try researching Dynamic/Stochastic General Equilibrium solutions. Makes “rocket science” look like arithmetic.

  • misanthropope says:

    CB, complicated equations do not a science make. models containing *predictive power* are what is required, and predictive power is conspicuously lacking in economics.

    mathematical sophistry is how the macro-economist tries to paint himself a more serious person than the other types of theologian.

  • Badass says:

    Watch out. We got a bad ass over here.

  • site says:

    thanks for the links!

    just wanna say that a lot of you sound like a bunch of smarty-pants newbs. i’m not naming any names, so if my comment offends you perhaps you would do well to ask yourself if you might be one, and furthermore why are you getting defensive? :D

    knowledge is cool and all, and acquiring it is no doubt the best we can do, but it is transitory and often subjective. the elite thinkers probably talked all their shit about the world being flat with the same swagger you fools exhibit. also, as has been pointed out above, all those great thinkers are dead now, just like all the dumbasses of ancient times.

    p.s. God is real, but He’s no punk that will submit to your microscope. It goes the /other/ way, peacocks!

  • Adam Keele says:

    Some of you are out of control. Just read them. If you have, great. Now go and live YOUR life and try to not ruin it for anyone else.

  • Mahatma Koate says:

    How about,”Way It Posed To Be”

  • ceteco says:

    Dale Cruse says . . . | December 22, 2011 / 7:45 am
    This one confused me the most:

    That’s not what I took from that book at all. In fact, that book suggests that outhinking & outmaneuvering your opponent is the surest way to end a battle before it begins. If anything, THAT is raised to an art, not the act of killing people.

    THE NAME IS WAR FOR GODS SAKE. What its to be confused about? >_>

  • Mike says:

    In traditional Chinese philosophy, the most “artful” thing in war is to avoid it. If that cannot be achieved, then there are certain principles to follow. Dale Cruse’s point was very well-taken. Have you read the book?

  • J. Boanerges says:

    Dr. Tyson,
    Thank you so much for your tenacious work at educating the masses. Words cannot express my appreciation for your efforts and achievements in this endeavor, therefore I will not even try, other than saying thank you.

  • Dennis says:

    7.) The Art of War by Sun Tsu (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”

    Hmmm, the Art of War promotes the idea of “winning without fighting” and killing people as a last resort, only when all other options are exhausted. Victory in that manner is considered a victory without honor. It is based off of Taoism. He may be an astrophysicist, but his reading comprehension sure leaves something to be desired.

  • Marianne Walker says:

    I personally would rather like to see a list of recent science books such as published by New Scientist (, Best 2011 Biology Books ( and Brain Pickings ( Old books can indeed provide a good perspective on the evolution and status of current affairs, but there have been new more interesting insights since then.

  • oldestgenxer says:

    I was going to leave a message similar to the others until I scrolled down and read them…my sentiments are more or less realized in them. So, taking another tack: ignoring his commentary, is this a good list? What books would you recommend to people to read? The way it struck me, I feel, for the first time, like making a similar list, and also reading some of these that I have not.

  • Chris Butterworth says:

    “4.) Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (eBook – Audio Book) – ‘to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.'”

    You can learn the same thing by reading many of the above comments.

  • Ahmet says:

    Why the bible on this list but not Qur’an.. I just wondering, what kind of intelligence is used while getting written this list.. Based on what?? I am not saying the bible should not be on this list, what i am saying is if the Bible on this list the Qur’an definitely should be in this list too. Every people in this world should read the Qur’an at least once in their life even if he/she is not a Muslim..

  • rc says:

    So Mr. Tyson doesn’t mind Darwin telling him what to think. He just doesn’t want God telling him what to think.

  • rc says:

    Ahmet,I am curious. If you believe that everyone in the world, even non-Muslims, should read the Qur’an, do you think that you and all other non-Christians should read the Bible? Are you willing to do what you would ask of others? Just wondering. To answer your question, the Bible is the only religious text on the list b/c the Christian Bible is commonly accepted throughout the world to be the one true holy text (even tho Mr. Tyson himself doesn’t believe in it, oddly enough).

  • bck says:

    How about a book written by a woman?

  • J. Anthony Carter says:

    I concur with David… umm, up top!

  • lnrdspns says:

    As NdGT implies in a comment of his own, this is a list of books that shaped the Western world. Even if reductive, the list includes some of the most important works for that end, and that is because the WW was pretty much “formed” during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Thus, it is not surprising not to find books by women or the Koran (not because lacking merits). On the contrary, the inclusion of the Bible is dead on. After a cold and dispassionate analysis we have to accept that without the Bible our contemporary world would be very different (whatever that may be). Just to consider (not wanting to defend the Bible): What if Johann Sebastian Bach had not read the Bible? The development of the book’s apparatuses in the Late Middle Ages (footnotes, table of contents, indexes, etc.) is related with the study of the Bible and theological treatises. The book itself, as a reading technology, revolves around the Bible (think St. Jerome). With the exception of Sun Tsu, all of the authors on Tyson’s list have something to do with the Bible.

  • Fred says:

    I don’t know how someone can call themselves a christian if they haven’t read the bible cover to cover.

    I don’t know how someone that has read the bible cover to cover can still be a christian.

  • Chris says:

    I’m truly amazed by how many people missed the point of this list and especially the point of the one-liner comments for each. Especially after the trouble was went to to clarify it.

    The books are listed not as simply some”best of” list, but the top FREE books that influenced our present society (at least the Western part of it).

    The comments are NOT about the meaning of or a judgement of what the value or accuracy of the book is, but what lesson past society took away from it. Hence what effective impact it has had in creating our present world. Regardless of if that agrees with the intended or actual meaning of the text!

    For example, it doesn’t matter that The Prince was satirical, because the message that society took away from it was serious and basically precisely what was said in the comment.

  • leonarda da da says:

    the world beyond pluto by stephen marlow

  • Alison says:

    The only one I’ve managed to read was The Prince, but I read it in Italian so I hope I get extra credit.

    I’ve tried to read the Bible. I bogged down somewhere in the Old Testament. My take-away observations were that (1) it’s no wonder the New Testament is so popular – the old Testament is a story badly in need of a main character and (2) It is a really hard read and most of the people who talk about what the Bible says cannot possibly have read it. Perhaps that’s what he means by realizing it’s easier to believe what you’re told than decide for yourself.

    I’ve tried to read Origin of Species, I know I should read it, but I agree with whoever said it was boring. I’ll keep trying though.

    I do think there is something missing – there should be at least one book from which the reader could learn of the potential for goodness and joy in human creativity. We are not all bad. We have Harry Potter.

  • “Or you can always download a professionally-narrated book for free from”

    No, you can’t “always” do that. only works if you’re running Windows or Mac and you don’t mind DRM.

    It’s really bizarre for an “open culture” site to be promoting a platform-locked DRM-only service.

  • Alan D. James says:

    I concur with the remarks of Tyson. If you want to understand humanity, warts and all, you have to be a cynic.

    The beauty of being a cynic is that one has more “eureka” moments. There are also those wonderful moments when intrinsic human goodness shine through an individual act, and which make you doubt your cynicism.

  • xz says:

    the lord of the rings
    to learn one does not simply walk into mordor

  • Jay says:

    I think it’s safe to say that this list is presented with tongue planted firmly in cheek, at least I hope it is. I did a big “waaaah!?” when I read the sentence about the Bible but I think he’s saying that this is what people/political leaders/monarchs/etc have used the Bible for throughout history. I was raised to think for myself where religion is concerned and to always be questioning. I would hope a sane, rational man, which I assume he is, wouldn’t take this stance where the Bible is concerned but, as we all known, stranger things have happened and normally rational humans have irrational thoughts where religion is concerned.

  • Matthew says:

    You can’t have any realistic understanding of the Western tradition without reading Plato.

  • sb says:

    I’m not an “LOL” using kind of guy, but I literally laughed aloud, alone in my apartment when I read the quote, “To answer your question, the Bible is the only religious text on the list b/c the Christian Bible is commonly accepted throughout the world to be the one true holy text.”
    Hilarious. Thank you, whoever you are, you ridiculous person.

  • Ammad Khokar says:

    Despite great intentions, people feel the need to challenge points aside from the overall message of the post and attempt to tear it apart. Read or read about the books. Perhaps they will help you shed this unhealthy desire to defend what isn’t attacked and destroy all that you feel opposes your view. I appreciate the recommendations; all very good reads for insight into our human nature and the world we inhabit.

  • The Marching Morons says:

    Bible and Intelligent Person are mutually exclusive. Skip.

  • jay says:

    The Bible “to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.” Neil deGrasse Tyson. Hmmm, wouldn’t that also apply to the Koran, the Vedas, and the Talmud, or does Dr. Tyson find the Bible uniquely flawed?

  • Tyler Jarvis says:

    First: Machiavelli’s “The Prince” was meant as satire, or so it seems, at least, after reading anything else by him.

    Second: Various commentators have said things along the lines of “Intelligence and the Bible are mutually exclusive” I wish to call anyone who believes that an idiot. I know too many intelligent Christians, some being my friends, to let that go unchallenged. The bible shaped western culture. There is absolutely no way to dispute that. it is quite possible that the internet would not exist without its influence on the sciences and information technology. (What demand for a printing press would there have been without it? What else needed to be mass produced enough that it would have been cost effective?)

    Third: The art of war is a fascinating book, and as has been stated before me I’m sure, is not about how to kill people. It is about how to avoid killing people, or, at worst, to kill as few people as possible. Defeating the enemy without ever fighting him is the point, not slaughtering his soldiers.

    Fourth:Back to the bible; if you want to talk about it then read the damn thing. Know what you are talking about before opening your mouth, I beg you. Same goes for the Koran or any other religious or controversial text.

    Finally, and completely unrelated: Remember that in an infinite universe anything that can happen, will happen. So(assuming an infinite universe)there is a 100% chance that somewhere out there on some alien planet that for some reason looks exactly like our own, intelligent discourse reigns on the internet.

  • Jim says:

    uh, this was supposed to be a free book list. Why are so many people recommending books that cost money as alternatives? And what’s with the swearing? It really makes you sound ingnorant (not cool or hip or whatever). And professing your religion beliefs doesn’t add to the conversation, it simply exposes a bias (assuming you know what a bias is…).

  • Evan says:

    Not a bad list but the one-line summaries remind me of the same pre-digested crap I was served back when I was in school.

    “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”

    Seriously? I can’t honestly believe you read the book (at least not past the title). It had little/nothing to do with actual killing. The Art of War represents the strengths of leveraging strategy, logistics, and the inherent weaknesses of the human psyche to break your opponent for the best possible result.

    “The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities…It is best to win without fighting.”

    I haven’t read the book in almost 10 years (and at the time I only read it as a personal curiosity) and I at least gathered that much.

    I see your ‘bullshit’ and raise you ‘BullShitMan’.

  • Samson says:

    Like others, I disagree with his assertion of The Art of War. It seems like he didn’t read it or failed to grasp its thesis. Some of the principles in The Art of War are that war should be avoided until it is only resort left, that war should be fought so that it ends quickly, and that battles are best fought by causing the enemy to retreat and avoiding massive, head-on confrontations with enormous casualties. It has very little to do with raising the act of systematic murder to a form of art. If anything, much of the history of the western world was driven by a lack of understanding The Art of War.

  • loldongs says:

    Wow, that list is terrible.

  • Alan says:

    I find it shocking how many so-called ‘intelligent’ people refuse to even crack open a Bible to see what it is all about for themselves.

    You’d think they thought they’d maybe catch something.

    I think this list is actually good. I’ve read most of it, and I thought the ideas expressed therein were interesting. I’m not sure the commentators still understand Neil’s justification for the list, but it just goes to show that even among ‘intelligent’ people, there will always be blindness.

    And most people are definitely yahoos.

  • dp says:

    I think this list should be renamed: “8 Free Books that Every Intelligent Person will claim to have read but didn’t”

  • Openshaw says:

    I love the Hayden Planetarium, but this guy needs to get out of there for a while. I could pick any other century out of a hat and give you eight books and a supercilious Cliff Notes synopsis without having to be an astrophysicist. Crap sakes.

