By Vishen Lakhiani
I’m often asked what my favorite books are — which ones impacted me the most and which ones I would recommend. And sure, I do have a list of personal growth books at the top of my head that shaped my view of the world.
But beyond the personal growth field, there are a several of books in science, sociology, and philosophy that have had an equally profound impact on me.
And today, I just wanted to share my top seven books in these fields that will help you better understand our role on this giant space-rock we call earth.
The books won’t just blow your mind – they will expand your mind to whole new levels and make you see the world in a very different way from politics, to ecology, to sex and religion.
Enjoy this list. I loved and enjoyed every single one of these books.
By Bill Bryson
Not likely. This book will change that for you. Bryson has taken his background in travelogue writing and merged it with science. His genuine curiosity for science includes an investigation of known and unknown scientific pioneers. And the best part: You’ll finally understand complex scientific subjects — from gravitational constants to the calculation of the Earth’s mass.
And you wouldn’t believe how brilliant minds across the ages came up with inventive ways to push science forward.
Key Insight: We are capable of doing and achieving many things, especially when we apply our minds to solve problems that are seemingly impossible.
Favorite Excerpt and “Why on Earth did I not learn this in School?” moment:
“Some scientists now think that there could be as much as 100 trillion tons of bacteria living beneath our feet in what are known as subsurface lithoautotrophic microbial ecosystems—SLiME for short. Thomas Gold of Cornell has estimated that if you took all the bacteria out of the Earth’s interior and dumped it on the surface, it would cover the planet to a depth of five feet. If the estimates are correct, there could be more life under the Earth than on top of it.”
2. Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire
By Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa
This book presents disturbing, yet fascinating insights on how evolution ensures our survival. One example: Evolution has leveled the playing field for men and women when it comes to mating. As the title suggests if you’re a beautiful couple, you’ve been hard wired through evolution to have a greater chance of producing daughters than sons. As a result, as evolution marches on, women are evolving to be more and more beautiful. And men more and more ambitious. You’ll have to read the excerpt below from the book to understand why.
Key Insight: Some facts are debatable. But these hypotheses could help you understand your life choices so far.
“So physical attractiveness, while a universally positive quality, contributes even more to women’s reproductive success than to men’s. The new hypothesis would therefore predict that physically attractive parents should have more daughters than sons. Once again, this is indeed the case. Young Americans who are rated “very attractive” have a 44 percent chance of having a son for their first child (and thus a 56 percent chance of having a daughter). In contrast, everyone else has a 52 percent chance of having a son (and thus a 48 percent chance of having a daughter) for their first child. 21 Being “very attractive” increases the odds of having a daughter by 36 percent!”
By Yuval Noah Harari
There was a time when at least six different species of humans co-existed on earth. Every other species, except Homo Sapiens (our species of humans) became extinct. Learn how our Savannah-dwelling primate ancestors dominated the planet and paved the way to who we are today.
Key Insight: Regardless of color, ethnicity, and background, we have more commonalities than differences. But sadly, we’re also predictable apes governed by certain laws.
Favorite Excerpt: On the Religion of Consumerism.
“The capitalist and consumerist ethics are two sides of the same coin, a merger of two commandments. The supreme commandment of the rich is ‘Invest!’ The supreme commandment of the rest of us is ‘Buy!’ The capitalist–consumerist ethic is revolutionary in another respect.
“Most previous ethical systems presented people with a pretty tough deal. They were promised paradise, but only if they cultivated compassion and tolerance, overcame craving and anger, and restrained their selfish interests. This was too tough for most. The history of ethics is a sad tale of wonderful ideals that nobody can live up to. Most Christians did not imitate Christ, most Buddhists failed to follow Buddha, and most Confucians would have caused Confucius a temper tantrum.
In contrast, most people today successfully live up to the capitalist–consumerist ideal. The new ethic promises paradise on condition that the rich remain greedy and spend their time making more money and that the masses give free reign to their cravings and passions and buy more and more. This is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do. How though do we know that we’ll really get paradise in return? We’ve seen it on television.”
By Eric Hoffer
There are two historians to read to understand why Americans voted Trump. Plato and Eric Hoffer. Hoffer wrote this book in the early 1950s. He was a legend in his field and was even awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Hoffer’s writing style is daring and observant. He is straightforward even when discussing sensitive topics. His insights are scary but with Trump, they came true.
Key Insight: We often make fun of the common denominators of countries. While they don’t represent the whole, they do represent the future as the excerpt below reveals.
“There is a tendency to judge a race, a nation or any distinct group by its least worthy members. Though manifestly unfair, this tendency has some justification. For the character and destiny of a group are often determined by its inferior elements.
