1. Billions & Billions by Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan was one of the most brilliant human beings to walk the planet. He brings his insight to concepts like creation myths, the expanding universe, the history of man, communication, technology, public policy, and mortality in his book, Billions & Billions. It’s basically his commentary on topics we concern ourselves with and it’s done in a way that the average person can understand. If you’ve seen or read Sagan’s Cosmos or are hip to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s recent take on it, then you know the type of genius that we are dealing with here.
2. Food Of The Gods by Terence McKenna
Terence McKenna was like a modern day Plato. People labeled him a thinker, philosopher, psychonaut, and anthropologist among many other titles. Food Of The Gods is a discussion around human evolution, our departure from the natural world, a history of spirituality, and a look at how rapid the evolution of the human brain was in the last 100,000 years. McKenna asserts that early man was accidentally introduced to psilocybin and other psychoactive plants in trace amounts during his gathering of food in Africa. The influence on our diet was astounding to the point that he asserts it may have been responsible for “all the mental functions that we associate with humanness.” We’re human, yes, but much if not all of that is thanks to the earth, the plant world, and everything else that we were exposed to throughout our history. We don’t think about that enough.
3. Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Fooled By Randomness reveals the role of chance and luck in everything that happens in life. Our perception of luck is often mistaken as something more deserved in both our professional and personal lives. It is easy to play Monday morning quarterback and connect the dots in anyway we see fit after we have reached a certain goal. Taleb discusses how people become “winners” in society, exceptions vs. the rule, playing big fish in a little pond, survivorship bias and everything else we concern ourselves with that has anything to do with the misunderstood force of randomness in society.
4. A People’s History Of The USA by Howard Zinn
This book was probably not assigned to you in K-12 (maybe at university though). That is because Howard Zinn, one of the top political and historical scholars of the last century, presents American history from the perspective of the average citizen and not the rich and powerful. It is the story of the worker, the laborer, the everyday men and women fighting for their stake in the still developing country that we live in. He sheds light on everything from Columbus to The Civil War to Vietnam to the seventies and all the way up to the 2000s. Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting refers to the book by saying, “that book will knock you on your ass.” Enough said.
5. How To Practice The Way To A Meaningful Life by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
This book shouldn’t need to be seen as radical, but the problem is that people lose sight of what is moral and good in life. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to appreciate the commentary of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and religious scholar Jeffrey Hopkins on how to practice morality. It is a friendly reminder to think about how your thoughts and actions are impacting the world and everyone else in it. Consider your own life, if you are living it the way you would like, and if you are positively contributing to yourself and others. If you’re completely lost and need a fresh start, read this book first. It will help you find wisdom, meaning, and the middle way.