  • Unencumbered Freethinker says:

    Wow! Reading the comments is almost as enlightening as the suggested books. Personally, I get what the article is about as do some who have left comments. The rest should re-read the article carefully and ‘THINK’ rather than react explosively to a single phrase or comment. Thanks for a great list.

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  • Jan Fischer says:

    Let’s see, . . . how many myths are there out there about the Bible? If you live in Western culture, you must read the Bible and understand that it has spiritual power to change people and culture for the better. It is the foundation of America’s view of government, the inherent worth of each person, our monetary system, our education, our philanthropy, scientific study, history, art and music—and you haven’t even read it? It contains the most beautiful prose and intriguing stories and stunning poetry imaginable. It is the basis of our moral code, or ethical code and our legal code. Even though it covers over 3,000 years of history and was written by numerous writers during that period, there is no serious contradiction in fact or in attitude or belief in the entire book. Think that was a coincidence? Think again! This book is written by a higher power; handle with care and read with a serious mind what it contains. Until you do, you cannot claim to be intelligent.

  • gerdi says:

    “The Art of War by Sun Tsu (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”

    that would be hitlers no 1 on his list

  • Liz says:

    Seriously…lighten up people! Free Speech is in our Constitution. This list is only his suggestions, covers a wide variety of subjects, and stays within the boundaries of FREE.

    He doesn’t say they are the ONLY books we should read on the particular subjects, or that we have to believe them.

    Think about this…would it do any HARM if we all read these books? Certainly not. It would give us more knowledge and information in order to better think for ourselves and make informed decisions. Reading ANYTHING is good…NOT reading keeps the mind closed.

  • michael mumford says:

    How about Plato’s “Republic” or John Locke’s “Black Box”????

  • Doc says:

    I’m with Aly and Liz….lighten up everyone. He doesn’t demand anyone read them, merely gives his opinion that these works influenced civilization. He doesn’t really even specify whether he means positively or negatively. He doesn’t say that there couldn’t be other books on the list…I can’t see anywhere where he says ‘these are the only books to read’. Everyone else is free to chime in with their thoughts and suggestions. No need to attack Neil and everyone else that doesn’t agree with you – ironic that doing so helps to prove some of the ideas contained in some of these books about how we treat each other and how we act :)
    I have read some of these, some of them I have not. Some I agree with, some I don’t. I did find the ones I have read interesting, at least in part though. As someone else mentioned, almost any reading is good.

  • I agree with The Art of War, but disagree fervently with his summary of the book, which actually says the best victory is that won without a battle. That summary, and the other books on the list, make me doubt whether the man has actually read any of them.

  • Rachel L. says:

    “If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”

    Yikes. It appeared that most of the folks who commented above did not see that statement.

  • Guillermo Vall says:

    Havent read most of them :P I don’t think these are a balanced list for any intelligent person. It’s true that these books have in great part shaped the world, but just because of that I dont think they’ll give much new, it’s all in society. It’ll be definitielly interesting to see the stems of many of current ideas, specially those that are troublesome. However, I think it’s much more worthy and necessary to read the books that explain why those ideas are wrong and how could we improve on them. For example, I don’t think reading the Bibble will make you “learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself”, I think reading Isaac Asimov, for example, commenting on it would make thinks clearer. Anyway, maybe some day I’ll read them but only if I have time, which I think it’s quite unlikely, at the moment I am happy with the little comments NDT has given to us, they just tell everything we need.

  • Guillermo Valle says:

    Havent read most of them :P I don’t think these are a balanced list for any intelligent person. It’s true that these books have in great part shaped the world, but just because of that I dont think they’ll give much new, it’s all in society. It’ll be definitielly interesting to see the stems of many of current ideas, specially those that are troublesome. However, I think it’s much more worthy and necessary to read the books that explain why those ideas are wrong and how could we improve on them. For example, I don’t think reading the Bibble will make you “learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself”, I think reading Isaac Asimov, for example, commenting on it would make thinks clearer. Anyway, maybe some day I’ll read them but only if I have time, which I think it’s quite unlikely, at the moment I am happy with the little comments NDT has given to us, they just tell everything we need.

  • Mike says:

    1) “The Best That Money Can’t Buy”

  • Joshua says:

    I would love to pick at Neil’s brain and have him unpack that statement about his comment “…it does no good to say what the Bible “really” meant, if its actual influence on human behavior is something else.” I find it to be a very loaded statement. Just to have that dialogue, even if we walk away disagreeing, would be a very enjoyable experience.

  • ecoglobe says:

    Seems a pretty outdated list. My most important book is “Overshoot” by Willaim R Catton Junior, especially chapter 11

  • Bathabile says:

    I am happy to take this list of books for precisely what Dr. Tyson says it is: “[A] profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”

    Note the qualifiers “MOST” and “Western World”.

    I scratch my head when, after Dr. Tyson has been so clear about the list’s specific limitations, folks critique the list for all kinds of other attributes. That one respondent wrote of having read six of the eight books in high school so validates what Dr. Tyson has said about the list. In certain places, these books are widely considered to be constituent elements of one’s formative education.

    Read these books to know who you are as a denizen of the Western world, recognizing that there are other earthbound “worlds” out there that see things differently and refer to a different critical mass of thought. This is beautiful.

  • Duncan says:

    I am wholly with Bathabile on this. I cannot help, however, but declare my ROFLMAO attitude toward the majority of respondents here.
    A shame that more individuals will not read and think as opposed to yabber and stink.
    Congratulations, Dr Tyson. You have delivered a sound fundamental reading list to any who propose to understand more about our current civilisation than the popular press would have us believe.
    Arohanui, Duncan

  • Zach says:

    I agree completely with Bathabile and Duncan.

    It’s a list of books to be read, not agreed with. I can read the Bible, be enchanted by its poetry, and saddened by its intolerance. I don’t have to like it overall to know that it’s an important and influential work that has and will continue to shape the world in which I live.

  • John says:

    Wow… the vast majority of you comment makers have obviously never read the Bible nor do you understand what you are reading despite the fact that 80% of it is one syllable words.

    Most laughable are you people who call yourselves “free thinkers”. Yeah right! Your behavior, thoughts and actions, have been scripted into your dna so thoroughly that a simple con on the phone could have you believing they know everything about you.

    You could point to 1,000,000 books to show what has influenced the development of the entire world: Lust – for power, for wealth, for life.

    Best of all: supposed morals without a higher authority of any kind as author and guide.

    Apparently Dr Tyson is your guide now.

    There has never been an objective being. Knowing this, the rest is known.

  • Mike says:

    You know we receive an education in the schools from books. All those books that people became educated from twenty-five years ago, are wrong now, and those that are good now, will be wrong again twenty-five years from now. So if they are wrong then, they are also wrong now, and the one who is educated from the wrong books is not educated, he is misled. All books that are written are wrong, the one who is not educated cannot write a book and the one who is educated, is really not educated but he is misled and the one who is misled cannot write a book which is correct.

    The misleading began when our distant ancestors began to teach their descendants. You know they knew nothing but they passed their knowledge of nothing to the coming generations and it went so innocently that nobody noticed it. That is why we are not educated.

    Now I will tell you what education is according to my reasoning. An educated person is one whose senses are refined. We are born as brutes, we remain and die as the same if we do not become polished. But all senses do not take polish. Some are to coarse to take it. The main base of education is one’s “self-respect”. Any one lacking self-respect cannot be educated. The main bases of self-respect is the willingness to learn, to do only the things that are good and right, to believe only in the things that can be proved, to possess appreciation and self control.

    Now, if you lack willingness to learn, you will remain as a brute and if you do things that are not good and right, you will be a low person, and if you believe in things that cannot be proved, any feeble minded person can lead you, and if you lack appreciation, it takes away the incentive for good doing and if you lack self control you will never know the limit.

    So all those lacking these characteristics in their makeup are not educated.

  • Muspsycho says:

    I stopped reading after the first one said “the Bible”…

  • guntergrass says:

    Tyson has always been a pompous little twit, never done any original work, just living off the accomplishments of his betters. The afirmative action scientist. His existence proves the failure of Liberal big government.

  • Levi says:

    “If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”

    “The one-line comment after each book is not a review but a statement about how the book’s content influenced the behavior of people who shaped the western world.”

    Fairly straightforward statements. No need to take them out of context.

  • Ulaan says:

    guntergrass is, and has always been, a pompous little twit, never done any original work, and lives entirely off of the accomplishments of his betters. He succeeds, in his limited way, by belittling and denigrating others and inflating himself. His existence demonstrates the failure of contraception and his opinion proves that small, infertile minds are incapable of producing anything but an intellectual skunk cabbage–bigoted, arrogant, and stinky.

  • Andrew says:

    Isn’t it a little redundant, telling people to read books that ‘should be read’, when you state “It’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”

  • Richard Ray says:

    The racist and ignorant comment by guntergrass should really be removed by the webmaster. It’s amazing what spiteful malice can be written by anonymous commenters. Too bad the commenter hasn’t the courage to put his real name and address here just in case, you know, he ever tries to get a real job in the civilized world.

    To rebut one of his malignant points, just in case others may be unaware… Tyson is the author of a number of highly cited scientific works. Among them I’ll list here just one of his early ones: “Bursting Dwarf Galaxies: Implications for Luminosity Function, Space Density, and Cosmological Mass Density”, in the Astrophysical Journal, volume 329, June 1988.

  • Amanda says:

    you guys are idiots, especially Andy and David and whoever else agreed with them?! you guys totally missed the whole point of this list!!!! the sentence after each book is OBVIOUSLY not a “one sentence summary” of the books!! ughh. get out of here…

  • Haseg says:

    I want to give Tyson the benefit of the doubt and say that he was being sarcastic about his summaries.

  • Lawless says:

    OMG, the suggestion that an INTELLIGENT person ought to read the Bible is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.

  • 7LeagueBoots says:

    Wow, so many haters on here and so many people completely missing the point of why these books are suggested.

    One of the key ones in indeed the Bible. No matter if you believe in it or not, a large portion of the US population and a lot of the rest of the world population believes in it and you will never have any real insight into the way those people think unless you read the things they get many of their ideas from. It’s similar to the creationists not ever bothering to read anything about evolution and thus not having any way to understand it.

    As for the comments about the brief summaries of the books, for the most part the summaries are pretty accurate in that they reflect how people have applied the ideas within the pages of those books. In that context the descriptions make sense.

  • Eileen says:

    NDT, do you ever get frustrated being surrounded by idiots?

  • Nika says:

    A good list, but I think it is time to consider that there have been many books just as important to human thought which were written by women. Too many male atheists and male scientists overlook contributions made by women because it is outside of their own personal experiences.

  • Wow. Religious folk sure are the sensitive type, eh? The truth sometimes hurts. You go Niel! Although I have only read 5 out of the list you gave, I still get your point. I would add to the list “Why People Believe Weird Things” by Michael Shermer.


  • I apologize for mis-spelling your name… I have trouble with words like “thier” “beleive” recieve” too.

  • kyle says:

    I love reading the sensitive bible defender’s comments, you are all making Neil’s point. You can make a logical argument about a creator but a personal god of the bible, really? Grow up already, no god anywhere cares about you. Your awesome Neil, thanks for all that you do!

  • Kyle says:

    Hey Dan, it was Global Secular Humanist on FB

  • Brianna says:

    “The one-line comment after each book is not a review but a statement about how the book’s content influenced the behavior of people who shaped the western world. So, for example, it does no good to say what the Bible “really” meant, if its actual influence on human behavior is something else.”

    I love how people are still skipping this comment and just going in to their self-righteous arguments against this list of books.

  • Naisy says:


    …if you think the bible is full of moral stories,

    …you haven’t read the entire bible.

    It’s disgusting.

  • J-Dub says:

    Important books, yes, but odd reads to recommend. I’m guessing he purposely named books freely available in the public domain.

    If commercially available books are allowed, A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (illustrated edition) makes sense of some very esoteric principles of physics and quantum mechanics. It goes on to discuss the implications for mankind. A truly insightful read for someone who’s into cosmology or theoretical physics, or for someone doubting religion and seeking scientific explanations for the big questions of the universe.

