Reading List for Smart People. (A Work in Progress.)


This year, I was on the receiving end of the single worst piece of advice I have ever received: 'Your problem, Sean', said the little man who fancies himself an astute judge of character, 'is that you think too much.' I'll spare you the details of why this was said, but after a long bout of – well – thinking, I've realised that I don't believe that this can ever be true of anyone. Ever. In fact, I think the reverse is true: The problem is that so many people don't think often enough… or deeply enough.

And I think the central reason for this is that these people don't expose themselves to enough opportunities to think. It's too convenient to turn on the television, to skip through some light fiction, or to find some other kind of pre-packaged, mindless amusement. This is the problem. And it needs a solution.

Towards this end, I have compiled a list of books below that I have found particularly enlightening. Perhaps those who don't like thinking will pick just one of these to read and mull over.

I have one rule for adding books to this list: Each one must have taught me something radically new or changed my perspective in some fundamental way.

(There is no particular order to this list and I have not categorized them into genres or disciplines. I've also included only one title per author in the hopes that if you're discovering a writer for the first time, and you become enamored by them, that you'll search out more titles for yourself.)

I'll update this list as I read more (and remember more). Feel free to add your suggestions…

  • The Devil's Chaplain: Richard Dawkins (I haven't read it yet, but Ancestor's Tale is supposed to be one of the greatest books ever written – according to the author's girlfriend, who claims to know about these things.)
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything: Bill Bryson
  • Foucault's Pendulum: Umberto Eco
  • Slaughterhouse 5: Kurt Vonnegut
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: Ken Kesey
  • East of Eden: John Steinbeck
  • Freakonomics: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  • Into the Wild: Jon Krakauer
  • Stiff: Mary Roach
  • The Duck That Won the Lottery: Julian Baggini
  • Fight Club: Chuck Palahniuk
  • Catch 22: Joseph Heller
  • Alex Garland: The Beach
  • Emergence: Steven Johnson
  • Enough: John Naish
  • Microserfs: Douglas Coupland
  • Faster: James Gleick
  • The Secret House: David Bodanis
  • The Salmon of Doubt: Douglas Adams
  • Sync: Steven Strognatz
  • Neverwhere: Neil Gaiman
  • iRobot: Isaac Asimov (or any of his other robot short stories.)
  • Fahrenheit 451: Ray Bradbury
  • Animal Farm: George Orwell
  • Any Bryant and May mystery by Christopher Fowler
  • Paranormality: Richard Wiseman
  • Outliers: Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Wisdom of Crowds: James Surowiecki
  • Pale Blue Dot: Carl Sagan
  • The Naked Ape: Desmond Morris
  • On Writing: Stephen King
  • Henry Sugar: Roald Dahl
  • Hidden Agendas: John Pilger
  • Quiet: Susan Cain
  • Predictably Irrational: Dan Ariely
  • Reality is Broken: Jane McGonigal

Please feel free to suggest any books you think should be added.

Happy reading!




About Sean Hampton-Cole

Fascinated by thinking & why it goes wrong➫ (Un)teacher ➫iPadologist ➫Humanist ➫Stirrer ➫Edupunk ➫Synthesist ➫Introvert ➫Blogger ➫Null Hypothesist.
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11 Responses to Reading List for Smart People. (A Work in Progress.)

  1. Dena says:

    Also, I have read Stephen King”s book on writing and I think it’s excellent. Into the Wild is a good book but also frustrating, in the sense that he made some stupid choices. I liked it though.

  2. Dena says:

    I would recommend adding something pertaining to nature or the environment.

    • Anything in particular?

      • Dena says:

        Well, I recommend Last Child in the Woods and its follow-up, The Nature Principal both by Richard Louv. Also, you can’t go wrong with the Jane Goodall as she is quite knowledgeable. I really enjoyed Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. Of course, there is also Walden though I think Thoreau was an equal measure of crazy and brilliant.

      • Thanks for the suggestions. I haven’t read any of them. I think the only vaguely natural / environmental book I’ve actually read are a few old Gerald Durrells and Douglas Adams and Mark Carwadine’s ‘Last Chance to See’. Off to Amazon I go!

  3. Shari Miller says:

    Eeeek! An interesting list, to say the least. Can’t wait to get started.

    • A fellow bibliophile! Give me a shout if you come across anything else I can add.

      • Shari says:

        I’ve got a pretty good head start on the list already. 😉 Last night, I picked up samples of Stiff, Paranormality, and Foucault’s Pendulum and put Enough on my wish list. I bought Last Chance to See without hesitating – anything by Douglas Adams goes immediately to the top of the pile.

        First thought – just about anything by Rick Bass. He’s a former oil-company biologist turned environmentalist, now writing both fiction and non-fiction. To get a taste of his fiction, read the short story “The Hermit,” one of my favorites. Pure magic.

  4. LEjames says:

    This book would probably fit well into this great list:

    The Fountainhead (1943) by Ayn Rand

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I’m not a great fan of Ayn Rand, unfortunately. I find The Fountainhead to be tedious and, frankly, fraught with logical and moral inconsistencies. Not something I would recommend, I’m afraid.

      • LEjames says:

        Totally understand. Just because Rush formulated a concept album from her work doesn’t make her literature great. She was controversial, and surely no one on earth likes tedious reading.

        That being said, I wouldn’t know what to add to your list then. Myself, I’m working my way through a copy of The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James.

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