“The inert mass of a nation, for instance, is in its middle section. The decent, average people who do the nation’s work in cities and on the land are worked upon and shaped by minorities at both ends—the best and the worst.
“The superior individual, whether in politics, literature, science, commerce or industry, plays a large role in shaping a nation, but so do individuals at the other extreme—the failures, misfits, outcasts, criminals, and all those who have lost their footing, or never had one, in the ranks of respectable humanity. The game of history is usually played by the best and the worst over the heads of the majority in the middle.
“The reason that the inferior elements of a nation can exert a marked influence on its course is that they are wholly without reverence toward the present.
“They see their lives and the present as spoiled beyond remedy and they are ready to waste and wreck both: hence their recklessness and their will to chaos and anarchy. They also crave to dissolve their spoiled, meaningless selves in some soul-stirring spectacular communal undertaking—hence their proclivity for united action. Thus they are among the early recruits of revolutions, mass migrations and of religious, racial and chauvinist movements, and they imprint their mark upon these upheavals and movements which shape a nation’s character and history.”
By Peter Diamandis & Steven Kotler
Look past the depressing world headlines, and focus more on the successful trend lines. It’ll remind you of the positive human potential we have going forward. The media is mostly negative because our reptilian brains evolved to pay more attention to danger than happiness. So if you only read the newspapers, you’re likely to be more afraid and make dumb choices based on fear (especially in voting for politicians). But in reality, the world is getting safer and better at an exponential rate.
Key Insight: We need to teach our young ones, and our pessimistic selves, to not give up on the future.
“The twentieth century, for example, witnessed both incredible advancement and unspeakable tragedy. The 1918 influenza epidemic killed fifty million people, World War II killed another sixty million. There were tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods, even plagues of locust. Despite such unrest, this period also saw infant mortality decrease by 90 percent, maternal mortality decreased by 99 percent, and, overall, human lifespan increase by more than 100 percent.
“In the past two decades, the United States has experienced tremendous economic upheaval. Yet today, even the poorest Americans have access to a telephone, television, and a flush toiletthree luxuries that even the wealthiest couldn’t imagine at the turn of the last century. In fact, as will soon be clear, using almost any metric currently available, quality of life has improved more in the past century than ever before. So while there are likely to be plenty of rude, heartbreaking interruptions along the way, as this book will demonstrate, global living standards will continue to improve regardless of the horrors that dominate the headlines.”
By Alan Watts
More philosophical than science, you’ll want to read this if you want to add a good dose of funny into your life.
The subject is almost unwritable but Watts successfully presents alternative views to the common problem of connecting to a personal identity. The book questions the hoax of the temporary roles we play in our lives and why we struggle to attain self-fulfillment.
Key Insight: We need new experiences instead of a new religion.
“Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, openness—an act of trust in the unknown.
“An ardent Jehovah’s Witness once tried to convince me that if there were a God of love, he would certainly provide mankind with a reliable and infallible textbook for the guidance of conduct. I replied that no considerate God would destroy the human mind by making it so rigid and unadaptable as to depend upon one book, the Bible, for all the answers. For the use of words, and thus of a book, is to point beyond themselves to a world of life and experience that is not mere words or even ideas. Just as money is not real, consumable wealth, books are not life. To idolize scriptures is like eating paper currency.
“Therefore The Book that I would like to slip to my children would itself be slippery. It would slip them into a new domain, not of ideas alone, but of experience and feeling. It would be a temporary medicine, not a diet; a point of departure, not a perpetual point of reference. They would read it and be done with it, for if it were well and clearly written they would not have to go back to it again and again for hidden meanings or for clarification of obscure doctrines.
We do not need a new religion or a new bible. We need a new experience—a new feeling of what it is to be ‘I.’”
By Neil deGrasse Tyson
Try reading it in the great outdoors. You’ll be able to see that much clearly where your space is in the universe.
Key Insight: The journey of the mind teaches us how humans are emotionally fragile, perennially gullible, hopelessly ignorant masters of an insignificantly small speck in the cosmos.
“We register the world’s stimuli in logarithmic rather than linear increments. For example, if you increase the energy of a sound’s volume by a factor of 10, your ears will judge this change to be rather small. Increase it by a factor of 2 and you will barely take notice.
“The same holds for our capacity to measure light. If you have ever viewed a total solar eclipse you may have noticed that the Sun’s disk must be at least 90 percent covered by the Moon before anybody comments that the sky has darkened. The stellar magnitude scale of brightness, the well-known acoustic decibel scale and the seismic scale for earthquake severity are each logarithmic, in part because of our biological propensity to see, hear, and feel the world that way.”
Which books impacted your world view? I would love to hear your recommendations below in the comments section.