  • Aly says:

    oh lawd oh lawd he done mentioned the bible… bring on the thumpers and the fundies to march 10,000 strong against the vicious attack on christianity. (don’t worry about the rest, they don’t even read the bible, much less anything else.)
    the atheist pages on facebook keep posting this list, dredging up spiteful masses. I wonder if NDT even reads it anymore. seems like a hateful waste of time, for the most part.
    anyone else notice that every time someone makes some stupid racist trash remark, they can’t spell, they aren’t familiar with basic grammar beyond an 8th grade level, and they just seem all around uneducated? isn’t that ODD?
    ,’ `.
    : TARDS :
    : ALERT :
    ‘. ! ,’
    _,”–. _____
    (/ __ `._|
    ((_/_)\ |
    || SSt

  • Aniee Sarkissian says:

    It says 8 books that you should read, not the ONLY 8 books you should ever read. People need to stay calm and just keep reading all scholarly material they can get their hands on. Also, get rid of your TV and watch your reading speed increase!

  • A. Jones says:

    Dan, I came here from post by FB page “Global Secular Humanist Movement”. I really like NDT’s comments about each book.

  • Chris says:

    Dan, “Astrology is Stupid” also promoted this.

  • Don says:

    Is there no way to delete unintelligent remarks from a story told to intelligent beings? I know all comments would be gone, but then, who would be disadvantaged?

  • WT Hesson says:

    Mostly I like this because I didn’t know about LibriVox. I don’t agree with the selections – many of them are dull and badly written, there are simply better works even in the same fields. However, it is an interesting list: particularly in that there is nothing pubished past what 1860?

  • Liz says:

    Have read every one of them…but do not see why the science fiction fanatsy book “the Bible” is listed. it is not a book of fact, most of it are fallacies..and a man’s interpretation of a God. When we stop believing in talking snakes and other fantasies…then true enlightenment can begin.

  • Matt says:

    Dear Andy,
    I believe it’s one sentence that describes what he thinks is important to walk away with. Not a summary. So Andy, stfu.

  • Kevin says:

    ‘The one-line comment after each book is not a review but a statement about how the book’s content influenced the behavior of people who shaped the western world. So, for example, it does no good to say what the Bible “really” meant, if its actual influence on human behavior is something else.’ – NDT

    And that ‘influenced behavior’ is on full display by so many commenting here who reacted without understanding the context. NDT nails it (again).

  • Kay Storms says:

    I think reading in general is good, but I know a lot of people who’ve read every one of these books…so what? Most of those books have historical significance but push really outdated and skewed world views. Why give them forum over many much better books? Why are these books “intelligent” people should read? Do they make intelligent people more intelligent? If Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to give me a book list on cosmology or aerospace…I would take his expertise in those fields into consideration…but otherwise, why should I adopt his reading preferences?

  • Natalie says:

    I have read all but one. And I agree! Excellent list. :)

  • At this point, I’m wondering which would take more time.

    Read all 8 books on the list

    Read all the comments on this thread

  • J Crowley says:

    Wow, never have I seen something so simple and non-polemic upset so many people in so many different ways. I feel like all of you are reading WAY too much into this, and the fact that so many of you with so many conflicting perspectives are so enraged is a good indication that you’re all doing quite a lot of projecting, and making wild assumptions about Mr. Tyson’s intentions.

    An aside:

    As far as the Bible is concerned, for whatever it’s worth: The fact that it contradicts itself in numerous places (see, for instance, where it describes that Judas died by hanging himself in one place, and died by jumping off a ledge in another place) casts doubt on its having been penned by an omnipotent and presumably infallible author.

    And surely, an omnipotent/omniscient being would have the foresight not to give instructions in the Old Testament that would later only end up getting corrected and redacted in the New Testament. When he said nobody should eat pork or wear mixed-fiber clothing, did he just get it wrong the first time?

  • Ben says:

    I have to say, I love that the Bible is on the list. I often meet intelligent people who were raised in athiest households who really don’t know anything but the very basics when it comes to religion. And considering that Christianity is a massive influence on western society, it seems silly that they are ignorant about it.

  • jatix says:

    That is exactly how the bible should be taken. There is no argument against it. Any who try only prove it right…thank you and have a wonderful day.

  • richard says:

    What a list of unread books. If he has read all these I’m a banana.

  • Am very surprised this list shows very little intelligence in the way of arts, especially since the topic is about books that should be read.

    Where is Shakespeare; Dickens; Freud? No mention at all.

    Very poor choice of reading, albeit one that would entertain am sure would be Isaac Newton, but to be honest all you could learn is what you already know by throwing an object in the air.

  • William Freeman says:

    Probably the most boring least enlightening set of books I’ve seen. No doubt that there is information contained within all these books, but the books themselves are so boring, that they would put people to sleep before the learned anything. There are many better books which could easily teach these things and more. Chaucer? Shakespeare? Jung? This list is more likely to bore to death than teach.

  • Mark says:

    This is the list of books you should read if you want to understand how brainwashing works.

  • SAJ says:


  • Susan W. says:

    I agree with David Rothwell. And not one woman in the bunch. Middlemarch? Emma?

  • Dan Bonser says:

    In the end, all great books to read, and see through the innuendo to glean insight from what people wrote the books for. As far as the Bible one, it is one everyone should read, so you an get your own insights from it, and know for yourself what they are talking about when people misquote it for their own purposes.

  • Incrеdible quest there. What оccurred after?
    Gοod luck!

  • komiska says:

    “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.” ???

    Give me a break

  • Victor says:

    Given the idiotic summaries, I bet he hasn’t read most of these books himself.

  • Julie F. Kadas says:

    There is no god and there is no gravity…the world and universe function without either being proved (or disproved) – impossible to prove a thing in the negative, I am aware. Yep, I’m a quack if that’s what you need to move forward from this statement. Peace and good discussion to all.

  • emir says:

    A brief history of time should be in the list

  • toot says:

    Chaucer? Shakespeare? Absolutely!
    Jung? meh…
    Masquerading as a scientist, Jung was little more than a closeted Chrstian always trying to sneak the god -figure in through the back door.

    I use the pages of both the Bible and Quran as convenient, disposable door mats.

  • Erdman West says:

    Neil is an excellent human and well worth following!

  • Tyler Janzen says:

    I don’t think there is any purpose in disagreeing with NDT’s list here. Notice that he does not say these are the “ONLY 8 books” that every intelligent person should read. He does, on the other hand, put books on this list that are FREE!!!

    His single sentence summaries serve succinctly his own opinions which are to be valued as the opinions of someone else. Find your own opinions if you want to have a conversation.

  • baffled says:

    I think it’s hilarious that people are putting up “better books” by recommending books that aren’t free. Academia considers some books staples of education and intellect because they are still popular despite being over 100 years old. Bothering to recommend a book written 10 years ago is pointless… because after another 100 years passes, will people have even heard of the books our commenters recommend? I guess I’ll check back when I’m 130.

  • justin wilshire says:

    My list would look like this:

    1.Animal Farm – George Orwell to understand history
    2. Siddhartha – Herman Hesse -to understand yourself
    3.The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (any part will do) – language
    4. On Dialogue -David Bohm – relationship
    5. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley – the future and its challenges
    6. Women Who Run with the Wolves – Dr. Estes – the past and the collective consciousness
    7. Education and the Significance of Life – Jiddu Krishnamurti – what is learning
    8. Smiley’s People – John LeCarre – real politics beneath the b.s.

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  • Ma Chuang Wang says:

    Western world? Who cares. The “western world” has gotten us into the mess we are currently in. It is also in the process of disintegrating.

    I’d recommend Confucius, Lao Tze, and Buddhist Sutras for the real answers to universal issues. The west has failed.

  • Joe says:

    It’s disturbing the amount of athiest-ic echoed jingles saying “It’s a book of rape and genocide;” which really says no one has bothered to read the bible and study it and only listened to what some stiff-necked miserable atheist had to say. (whom only takes things out of historical and cultural context.)

    [[[If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he
    must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.
    Deuteronomy 22:28-29.]]]

    “As much as any feminist today must shiver with the mere thought of a woman being sold to her rapist, this is not what it was seen as in those days, at all. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 describes a law suit where the cause of action is not so much the violation itself but the consequences it bears on the victim’s future. Namely, the financial loss she could be expected to suffer by not being able to start a family for her own support. The court rule is an attempt to make the violator pay damage repair by forcing him into a marriage and (most importantly) denying him the right to divorce, which he normally would have had (Deut. 24:1-2). In other words: what we see as adding insult to injury today was actually putting the woman in a very strong legal position back then. She became financially secured in a way she could not have archived by a regular marriage.”

    2) In Deuteronomy 21, a r3belious son is stoned to death.

    “An understanding of the full meaning of this passage must revolve around two teachings of the Sages: (a) The death penalty imposed on this youngster is not because of the gravity of any sins he actually performed, but because his behavior makes it clear that he will degenerate into a monstrous human being….(b) So many detailed requirements are derived exegetically from this passage that it is virtually impossible for such a case ever to occur. Indeed, the Sages state that there never was and never will be a capital case involving such a son. If so, many commentators contend, the passage must be understood as an implied primer for parents on how to inculcate values into their children.” (Stone Edition of the Chumash, p. 1047).

    3) [[[When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her. Deuteronomy 25:11-12]]]

    “You shall cut off her hand: [This verse is not to be understood literally, but rather, it means:] She must pay monetary damages to recompense the victim for the embarrassment he suffered [through her action. The amount she must pay is calculated by the court,] all according to the [social status] of the culprit and the victim (see B.K. 83b). But perhaps [it means that we must actually cut off] her very hand? [The answer is born out from a transmission handed down to our Rabbis, as follows:] Here, it says לֹא תָחוֹס,“do not have pity,” and later, in the case of conspiring witnesses (Deut. 19:21), the same expression, לֹא תָחוֹס, is used. [And our Rabbis taught that these verses have a contextual connection:] Just as there, in the case of the conspiring witnesses, [the literal expressions in the verse refer to] monetary compensation (see Rashi on that verse), so too, here, [the expression “You must cut off her hand” refers to] monetary compensation. — [Sifrei 25:161]”

    Do we call those who follow “an eye for eye; tooth for a tooth evil” for ripping out another’s eye?

    There are so many things taken out of context, such as biblical slavery which was not the same context as the African American slaves 200-some years ago. Which those who were “slaves” biblical chose to be owned. It was to pay off debt, and once it was payed the slave would be set free. Bible “slaves” could own property. Slaves could also *choose* to stay as slaves if they loved their owner. Biblical slavery was for protection of the poor.

  • Joe says:

    (were “slaves” biblically* chose)

  • Tammy says:

    I cannot believe the ignorance in the comments left on this page. I took NDT’s suggestions as a provision of examples that would expand our consideration of individuality, add to our experiences the perceptions of others and to encourage self-introspection to heighten our awareness and therefore encourage us in HOW to think and not just WHAT to think (NDT) (paraphrasing) …”The Books every “INTELLIGENT” person should read”

  • casey says:

    interesting except for #1. There is zero reason to read the Bible. I don’t need fictional morality tales to tell me what’s right and what’s wrong.

    • Chi says:

      Dude have you read it? I recommend you Revelations (Apocalypse)… It’s just so freaking twisted and weird…

    • Andres Torres says:

      It’s a part of our cultural heritage and continues to be a major influence on the lives of many Americans. All that’s reason enough IMO.

  • Silverback says:

    The level of butthurt in this thread is staggering.

  • Ashleigh Yaya says:

    Everyone is different.

  • Beaugrand says:

    It’s a good list, as far as it goes, but far from complete. An expanded list would hopefully include Plato and Plutarch, Descartes, perhaps some poetry and some classic fiction. I’d include Shakespeare’s plays and a good bit of Mark Twain (and not just his fiction, either).

    A well-rounded education needs to include a good bit of history, and not just European/North American history; H.G. Wells’ Outline of History was a good read for me, especially the 1946 edition edited by Raymond Postgate; it’s a bit dated now, but I haven’t found a comprehensive, readable replacement.

    We have unprecedented access to free information in the form of e-books and videos via Internet. Self-education has never been so easily obtainable. The ignorance and intolerance of some of the comments are as appalling as they are inexcusable.

  • leslie says:

    Mr. Tyson, I just wanted to assure you that despite the many comments above from people somehow completely missing your point regarding the summaries of each book that my husband and I understood the first time. Sorry you ended up having to spell it out for people. There is hope! We are huge fans, keep on, keepin’ on my friend.

  • Valerie says:

    All of you claiming that this book or that book shouldn’t be on the list, think about this: If you don’t read it how can you effectively argue against it? If you don’t know what it says then you cannot contradict those that do know. I have effectively argued with fundamentalists because I know the Bible better than they do. Make no mistake there are those out there that use these 8 books to further their agenda everyday and the intelligent people need to use them as well.

    • Catholic Lite says:

      By that logic, I must study Zeus and Apollo before rejecting them. And Nammu and Mishdada and Kulla and Tiamat and Shu-pa-e and Amurru…hopefully you get the point. As for me and the Bible, it loses me when the snake starts talking.

      • It lost me at the six days to make a universe. But I do take your point. My daughter told me a joke about Eve talking with the serpent, eating the apple, then running to Adam to tell him what had happened etc. First thing Adam does is turn around and said “F*** me a talking snake?”

  • Tracy Edwards. says:

    This list is a terribly skewed representation of “the West”: there are nonwhite, non male Western thinkers and writers of cultural and scientific import. (By the by? _The Art of War_ isn’t Properly “Western”.) Unless your tongue is planted firmly I would kindly suggest you broaden your list for accuracy.

    Otherwise, this is an excellent site.

    Best wishes,
    Tracy E

  • Graham Thomas says:

    I can’t remember the last time I read such complete garbage! The worst article ever!!!

  • Kyle says:

    Dr. Tyson, I think we all know by now from your statements that you hate Christians, but I assume and hope you know that the Bible in its entirety isn’t just a Christian creation – the Old Testament was the Jewish Bible first, and Biblical figures are also referred to in the Quaran. However, I doubt if we will see you criticize Jews or Muslims as directly as you do Christians, to do so wouldn’t be politically correct in this age and time. This response is from a Christian who admires your mentor, Dr. Carl Sagan, but you sir, are not Carl Sagan. Dr. Sagan stayed above belittling others for their religious beliefs. Ironically, by implying that Christians can’t think for themselves, you are stereotyping those who don’t hold the same beliefs as you. Maybe your aren’t really the critical thinker you *believe* yourself to be.

  • Kyle says:

    Dr. Tyson…Maybe *you* aren’t really the critical thinker you *believe* yourself to be.

  • Arbër says:

    how about some Krishnamurti? Just an idea and a honest suggestion though, you don’t need to kill me for that…

  • bobby digital says:

    the Quran in english is the greatest book of them all and it this holy scripture contains 0 errors and 0 contradictions, it states the word days 365 times the word months 12 times muhammad only 4 times jesus 25 times adam 25 times and there is a verse saying that jesus in the site of God is the same as adam but when it says something is not like something it will be off by one. I GUARNTEE YOU MOST OF YOU HAVE ONLY READ BITS AND PIECES OF IT AND HAVE NEVER READ IT ENTIRELY AND IT SHOULD BE #1 ON THIS LIST BECAUSE OF IT’S PERFECTION AND BECAUSE ALMOST NOONE IN THE WESTERN WORLD WOULD EVER BE OPEN MINDED ENOUGH TO SEE WHAT’S IN IT DUE TO TELEVISION AND STEREOTYPES.

    • krisbei says:

      No need to shout. nThere may be good reasons to read the Quran, but logically you should start with the Torah, then the new Testament, the Quran and finally the Book of Mormon. Thibk of it like starting with the Hobbit and finishing with the Silmarillion.

  • Lubomir says:

    and where is the best one – Catch 22 ?

  • Fyreshard says:

    For some reason i feel as if a majority of the comments here are rather defensive and close-minded; and to be quite honest, they bore me. I’ve read a few of the books here and can see where the Author of this post could draw his conclusions stating these literary works shaped the accepted social ideas of the western world. Hence, shaping how we act as a society. BUT KEEP IN MIND people; as soon as you turn the subject into wrong vs. right, you’ve already mucked up the entire situation. try to look at things objectively and entertain others ideas; before simply disregarding what another perceives. After all, your 5 senses only allow you to be aware of so much. Therefore, you truly know so little. just a thought.

  • Doctir Allen Drinkswater VIII says:

    Dan with the list that tried to grow into a monster. Ha. I liked the list of books that should be read. He should now add “10 more books that should be read, 10 great novels that should be read, and 10 science fiction books that should be read.” I like his presentations simply because he does NOT seem to take himself too seriously and instead thinks about things until he can better understand them. I like this idea!

  • Juan says:

    If you’re intelligent enough to know the mening of this word, then you might be intelligent enough to know that know body can define how intelligent you are or you’re goning to be by reading this books or not… He might be really smart, but this is just a “top 8 of his favourite common books”…

  • TeacherSays says:

    I remember the best advice I received from just about every mentor I’ve had. Heed this: Think before you speak.

  • Greg Laden says:

    Recommending “The Bible” is never a good idea. For one thing, there are functionally two of them (old and new) and they are vastly different. Suggesting both is just too much.

    For another thing, the Bible(s) is/are internally infuriatingly redundant. Entire sections are copied over. And, the different sections that are not redundant have vastly different things going on.

    I think it is better to suggest a handful of specific “books”/etc from the old, or the old and new, testaments. Within that, I’d further suggest trimming off some glop. For instance, the first but not second half of Genesis, then Deuteronomy OR numbers, then a glance at Leviticus should do it if for the OT, then one of the gospels for the NT (I don’t care which one).

  • kathleen says:

    For those who disregard The Holy Bible, I propose, you have either never read it, or read it with an already closed heart. The battle between human emotion and human rationality is fully explored within the pages of His esteemed book…the dark depths of the soul, and the pull of the light (at times with and at times without rationality). Darkness of spirit loses in the end. I also foreward that if you are a kind, thoughtful, loving soul who cares for others, somewhere down the path, if you, yourself, didn’t explore the Judeo-based religions, you were guided by someone, somewhere in your ancestry who did. I am not talking about religious dogma. The Bible, I believe wasn’t meant to be explored as a set of hard rules for the masses, such as your curls need to be so long, or no fish on Friday, or wear a head-covering in Temple or Church. The reason parts of The Bible are written as mysteries, I believe is because each person will find his or her place with personal exploration and this exploration will take him or her where she or he needs to be. Is there darkness in The Bible? Of course there is. How could it be a reflection of human existance and experience without it? How could a person explore his inner world without acknowledging that there can be or is a dark shadow in the human spirit? I am not defending The Holy Bible. It needs no defense from any human being. The above is only what I believe, and there is no incentive for anyone to believe as I do. You come to His word or you don’t. That’s how it works, and it’s all ok. As long as you find that you love your neighbor as you love yourself, do unto others as you would have others do unto you (Biblical) it isn’t important how you got there, now is it?

    • kiah mercer says:

      happy someone spoke up about its significance to human kind and that it isn’t such a bad book to be deterred from.

    • Randy says:

      Or been damaged by the misinterpretations of it!

    • MarkB says:

      What you’re really saying is, “read this first, and use it to color everything else you read, but IT is the most right.” Therefore, I say with the utmost sincerity…Bite Me.

    • Andy Webber says:

      Remove all occult, religious and ‘spiritual’ references and you have a half good set of moral philosophies. Removing the the same from The Qu’ran, and you probably get a better set.nBetter still, by far, set your own boundaries, create your own moral code. Don’t let other’s set them for you.

  • ignatz says:

    Shakespeare? Who the fuck needs Shakespeare?

  • jonathan says:

    Tyson is a media figure (read: shill) – NOT that bright a guy in my humble opinion. Anything BUT a real ‘scientist’. or free thinker..

    • I admit I do have a lot of problems with some of the pronouncements of Tyson. One thing he is alleged to have said is the nonsensical statement ‘the good thing about science is that it’s true even if you don’t believe in it’. That’s a nonsensical statement (science is a human practice – NOT a natural phenomenon). I’m hoping he didn’t say it – but people seem to think he did. If so – that’s depressing :(

  • kwbarrett says:

    You only have to read 14 of 66 books to follow the chronological narrative of the bible. I’ll list the ones I remember: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Samuel 1 & 2, Kings 1& 2, One book from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, An epistle of paul, probably Corinthians and Revelations. I’m missing three books but if you start with these you’ll have a pretty good Idea of the sequence of events. Then you can deal with all the judges and their personal stories and takes on things.
    BTW, I’m a strong agnostic.

  • Zante says:

    I am amazed that the simple listing of eight books that Tyson believes are beneficial to those who have the intelligence to be able to read and comprehend them would be the cause for such vitriol among intelligent people. He did not say it was a list of the only eight books one should read; he merely said that these should be included in the reading repertoire of intelligent persons. I see it as no more arrogant that if I, as an English professor, were to make a list of ten novels that all Americans should read. Of course my list would be subjective; any list of this sort is subjective.

    • Maher Khaldi says:

      what is your list?

    • It was the prescriptiveness of the command. It implies these books are THE 8 books ‘intelligent’ people HAVE to read, as if not having read them makes one unintelligent. In itself it poses a dogmatic ideology, trying to reduce the importance of human history to 8 measly books that not many people will have read, let alone cover to cover.

  • Cal Thompson says:

    Reviewing the comments, it seems that many are evaluating the content of the books and their personal take on the value/validity of these books. I believe the purpose here was to call attention to books and authors that have had a major impact on our society and our values. Understanding how we arrived where we are is completely separate from debating the value, or content of the books.

  • Jack says:

    The only thing that has kept science back has been (organized) religion. Once religion has been eradicated, the human species will rise above such dark aged nonsense and actually get on with creating a better world.

    • G_times says:

      assuming science has good intentions

    • london says:

      Please list valid examples of how organized religion has “kept science back”. Like “the human species” has done so much to “create a better world”.

    • DME says:

      What’s keeping us ALL back is the erroneous notion that science and spirituality are at odds, when in fact the truth lies at the seam where the two meet.

    • Daryavush says:

      Niether science nor religion have held back the creation of a better world, it has always been humans who have held it back. Architecture in Greece, the art of the Renaissance, Sufi poetry, and nonviolent arts like Aikido were developed by highly religious people. Ever wonder why the highly religious Shaolin monks, who train in martial combat throughout their lives, live peacefully and are not violent even against the smallest insects? Correct me if I am wrong, but did a group of religious zealots create and used the atom bomb, chemical weapons, biological weapons, tanks, guns, aircraft carriers, jets, etc.? Were the Nazi doctors who experimented on living people priests? What about the Japanese war criminals? Or the Soviets? Or Maoists? What about religious people like MLK and Gandhi? Did they hold the world back or were they held back by secular institutions?

      • Bodhi says:

        Zen and Daoism are quite different from your western “religions”. In fact, a few Jesuit priests are Zen masters. Buddhism doesn’t officiate between you and some divine entity. Buddhism (and Daoism) are more Science than Religion. Not that there is anything wrong with Religion. Some of my best friends are religious.

      • Bodhi says:

        Zen and Daoism are quite different from your western “religions”. In fact, a few Jesuit priests are Zen masters. Buddhism doesn’t officiate between you and some divine entity. Buddhism (and Daoism) are more Science than Religion. Not that there is anything wrong with Religion. Some of my best friends are religious.

    • Captain Scorpio says:

      Right. Tell it to Lysenko.

  • Rich Holmes says:

    Don’t take it personally Neil. Even here most people are to stupid to understand your list or the reasoning behind it. This is the ugly truth in an undereducated Nation.

  • Karl says:

    Rich made the perfect synopsis, i’m surprised by the quantity of religious fanatic comments i saw in here, there is still a LOT of work to do in education but i think ignorant people will always exist (by choice for themselves)

  • Britney says:

    I like how all of these comments are disagreeing with his ‘summaries’, even though he already said that they aren’t summaries but how they affected the western world.

  • Anunnaki Nibiru says:

    Well! Agree with most of the writings but why would any intelligent person would read bible or you just couldn’t resist to have a religious book on the list. There have been plenty on this planet before the bible arrived. Specially like of Gita and ancient Vedas, the oldest possible books.

    For once I would also suggest to read this one as well –

  • rejane florinda says:

    I read only thee of those. I think darwin will be a good choice. As for the bible, if you have an open mind it wont do any harm. It is only dangerous for the ones who literally believe in everything it says. You know, not so intelligent people…

  • PacificSage says:

    ….or you can listen to the stories of an intelligent person who grew up on the street. Probably a lot quicker, and less winded to reach enlightenment.

    Yes…….most smart sheltered people can be real dumb.

  • Mack says:

    Which Bible? Douay-Rheims? Douay-Rheims-Challoner? Vulgate of St. Jerome? The King James of 1611? The edited-down texts sold in this country and falsely labeled KJV? The pat-the-bunny NIV? nAny man who speaks of “The Bible” and examines the matter no further is not ready to speak of it at all.

  • StigmaII says:

    The man was asked a question and he responded. Amazing how this simple interaction became the basis for an unnecessary discourse.

  • Rick Marro says:

    8 great books for THE READER to take from it what they will,,,, Rather than the LEFT WING PROPAGANDIZED views of TYSON. . . It was a chore to get through all 8 of his (sometimes) disgusting satire —— The 8 books are worth reading, but thumbs down for TYSON though.

  • Ekama says:

    True, but it’s a shame he has so little to recommend in terms of human artistic achievement, preferring to dwell on petty biology and the regrettable aspects of human history.

  • anothercontrarian says:

    Thanks for recommending a list of great and influential books. nnI’ve sufficiently got over my shock and disappointment at finding that Pluto was just an overpromoted chunk of rock (no better, in fact, than Eris) to wish you a:nnnnVery Happy Birthday!

  • Ronaldo Maru00edn says:

    And if you want to save time, read Hamlet that brings that “you have to learn” of the indications number 1, 4,5,6,7 and 8 at once.

  • herocious says:

    This book is appropriately not on this list: it is free.

  • CFK says:

    Not going to read the entire thread because it smells like butthurt, but I feel it should be mentioned calmly and rationally (if it hasn’t been already) that The Prince was intended as satire and should be taken about as seriously as Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”. Which, of course, has no bearing on the actions of people who HAVE taken it seriously throughout history.

  • Natalie Bustillos says:


  • dude says:

    and the amount of religious vitriol is amazing. did they realize that other books were listed as well?

  • ralson says:

    how about the tyranny of words? that important to

  • says:

    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – Thomas KuhnnToward The One – Pir Vilayat Inayat KhannBeyond the Brain – Stanislav GrofnThe Marriage of Sense And Soul – Ken WilbernDigital Game Based Learning – Marc PrenskynGuns Germs and Steel – Jared DiamondnA Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill BrysonnRadiant Mind – Peter Fenner

  • Calreth says:

    The range of books, including the bible, is great. Too often we’re stuck reading only books we’re comfortable with and reinforcing whatever bias we have.

  • Sofian says:

    So happy to see the Bible in there! nn”Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”n(John 14:6 KJV)

  • chris hupke says:

    who’s the funny stache? three different times he self-id’s. nlets see he ridicules the Bible, is an advocate of darwin, despises Smith,,(basis for the ideologies of Marx, Hitler, Mao, Stalin) nneducated dunce. brilliant dunce. i might add save your commentary nn

  • TheBoyPhelan says:

    Maybe Tyson should read The Wealth of Nations.

  • yolociraptor says:

    Perfect. The more I think about it, the more brilliant that list is.

  • testpilot says:

    so, he’s a smug closet-commie after all… I suspected he might be one long before…

  • Mat says:

    “to learn that itu2019s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself”nWhoops, now that he told me that, I’ll have to learn to think something else for myself. :-) I guess it’s okay if he tells me what to think, just so long as it’s not our Lord and Creator Jesus Christ.

    • derekwashington says:

      YOUR lord etc….

    • ravissary79 says:

      And interestingly the bible hardly ever tells anyone what to think more than any other book. Agreeing with the bible is rather voluntary. And lots of people who were compelled by medieval social forces to convert didn’t do so after reading it… and usually never read it. In general I wonder if he ever read it with an open mind at all. Projecting all that baggage on it forces one to miss the point.

  • Cheryl Taylor says:

    great resource list aside from the fact that his first choice is The Bible and includes none of the other great(er) theological philosophies and includes it because u201cto learn that itu2019s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.u201d to me that is a terrifying idea to promote and a great reason to NOT practice religion at all.

  • Guest says:

    is on my desktop for 4 years every week i should read something from it. very useful book

  • eric says:

    The Prince is very important one, i put it on my desktop for 4 years, every week i must open it and read something.

  • subimal22 says:

    That’s all? Only these 8 books an intelligent person should read? Nothing else? How incomplete. List cannot be complete without 1) Alice in the wonderland, 2) Roots, 3) Home and beyond by Tagore and of course 4) Mahabharata …. –

  • Gibbs says:

    6.) The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (eBook u2013 Audio Book) – u201cto learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.u201dnn7.) The Art of War by Sun Tsu (eBook u2013 Audio Book) – u201cto learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.u201dnnnnI find this pairing ironic since “anti-capitalists” (communists, socialists) comprise the most murderous group in human history.

    • Marcus Sherwin says:

      This is an extremely dangerous misconception. You are forgetting about the slave trade and the genocide of indigenous native american people for starters, all done in the name of profit.

      • derekwashington says:

        Thank you. My response was going to be so much um less polite.

      • Polagnostic says:

        If someone does harm in the name of profit, we should blame people doing the harm, not profit. Economic systems do not enable or prevent enslavement or genocides or holocausts; people do. nnI wonder if Tyson should not have used the word “greed” here. Profit motive and greed are not synonymous. Greed is doing harm to others or being willing to harm others in the pursuit of profit. Consequently, it seems to me that by using the term greed, Tyson is essentially saying that doing harm to people is an innate part of human nature, or a force of nature as he writes. Perhaps he is right about that, but profit motive, capitalism or socialism, or any economic system generally, are not to be blamed for the atrocities referred to in the above comments.

        • Marcus Sherwin says:

          I used to agree with you, and honestly there’s no way for me to present all the information I spent months accumulating which changed my mind so I’m not going to try. Profit based systems reward greed above all, and don’t allow ethical people to compete. Sure, you can create laws and regulations to try and fix this, but it’s a herculean task in the face of corporate power, and the compromises we end up with usually just make things worse. Unless humans let go of the idea that competition is the most efficient way to organize and instead embrace collaboration we’re doomed. In this system waste generates profit; the more waste, the higher the GDP. The devastation that these systems create is all around us.

    • Alessandro says:

      It’s a close tie.

  • Bob says:

    Wonderful list

  • mrurrutia says:

    Intelligent people choose to read books upon the personal interest of gathering knowledge randomly and according to what resonates to the current events of their experience of life, in order to get inspiration to resolve issues creatively. Therefore the simple fact of suggesting that there should be a list of books that intelligent people should read goes against the mere nature of what intelligence and free thought are, for it pretends to limit beneath the boundaries of paradigm what is bound to develop as organically and freely as chaos.

    • Richard Seese says:

      I agree with you on that to an extent. These were suggested books and ideas about what’s out there, and how he viewed them as the biggest influence on the western world.Out of all those books, only one peaked my own interest at this present time.

    • thehomelessguy says:

      If you read only one book a year… but I’m guessing that this list is more for people who consume books like they consume food – 3 meals a day, every day. A person should never just read what they think interests them – the smartest people read just for the sake of reading.

      • Well not really – otherwise ‘smartest’ people will just read whatever’s closes – the Daily Mail here in the UK, for example, ‘for the sake of reading’… or a box of Lucky Charms.

  • dirtfabricator says:

    I like the people who get mad when other people don’t believe in a book that was not written by god or jesus, written by man, written for man, and written for the most part hundreds of years after jesus may or may not have existed.

  • fuzzmello says:

    no literature, no women authors, all high-minded isolated paternalism. hmmmm.

  • Clydene says:

    Exceptn for the Art of War, the book list is a tad skewed to Western nliterature. If one would expand the list to include the Ramayana that nwould balance some of the list. There again if you add the Ramayana you nshould also add The Mahabharata (a small part is known as the The nBhagavad Gita.), The Iliad and The Odyssey, and if you read the Bible ncover to cover you should read about Mithraism so you can get the virginn birth story that was written before the Bible. Myth is profound elementn is all religion.

    • Timaloha says:

      Good suggestions, but perhaps for a future list? Tyson was addressing Western culture. From the article: “Tyson concludes by saying: u201cIf you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.u201d”

    • Elise Sheppard says:

      Where do you get your ideas about Mithraism, from the creative brain of Dan Brown? Do your research.

      • tr60 says:

        Mithraism closely parallels the Christ story and Christian practices, as do other contemporary religions.

        • ravissary79 says:

          Except that the influence of Mithraism was paltry, limited, and merely makes for sexy scandalous comparisons. I’ll second the motion: do your research.

  • psfam says:

    “On the Origin of Species” is dry and dull read Darwin’s tretises on earthworms is more engaging. You would be better served by picking up a modern biology text book and reading it.

    • JonnyFlash says:

      It may be “dry and dull”, and sure, his treatises on earthworms may have a bit more action to them, but the idea is that his ideas at the time were more exciting than the long theories, but the “dry and dull” are what all of the modern biology text books have been able to acquire since then that is exciting.

    • veggiedude says:

      Modern biology books all reference Darwin, so it makes sense to start at the source for a grander understanding.

  • thehomelessguy says:

    Funny how so many commenters are missing the point – that these 8 books are listed here, not for what they are, but for what they did.

  • McAndrew says:

    Add Les Miserables, to learn that what is lawful is not always right, and that what is illegal is not always wrong.

  • CKS says:

    The Art of War, historically, was hardly read in the Western world until the late 20th century. It had virtually no impact on our warfaring ways, and still barely registers. Sure, it gets read by officer cadets, but it is far more popular among the “Executive Class” as a means of rationalizing aggressive marketeering (and thus, missing the point entirely). If you wanted to talk about warfare and the Western world, then Clausewitz is the book of choice by a country mile.nnAlso, there is one book that is quite noticeably missing from Tyson’s list: The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx. I suspect its omission is purely political in nature, but that’s no excuse. With the exception of Darwin, no book in Western history has been more influential, irrespective of where you stand on the political spectrum.

    • Raymond says:

      Agree on Marx, but of course it has the word communist in the title so it has to be a dangerous book that should not be read, but avoided at all costs, amaright?

  • Lucho says:

    His judgment of the Bible I think biased. It can be learnt much more than that in that book. Maybe he is a bit leaning unto the “atheists”, but I don’t think so. I think he is also more biased toward reading anglo writers, and not of the other cultures. A good point is that any of those books can be read by anyone with a standard GOOD culture. For even a person like that with hardly read Aristotle, or Marcus Aurelius, or Saint Thomas Aquinas, or Heidegger or Kant, with some benefit: they are to difficult, not for leisure but for “work” reading.

  • JDS says:

    Charles Darwin was a flake. The Holy Bible is the most read book of all time. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life.

  • antiutopia says:

    What a dumbass — he misrepresents the experience of reading the Bible and then proceeds to read every other book on the list just the way that he thinks the Bible would be read.nnHow readers relate to a text is a function of the reader, not the text.nnWhat an amazing dumbass.

    • veggiedude says:

      The only experience of reading the Bible is one of utter confusion. For instance, the 10th commandment says not to eat a baby goat if it was bathed in its mothers milk! Like, what Christian even cares?

      • ravissary79 says:

        Wow… no it doesn’t. And the rules about eating the calf cooked in its mothers milk has a little something to do with the symbolism of the family unit and not perverting it. Seeing as there were many regulations about food and bathing it’s not surprising that this would be viewed as inappropriate since the function of such regulations was to imbue all common daily affairs with meaning, metaphor and special care.nIt makes sense in context.

  • Allison Stara says:

    Not one female writer! This isn’t my list.

    • Paul says:

      Because that totally makes the list invalid. Maybe he was less concerned with the gender of the writer and more concerned with the content.

    • Derick Miguel says:

      Well you can recommend what you think or believe to be worth reading written by female writers…

  • Martyn Turner says:

    The bible affected literature more than any other book. For mere intertextuality value one should have some understanding of the bible.

  • steph. h. says:

    agree 100% about the bible. so many of the people who are die-hard bible fans haven’t even read it i’ve noticed. i actually tried reading it. only made it to numbers. how anyone could read it and think it’s true, is beyond me. it’s so obviously a projection of the humans at that time it’s unbelievable. i’ve never read twilight, but it’s probably more believable. one positive thing about the bible though, is that Jesus seemed like a good guy and had sage advice.

    • Andrew Lee says:

      Jesus as a good guy… well yes except isn’t he the one who talks about hell rather a lot.. you know, eternal burning for minor sins…

      • Derick Miguel says:

        Hell is used most often figuratively rather that what most people misunderstood as eternal burning…Sheol is another translation of the original word…

        • ravissary79 says:

          Whether it’s figurative or literal is irrelevant to the point. If no one believed in cancer from smoking and you told people to stop smoking then that must mean you’re a real jerk for filling people with fear over lung cancer… warning someone about something bad, even if figurative is the very essence of wanting good for them. How this isn’t clear is beyond me.

      • Carlos Anglada says:

        This would make You a gleaming example of the “have not read but claim to be an expert” mentality that seems to have become prevalent in so many discussions regarding The Bible that are currently taking place in both traditional and social media…

    • Ashley Marie says:

      Hi, i have actually read the bible from Genesis 1 to the bitter end of Revelations and can honestly say I am a firm believer (and that the bible is nothing like twilight). Not only because I believe that the bible is the word of God but because I have seen the Lord at work in my life as well as in those around me. That being said the bible is also not a book you can just take up and read, its a bit heavy and requires reflection. My suggestion would be to do it over the period of a few months to a year. You can not compare books you have never read it is IGNORANT and shows that you are very CLOSE MINDED..

      • Klypto says:

        Why did god take so log to reveal himself to ignorant arabs ? The universe has been proven to be some 14 billion years old. Why did not god make it clear what he wanted instead of dictating a bunch of gibberish to sheep herders in the desert ? If you are open minded you can you imagine that your god does not exist ?

  • Bruce Norbeck says:

    I agree, but I think he’s missing badly by not including Plato’s “The Republic.”

  • wmyl says:

    “[Progress & Poverty by Henry George] is *undoubtedly* the most remarkable and important book of the present century.”
    —Alfred Russel Wallace, 1892

  • Denver Ray Moore Jr says:

    Neil deGrasse is a dumbass. Enough said.

  • Tutie says:

    Lighten up folks. He answered a question and listed ten books that “should” be read. And he gave the reason he thought they should be read. He didn’t say the only ten books, or the best ten books, or ten books that best represent history, etc. You don’t have to agree with the list or his reasons, but it is a good list. These are ten great books.

    • Jim says:

      My main problem isn’t with his list, it’s that he hasn’t given any evidence of having read them himself, or at least of having given them real thought.

      • Tutie says:

        We don’t know if he read them or not. That wasn’t the question. He was asked what books he thought should be read.

  • Martin Snigg says:

    The man is a barbarian. What a waste of a life. “Power, the most real of things” is our sage’s advice. I think I’ll go with Jesus when it comes to how to live, who showed once and for all and “it is accomplished” that the libido domandi goes through the Cross or is just another bloody dead end. Merry Christmas

    • gkw says:

      Jesus is a fable. nNot sure how you came to determine NDT is a barbarian.

      • ravissary79 says:

        Read any book by any respected mainline historian reflecting the most up to date scholarship. Even atheist historians acknowledge he was real. Saying he was a fable is an ignorant copout.

  • Elmar17 says:

    He obviously didn’t understand Wealth of Nations.It is not greed to wish to work for one’self to make one’s family’s life better – it is the execution of responsibility. What he should have learned is that regardless of the greed of any one person the nature of market interactions force them to serve others.

  • Richard says:

    Apparently most people here are more interested in defending their world view and/or religion than accepting this is a good collection of basic knowledge necessary to understand western thought. A shame really.

  • Greg Gower says:

    The reason stated, for reading each of these 8 books, is “to know this or that” Since I find all of these things to be self-evident, does it follow that I am already intelligent and can therefore skip reading them?

  • Seajay Teaby says:

    I found this a very interesting list (also the comments). They are a good list of writing that can be read and looked at as the changes to the way we think and how we present ideas. There has been increasing evidence behind the written works. Evidence about how the world works and how the people within it think and explain what happens. As we have increased knowledge of the world and knowledge of the human race, there is evidence we are thinking more and more deeply.

  • James L Hendricks says:

    Great site. Do you send regular emails from time to time? May I be placed on your email list?

    Thank You

  • Bonnie Fox says:

    Interesting list. Weird list. I am an atheist myself, but with all due respect Tyson seems off about the Bible. The Bible is a very complex text with so many self-contradictory messages, if forces thoughtful readers to think for themselves. I don’t think it was deliberately designed that way — that is simply the (not unpredictable) results of a culture collecting myths, legends, and oral history over time and finally writing it all down. Other than that — the list just seemed arbitrary and almost random — but then I was an English major — and while these are ten good books, they aren’t a definitive list — because there is no such list.

    • jesse says:

      Critical Thinking allows one to read with their “Thinking cap”. I think Critical Thinking is something everyone should learn.

  • WINNER says:

    The BIBLE was not meant for People over the age of 7 it is an AFRIKAN fairy tale you IDIOTS are STUPID.

  • Vince says:

    Saw #1. Stopped reading.

    • Jesse says:

      Understanding the Bible is very important to understanding Modern Western Culture. If you don’t agree with it fine, but it is still something more than half the world believes, that makes it important to know.

      • Robert Van Housen says:

        Agreed. Totally. Unfortunately, I was raised in a parochial school system and know way too much about that heavy tome of fiction.

  • ormash says:

    He concluded by saying these books will give you keen insight into what drives the “western world.”

  • ormash says:

    Thank you Dr.Tyson for your premise, after reading most of the feedback, it is obvious that the intellects were caught up in their intellect and their lights went out.

  • Leo says:

    Heh, great list, and even better comments. I think people intellect are well displayed by their comments a lot of times!

  • G says:

    Sorry but the first book you must read is Holy Qur’an If you want to learn how to know and think about every thing and the one how created them.

  • Kathy says:

    Seems to me that he is telling us how to think and accept what he sees to be true to him. I’d call him a hypocrite.

  • RHW says:

    He left out the Koran, which has been the ‘justification’ for untold misery for 1400 years.

    This one book’s injunctions to conquer, dominate, and allow no other thought, explains much of what has happened over a significant proportion of that time, including Europe’s response to 400 years of aggression (the first Crusade).

  • Robert Fletcher says:

    Here’s to all who read the post/list of books and did not feel that it was necessary to make a comment – or read all the comments.

  • Baron Korf says:

    His understanding of these books and their effect on Western Civilization shows him to be about on par with a high school freshman. What a fool.

    • HollowGolem says:

      Yeah, he’s less of a polymath than he considers himself.

      Brilliant in scientific terms, but not great outside of that sphere of mastery.

      The history blurbs in New Cosmos were as bad, or worse, than the ones in the original, which weren’t stellar themselves, so apparently Druyen and Soter are similarly disinterested in the complexity of the humanities.

      No mention of anything by Karl Marx (or Auguste Compte, or any of the other thinkers in a wave that heavily influenced modern academic paradigms)? No mention of Byron, who redefined what a “hero” was in fiction and, one could argue, in our perception of the real world?

      Admittedly, I’m not a huge expert on non-Western literature myself, so I wouldn’t presume to recommend anything from that canon. So I don’t. I’d ask somebody who’s read it extensively.

      Tyson didn’t. He shot from the hip in matters about which he’s not an expert. He’s not as bad as Dawkins, for instance, in doing that kind of crap, but he still does from time to time, and it’s obnoxious.


    Very astonished that he didn’t include any book on cosmology, especially by Carl Sagan or (or his own very well written book on cosmos); physics by Paul Davies, Stephen Hawkings, Plato, Aristotle or Osho Rajneesh books. Let us forget Buddha and Lao Tzu, Freud, Carl Jung, Satre and Reich and many others!

  • Jason Puglionesi says:

    yes spend ages reading the unreadable canon of the west, they’ve been done to death no need to spend more time on books that will yield nothing unless you already have meaning to give them. these are the kind of treatises that are inaccessible to layman and only reinforce the prejudices and POV of the reader….nTheir meaning is so convoluted that people only take what they WANT to take away.

    • rhaphazard says:

      That’s kind of the point of literature: taking what you want.

      Also, if you really want to read something, you will find the time and motivation to do it. Speed reading helps.

  • Michael says:

    The historicity of Jesus is a well researched field with the 19th century assertion of there not being a Jesus roundly rejected by nearly every reputability scholar in the field.

  • Alex says:

    I feel that Das Kapital would be a better addition than the Communist Manifesto. If you want to know why I think that than you should read The Discourses on Livy by Machiavelli a book which is often ignored but in many ways far more relevant to the time period we live in than The Prince is.

  • Eva Kurilova says:

    The Art of War has nothing to do with how killing human beings is an “Art.” It’s as if he hasn’t even cracked the cover. The book goes to great lengths to explain how war is a necessary evil, and how to win as quickly, efficiently, and with taking as few lives (especially civilian lives) as possible.

  • EyeRoller says:

    Yet another sausage fest. Intelligence comes in many forms…if only he and his misogynist pal, Seth, could get it through their stiff, slimy, mushroom-shaped heads that inequality is a much broader issue than space.

  • n says:

    is Neil aware that women write books too?

  • James says:

    Dr. Tyson:

    As you suggest people learn to think for themselves, it does not follow that their opinions of the Bible’s influence should be discounted unless they conform to your own view of its impact. The dismissal found in the short summaries you offer of various books on your suggestion list is staggering even though the format restricts explication. I realize Anti-Christian sentiment does not meet the level of judgment in our culture as does Antisemitism, but as the Bible included the Hebrew Scriptures, you seem to include not only the former, but the latter bigotry as well.

    I am for free speech, being a Christian, and you are free to offer your curt and offensive replies. It is not free speech we support if we silence voices for offering things we find disagreeable.

    Perhaps we can give a different reason for reading the books you suggest?

    1. The Bible. Read it because its impact on Western Society and the world is unmatched by anything else ever written, and understanding of our world is greatly increased in the reading.

    2. The System of the World — to hear the greatest physicist provide an argument that arose from his Christian faith and its doctrines concerning God as a Reasonable Being who made a reasonable world and made humans with the capacity to use their God-given reason to understand that order. In short, to realize Intelligent Design is compatible with science, whereas Atheism gives no foundation for Newton’s claims.

    3. Gulliver’s Travels. To learn that people who get so focused on studying one thing in their lives are prone to a myopia, like scientists studying nature who tend to think nature is all there is, and that it is the non-experts who know that their thoughts, feelings, minds, and loves are not so easily explained away as illusions as the myopic Yahoos are bound to inform them from on high.

    The Age of Reason. To learn that there is a relationship between freedom and rationalism. However, rationalism can also be used to enslave. And Paine misses the fact that Reason itself cannot give a Reason for Reason. That takes faith.

    The Wealth of Nations – To help us see that we do not have capitalism as Smith described it, but a corporatism that consolidates power and eliminates competition through our allowing businesses to be in bed with the government.

    The Art of War – To learn that killing human beings has become an art, and to greater appreciate the “Just War Theory” that arose from Judeo-Christian thinkers about war.

    The Prince – To learn that certain people will make justifications for lying in order to promote themselves or their cause. For this lesson in our current age, we can look to the deceptions of Dr. Tyson in his recent reboot of Cosmos, where it s implied Bruno was killed for his belief in heliocentrism when he was not, and where the fact that Mo Tze, the Chinese thinker he touts as a scientist, was a monotheist with a decidedly Christianlike worldview was conveniently omitted. Or that after telling us to go where the facts lead, cause that’s what science does, offers the multiverse theory, for which there is no scientific evidence whatsoever.

    Dr. Tyson is in need of a book list as well, however, as he has clearly read all the above, however poorly. Here then is a list for Dr. Tyson:

    1, Where the Conflict Really Lies–Alvin Plantinga
    2. The Genesis of Science–James Hannam
    3. The Unofficial Guide to Cosmos: Fact and Fiction in Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Landmark Science Series

    4. Orthodoxy –G. K. Chesterton (especially the chapter called “The Ethics of Elfland” which shows the limitations of science.

    5. The Summa Theologica–Thomas Aquinas

    6. Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt –Stephen C. Meyer

    7. On the Bible–Walt Whitman

    8. Lyrical Ballads — Coleridge and Wordsworth ( as a cure for scientism’s myopia )

    Whitman’s essay is short, and not a Christian viewpoint of the Bible, but it shows how silly it is to be so dismissive of it.

    An open mind, Dr. Tyson. Keep an open mind. You may yet see that all you value is something you owe to that Bible. For there would be no Modern Science and no Universities had not there first been a Jewish Scripture and a Jesus Christ.

  • James says:

    Correction: the essay by Whitman is “The Poetry of the Bible.”

  • Teresa Novinger says:

    It is as if his suggestions are symbolically an apple on a tree that we are supposed to leave alone or else pay a penalty. Many comments here seem to suggest that ignorance is best and that the Bible “should” only be read as a God-inspired/god-approved text…not simply as a piece of literature that can inform us about humanity-the beautiful and the ugly. These books…these ideas that are shared in these works (even certain interpretations of the Bible) threaten certain groups that can only maintain staunch beliefs if others beliefs or facts are squelched. To listen or read in order to understand patterns or different viewpoints does not mean that you have to change your viewpoint. Those that criticize seem to do so out of fear…or they do so because they prefer not to take the time because the works are boring. Either way, the apparent desire to embrace ignorance is a death knell for an intellectually sophisticated and forward thinking/moving society.

  • liz n. says:

    In response to “everything should be read”…I don’t know about that. “The Devil Wears Prada” took up an afternoon that I will never get back. ;)

    To any “must read” list, I would add “The Power of Myth” (Campbell and Moyers), and “Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty” (Kline).

  • John Morgan says:

    How can any list of English-language books leave out the fourth most published work of them all: Gilbert White’s,”The Natural History of Selborne”.

    Don’t tell me someone with the scientific cred of N. deG. Tyson hasn’t read it.

  • Catherine says:

    I think a good reason for a non-Christian to read the Bible would be to understand all of the allusions and references to it in Western art, poetry, and literature.

  • Catherine says:

    And a good reason for a Christian, too, for that matter!

    My point is there are non-religious reasons to read the Bible.

  • Paul says:

    Of course there was a Jesus, he was one of many messiahs at the time. It’s all that’s been tacked on to this person’s name that is doubtful.

  • Jay says:

    eBooks? Audio books? Aw, come on..

  • Damien says:

    Whoever said the Dune books, I would wholly recommend Dune, the original novel, as an addition to this list. Dune was totally influential on me in my younger years, and there are a number of classical lessns to be learned from it, but it’s also just a very compelling and interesting tale in its own right. I would put it alongside Lord of the Rings as one of the best works of modern fiction.

  • DP says:

    If the summaries reflect how people used them and not the content, then reading the books are unlikely to reveal how they have been (ab)used.

  • Holly says:

    I am struck by the total absence of women authors on this list. We are, after all only 52% of the world’s population. We nurture, carry, and bear children. We must, therefore, have absolutely nothing of import to say about life.

  • Andrzej P. says:

    This list and his comments are Exhibit A in making the case that you can be intelligent, well-educated, and still be leftist fanatic who has no idea how the world (as opposed to the Universe, in the case) works. What an awful person he is.

  • Andrzej P. says:

    This list and his comments are Exhibit A in making the case that you can be intelligent, well-educated, and still be a leftist fanatic who has no idea how the world (as opposed to the Universe, in the case) works. What an awful person he is.

  • Annie says:

    Wow. Out of the vast expanses of human thought – these?! And he would have come out better had he not elaborated on his choices. How disappointingly sophomoric.

  • glblank says:

    Interesting that you didn’t weigh in as to whether the statement was true or not.

  • Rolando says:

    I learned to read. I read The Bible. I Learned to live.

  • buck says:

    Yes, it’s easier to take his one line summary and get pissy about it than it is to read and critically think for yourself. Which one did you just do?

  • buck says:

  • Hache Rdoriguez says:

    The Bible was written by humans … ;)

  • James Berry says:

    So, a guy who is an astrophysicist with decent communication skills is teaching philosophy? Stay in your wheelhouse NGT.

  • Al says:

    The big difference is that nearly everything we have found out in science since Darwin corroborates his theories. With the Bible, everything we have found out in science since the renaissance seems to go completely against what is in the Bible minus some historical accuracies, anthropologically speaking.

  • Al says:

    That was in reply to someone sorry. I thin this list is great, and you certainly won’t be dumber by reading them.

  • BILLIE WYATT says:




  • Hugo Pascal says:

    It bears mentioning that Dr. Tyson limited himself to eight books that were in the public domain. If one has an Internet connection, it is possible to look at any one of those books for free.

    Accessibility is important. He listed books that had substantial cultural influence and are widely and freely available. I don’t doubt they can all be found on the Project Gutenberg website.

    As for his selection, it is representative of his idea of an intelligent person. They form a cultural background because they are classic literary works which deal with universal themes: human nature, economy, life, reality, power, et cetera. The little blurbs following them are his reason for including the book in his list.

    Dr. Tyson is not asking you to make the same judgments that he made about the works. But at the same time, if you wish to dispute his opinion, you are free to do so—provided you read the book.

  • George says:

    Here is a list of books I believe that Neil DeGrasse Tyson HIMSELF should have read, before posting his list of 8 books that every intelligent person on Earth should read. I suspect Dr. Tyson’s own list would have been rather different had he read these books first:

    1.) “Philosophy Demystfied: Hard Stuff Made Easy.” – “To understand that pretty much every other field of study (including physics) attempts to tell you WHAT to think, rather than HOW to think.”

    2.) “Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding,” by Philosopher David Hume – “To learn that any belief you have now (including scientific beliefs) may simply be wrong in the future, and that this possibility can seemingly never be eliminated, making the universe genuinely unknowable to human science in any final sense. (The Problem of Induction.)”

    3.) “Discourse on the Method” by Rene Descartes- “To understand that we cannot be certain in any final way that our senses are reporting to us the ACTUAL nature of the world, and that the only thing you can seemingly be ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN of is that you yourself exist, if you are experiencing yourself thinking at all (and thus that you cannot even be certain that other people exist, since you cannot experience their thinking directly.)”

    4.) “Why Violence Has Declined,” by Psychologist Steven Pinker – “To understand that human society is improving over time, and that human beings are more moral, ethical, and intelligent than they have ever been before, in the entire history of the world – and that this constitutes the greatest discovery in the whole history of the human race.”

    5.) “Beyond Good And Evil,” by Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche – “To understand that reason gives us no reason to believe that reason will answer all our questions, or lead to total enlightenment or freedom, and that anyone who believes that it will is expressing a RELIGIOUS BELIEF in the power of reason – the “worship of reason” – which is just as religious as any other kind of religious belief – held without absolute proof, or even without proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    6.) “The End of Work,” by Jeremy Rifkin – to understand that declining job rates may eventually lead to a workless world of leisure, based on some very interesting reasoning about vanishing job markets – where the point is not whether you agree with Rifkin – I personally do not, but I could be wrong – but merely that it is a very different view of economics, which can give a new perspective on that particular field.

    7.) “Forty-Four Juvenile Thieves: Their Characters and Home-Life” by Psychologist John Bowlby – “to learn about the very precise kinds of parental mistreatments that result in children developing Psychotic Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder – the 3 most destructive behavioural disorders in the entire world, and how people with these disorders frequently go on to cause havoc, heartbreak, destruction and (even) war within human society.”

    8.) “People of the Lie” – by Psychiatrist Scott Peck – “To learn how there is now enough psychological evidence to regard human evil itself as a mental disorder, as psychological illness, even more pernicious than those outlined by Bowlby – to learn that evil people are those who prefer to blame others rather than confront their own faults and failures, a behaviour that they carry to a very unusual degree, who enjoy tearing down those with good qualities -like honesty, openness, and compassion – which the evil do not have, but desperately wish they did.

  • Jeffrey Shampnois says:

    Amazed how many would be the same on mine. I’d add The Unnameable by Samuel Beckett. There’s a small chance you might be interested in what I’m thinking about regarding Bohm and Krishnamurti on my blog (apologies for the self-promotion, but those interested in Bohm, K, Huxley, Hesse, Orwell and others you list are rare enough to send out a weak life-line)

  • Jeff McNeill says:

    > But don’t blame the Bible for that. Blame humans.

    Who said anything about blaming the Bible for anything? The Bible is full of all kinds of things, morality tales, depravity, and everything in between. If one condemns people who use the bible for one thing and not another, one has failed to understand the utter mishmash that is “The Bible”. “Twist the Bible’s words” is not what people have to do, all the words, pre-twisted are there.

    > Theistic evolution explains both for me.

    Not really, that is not an explanation. An explanation is a statement or account that makes something clear. Theistic evolution does not make something clear, it makes something obscure. It adds something unexplainable, but without any reason.

    It is clear you haven’t really read the Bible, nor have you really thought about evolution.

  • Jeff McNeill says:

    > So, a guy who is an astrophysicist with decent communication skills is teaching philosophy? Stay in your wheelhouse NGT.

    Do you even know what philosophy is?

  • Jeff McNeill says:

    If indeed, each of these books had the end result that *James* suggests, the world would be a hellish place indeed. Thankfully there is enormously more (and different) in these books indeed, or we would live within a strict “judeo-christian” orthodoxy (whatever that is). What a grind.

  • Anthony Mannucci says:

    And yet, there is something missing here. We need a new religion that takes into account all the knowledge that is displayed in these volumes. This new religion should be based on the current scientifically-derived origin story of the human species: big bang through evolution. (This story could change, but for now it’s the best that we have).

    None of the books cited here provide such a perspective. A religious perspective is needed because of human nature. One cannot avoid some measure of faith in the conduct of human affairs. Science does not supplant what religion provides.

  • Anthony Mannucci says:

    I’d add something else: none of these books explain why ISIS destroyed the ancient Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra. Do these books explain the rise of Nazi Germany? The Bible is included in this list to show that it’s easier to be told what to think rather than to think for oneself. What explains the passion and activism of those seeking to destroy other cultures? NGT is an inherently rational human being who expects a rational world. Unfortunately, a rational world is not required by, and is in conflict with, the scientific genesis story that he himself believes. Human evolution was not guided by a rational hand or a rational plan. The human nature that exists today is here because it survived very difficult and harsh conditions. Human nature is defined by its survivability, not by its rationality.

  • Michael Jackson says:

    Void of any Srimad Bhagavatam or Bhagavad Gita? Ignorance.

  • Mark says:

    Please save us from the hubris of those who believe they are more intelligent than they are. Perfectly sane people who drop all reason when their mythology is challenged bore me.

  • Bud says:

    the list is pretty good except for sun tsu, the fortune cookie approach to understanding war. Replace with Clausewitz to really understand the full breadth of thoughts on war. Or, Thucydides.

  • Lee says:

    All you mugs pissing and moaning about the one sentence reviews, writing lengthy reasons how he is wrong, or how he missed the point.

    You don’t get it.

    Quit trying to sound smart. It’s just making you sound foolish.

  • Davin says:

    I’ve never been able to understand why everyone insists on cherry picking The Bible. If you want “moral lessons” from the bible you first have to scrap 3/4th of it. There are great moral lessons once you ignore the heavenly sanctioned genocide, slavery, and rape.

    I was faithful the first time I read The Bible and read it to strengthen that faith. The second time I truly read it in an effort to truly understand and was disgusted.

  • Bruce Hansen says:

    The Bible IS fiction. Do your research.

  • Reagan but not the President says:

    “Sort of like this list tries to tell its readers what to think and believe, instead of leaving questions open. Better if Mr. Tyson eschewed a list altogether and encouraged readers to pursue their own interests and think for themselves while being skeptical of any claims to authority.”

    Brian, He put together the most eclectic book list imaginable… He’s not forcing anyone to read them, nor is he telling anyone what to think about the books, only saying why he added them to the list. He was asked for a some book recommendations and he gave them. Stop trying to make him out to be a hypocrite because you can’t defend your bible’s nonsense.

  • Shallee says:

    I’d like to see everyone read a book by NDG’s predecessor Carl Sagan “THe Demon-Haunted World”. It discusses the role of science in the world, the difference between science and pseudoscience, and critical thinking.

  • Pauline Weldon says:

    Another man who has not noticed that women also write books. It is vital to include books by women to round out an understanding of the world.

  • Alexis says:

    Good suggestion but I would also suggest Das Kapital

  • Commonsensepaulie says:

    The story of Abraham is a lesson in having faith. If you read it with an open mind you ould have seen it pretty Lesley. Literal interpretations of the bible usually result in people making uninformed commentary. Theology is as much a study in linguisitic science as anything else. Don’t be so impressed with your own intelligence. That goes mr Tyson as well

  • Gene says:

    Wow, most of the comments here are hilarious. NDTyson didn’t suggest reading those books because they contain profound truths, or because they are words to live by. He said read them to “…glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”

    In other words, read them to understand where we are today and how we got here, because those books had a huge influence on the evolution of Western civilization.

    All the argument about whether one book or another is correct or incorrect, or whether someone’s interpretation is right or wrong, is irrelevant. And suggesting modern books that supposedly are “more appropriate” is irrelevant (how could they be relevant, when they weren’t in existence to influence history decades, or centuries, ago).

  • Jack says:

    Wish I had a rubber stamp with which to reply to about 90% of these comments with, “That’s not what he said.” It’s absolutely amazing how much interpretation was heaped onto one sentence summaries.

  • Craig says:

    Human nature hasn’t changed. 18th century minds wrote our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

  • Sam says:

    Totally agree. Terrible interpretation.

  • Harriet says:

    Danielle, read more closely.
    Gene, your response is spot on.

    That being said, I need to read three of the selections he recommends. Our culture no longer values education that does not validate individual’s religious beliefs or political ideology. Not knowing how we got here is detrimental to democracy. Knowledge dispels superstition and fear; ignorance breeds poor decision making and poor citizens. Be prepared to be sold down the river.

  • John Reuter says:

    John Shuey. It’s “enlightened” self-interest. Self-interest alone is pretty much greed, pure and simple.

  • James says:

    I think this falls into that category of reading but not caring enough to try and understand.

  • meso says:

    cant read one article in peace or some religious christian or muslim is fucking it up with his delusional crap

  • David G. Jones says:

    They are everywhere. They are the Vermin of the Internet.

  • Mdq says:

    The interest many comments take in bashing the Bible is fascinating…as if 12 year old children are trying to settle scores and taking spiteful pleasure in scorning, but not understanding the bigger picture. Wax night and day, if you will, about how you despise Christianity and Christians, and I will simply marvel at your lack of interest in history, sociology, the arts and humanities…insisting the Biblically inspired culture, music, the art, the law, etc means NOTHING is childish…One cannot simply pick up the Bible and read it cover to cover, as a novel..and the violence the enlightened take offense to, as if Jesus, and the New Testament does not exist, demonstrate those most vociferously negative have never read the Bible, and if taken up, never understood it. Of all the books I have ever read or studied, the Bible took the longest to apprehend and understand the relationship of the various parts, the revelations and significance…it takes courage, delicacy, determination, an open mind and willingness to study the overall framework in addition to researching additional commentaries as helpful guides. Anyone who has taken this care would NOT be so dismissive but respect the Bible as a wonderful work indeed, even if they were Atheist, or Agnostic. There is a very common fiercely fundamental schoolboy rejection club that has a formula of kicks, rejections, and accusations , as prejudiced and narrow and bloated by juvenile assumptions as those they ridicule. It gets boring, but those in the club of rejection use the same arguments and are satisfied making the same points of the same objections. This orthodoxy is convincing that they really have NOT read the Bible! Their do NOT see Jesus in their conclusions, nor account for their trial and conviction of Christianity because of the Old Testament!

  • S&R says:

    Destroy them all. Stare at a wall.

  • Mary Claire says:

    After #6, read “Who cooked Adam Smith’s dinner”.

  • Jordan with jokes says:

    I might add one possible Alternate in there of “Clawing one’s own eyes out with a Spoon,” seems fair to at least give people the option…

  • Deborah says:

    For heaven’t sake– someone asked NDT what HE thought people should read and WHY. Here you have his opinion. Rather than acknowledging the fact that he advocates reading books whose message he doesn’t personally agree with, people start lecturing him on what he should think about each book! Doesn’t that prove precisely what he is saying? I’m a theist and I believe in many of the Bible’s teachings, but I don’t expect everyone to interpret the Bible in the same way, or even like it. Calm down, everyone!

  • Bart says:

    NDT is not against any religion. He emphasis that not any one religion can have anything to do with science. So there is no reason to teach a religion as being based on facts. There not one scientific fact in any religion. So anyone may believe, whatever religion. But never try to prove it is based on facts. That is just your own doubts, about your own beliefs in your own religion.

  • Dana says:

    I own a copy of OTOOS which was an illustrated hardcover anniversary edition with scans of some of his notes, photos of animal species he studied, etc. Makes it more interesting.

  • Federico says:

    It seems NDT has compiled this list, not as a way to gain understading of our surrounding universe, but as a way to spread of his own prejudices.

    The Art of War is not about “elevating war to an artform”. It is about strategy, particulary the kind of strategy to end a war quickly and swiftly as it is a costly enterprise for the state (granted, from the likes of it Sun Tzu was likely more concerned with the economic consequences of the war, than with the mass murder of people). Still the description is inaccurate. The book is read today as a guide to deal with one’s own problems and difficulties in life and not as guide to wage war.

    Likewise his selection of the bible seems to have been chosen only so he can follow it with a dismissive remark toward christians.

    I’m amazed that his reading list does not contain Sagan’s Cosmos or books by Aristole and Plato which where far more influenciall in “driving the history of the western world” (particularly our current way of thinking) than Machiavelli.

  • Sandra says:

    HI NDT
    Mostly white. All male. Hmmmm. Disappointing.

  • Raalnan Five says:

    One thing is clear from the reviews.
    NDT has a king sized ego.
    I have come across many of his videos, and nothing he has ever said has made me think that he is a genius.

    Every thing he says seems to imply that HE thinks he’s a genius.

    I’m not saying he’s NOT a genius, but I tend to wonder what it is about him that makes everyone else think that he is, other than the fact that HE seems to think that he is.

    Good book suggestions, I have read several of them, and I appreciate the fact that they are free.

    I wonder if he has read any of them, or if he’s just commenting on Cliff Notes.

  • Tim? says:

    NDT did leave out possibly the most important and poignant tome crafted by the human soul; Crazy From the Heat, by David Lee Roth.

  • C Everett says:

    RE: Your Bible comment
    God, The Creator of even scientists, must be laughing!

  • Kai Harper says:

    I’ve read it a couple of times but I guess most people don’t have the basic information about how to use a dictionary to look up old words and understand the meaning. But I bet a lot of preachers don’t want people reading it. They would rather pull out bits and pieces and tell you what they want you to think it means. It is one crazy piece of literature.

  • Tony H. says:

    Not sure if anyone will see this given all the angry thumper comments but the link to Newton’s work goes to the Principia not System of the World. Thanks for the list.

  • Get A. says:

    If there were a god he or she would be laughing but at your terrible grammar.

  • Tony H. says:

    Wanted to edit my previous but can’t find it. I see now that Newton’s Systems text is included with the Principia so the link is ok. For what it;s worth, I actually read and understand the list and would suggest that another list, perhaps of books that would enlighten readers to current progressive understanding is in order, Cheers~~

  • Monty says:

    This is an old list, but I like how no one noticed that the one line comment after the very first book (The Bible) describes exactly what this list does. “It’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe…” or in this case, read.

  • Brian Mooney says:

    Darwin and his extended family -the Wedgewoods- were ardents opponents of slavery, and Darwin himself recounts how he crossed swords with Fitzroy, Captain of the HMS Beagle, over slavery. You are totally wrong about his being a bigot, and you slander him. Ending the slave trade was Darwin’s “sacred cause.”

    In terms of Eugenics, you confuse him with his cousin, Francis Galton. You really don’t know much, or anything, about Darwin. Try informing yourself before you spout off ugly, inaccurate, and ignorant opinions about anyone, as you have done here about Dawin.

  • John Bergstrom says:

    There may be a passage in the Bible that says it’s easier to be told by others what to think, than to think for yourself. I don’t remember seeing it, but there are a lot of stories, and some of them contradict the lessons of others.
    Many of the stories are about people who refuse to follow orders, who stand up to those in power, on account of their personal vision. Some of the stories, like that of Job, tell us that it is no use defying the laws of the universe: they weren’t made for us, and we just have to live with them, sort of like the laws of physics. I think that’s what they call the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom. But when it comes to defying the laws of human rulers, by all means, go for it!
    Of course, NDT isn’t really talking about reading the Bible, he’s talking about being told by authority figures to take the Bible as God-given literal truth. He should have taken as his example some kind of catechism or fundamentalist textbook about the Bible: there are endless books about the Bible that would make his point. For that matter, there are endless dogmatic secular books that have the same impulse, but I’m not going to try to think of any examples.

  • Steve Gray says:

    yeah that moment shattered my image of God because I just don’t grasp how the most holy and good creature in existence could demand his follower to kills his son..a mind *%&^ is what I expect from devious people who I associate nothing good with in this life..and that’s what that was…To me moments like that in the old testament shook my sense of belief in it all…jesus acted exactly like a christian would in my mind..I mean I do see the proud God theme that might demand something like with Abraham..the same kind of a God who would make everyone burn in hell for not worhsipping and giving credit and paying homage to him for being a creator even though we have no tangible proof except for a book with what in my opinion has conflicting “gods” in the old and new testament..On the topic of lessons to be learned and wisdom to be gotten I agree wholeheartedly. Psalms and proverbs are two of my favorite books. Even when I don’t agree it inspires me to thought and that is really what I am looking for from this kind of a book..Inspiration to thought..I want something that lights a fire in my mind..ND Tyson mentions something I really think is important. Studying what influenced the behavior of people throughout history. There is such a strong lesson in the past and books are like doors into the minds of people who lived and breathed before we existed..It’s really amazing to think just how precious books really are..well off to check out what is on netflix..have a good night guys…*grin*

  • Wayne Weeks says:

    I would add Emotional Intelligence and Seven Habits of Highly Effect People to any must read list.!! Regards

  • Rozconni WestSand says:

    Rebecca White: Although it’s 2022vanr the world has undergone fantastic changes, I utterly agree with your viewpoint that you must read the Bible and interpret/understand it for yourself. I’ve been doing just that for the past six decades, and can find new meanings in selected passages, especially when directed by a Logical scholar or theologian. The dumbfounding issue for me is, how few people today remember anything except what they’ve heard,and how many mega-church pastors (also online) open sermons with 2-3 OT and NT verses, then talk for a half-hour about their own viewpoints and opinions. An occasional shout of Halleuljah! or Amen! is the sole indication of how far The Word has sunk in. Of course, by now I am preaching to the choir…

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