No, this won’t be another edgy list of all the books everyone thinks are really “far out”, like
The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test, Food of the Gods or The Doors of Perception. This will be a list of incredible books that will force you to think about your place in the universe from a totally rational perspective, instead of relying on half-baked theories thought up by crazy bearded stoners.
I promise you that if you read all of these books on this list, not only will will feel a renewed sense of wonder at the world around you & universe at large, but you’ll also come away from it with a sound understanding of the scientific method and a perfectly tuned bullshit detector necessary to wade through the heaps of crap spouted by lesser mortals.
Click on any of the pictures to see the book on Amazon. Here goes, in no particular order:
Author: Frank Close
With the recent release of the Angels & Demons film, this book is essential reading, and weighing in at less than 150 small pages with big text, there really is no excuse. If you’ve ever wondered anything between “What the hell is antimatter?” and “I wonder if I can build an antimatter superweapon to take over the world?”, then this is the book for you.
What it’s about: This book gives a detailed, yet understandable history of particle physics and separates antimatter facts from antimatter fiction.
Why it will expand your mind: Humans have evolved to cope with things of average size, in average temperatures for an average length of time. This book forces you to think small — not down to the size of cells, or even the simplest biological molecules, but to atoms themselves and beyond. Because we’ve not evolved to deal with things on such a small scale, particle physics is almost an alien concept. Thankfully, this book is written with clarity in mind, peppered with plenty of helpful diagrams and examples.
The Selfish Gene
Author: Richard Dawkins
Heard about this crazy, heretical “Evolution” business? This book is chock full of solid evidence, impeccable logic and brilliant thinking that will leave you with no doubt about evolution’s roll in everything you can see around you. Forget religion — this is the book with all the answers, and the evidence to back them up.
What it’s about: This is the book Charles Darwin would have written if he knew what we know now. Dawkins fills us in on the details of modern evolutionary theory from a gene’s-eye view of the world.
Why it will expand your mind: Evolution explains everything. Everything! If aliens exist, they too would have evolved. This process is so universal, it provides a thread on which to hang every other fact we’ve ever learned, uniting them all with one common explanation. A solid understanding also allows you to easily explain absolutely anything you might encounter.
If this is your first foray into evolutionary biology, you might like to start with River Out Of Eden. Your brain won’t be torn asunder with logic and reason, but you’ll definitely get a glimpse of the bigger picture. If you’ve done any biology-related higher education, then I’ll also suggest The Extended Phenotype, arguably Dawkins’ most important work, after you’ve finished The Selfish Gene.
Author: Ben Goldacre
Bad Science is your defence against a world of horse crap where everyone is trying to rip you off. Ben Goldacre also blogs at BadScience.net and writes a column with the same name for The Guardian. You can read an entire chapter of this book here.
What it’s about: Confused about MMR jabs? Homoeopathy? Crystal healing? Fish oil? Then read this book.
Why it will expand your mind: You’ll learn the simplicity of the scientific method and why it’s so important to the world we live in. It will teach you to think for yourself and apply a healthy dose of scepticism to the next dose of health advice you might hear about from someone trying to sell you something. Not particularly mind expanding on its own, but it has a synergy with all the other books in this list.
The God Delusion
Author: Richard Dawkins
If you’ve heard of Richard Dawkins, this book is probably why, having already sold over 1.5 million copies. Even if you’re religious, you need to read it, because you should always hear the other side’s argument — if something challenges your beliefs, and your position remains the same, then your beliefs can only be strengthened.
What it’s about: While it’s not possible to unequivocally prove that God doesn’t exist, this book presents several cast iron arguments why all religions are (probably) wrong, the logical fallacies at the heart of faith itself, and the evils perpetrated in the name of religion every day.
Why it will expand your mind: As hard as it to imagine, the life of an atheist is not one of misery and pointlessness. The outlook on life presented in this book will encourage you to enjoy your life as much as possible, look after others and realise exactly where you fit into the universe. Combined with the other books in this list, there is no room left for unsupported speculation — there are rational answers out there to be marvelled at.
A Brief History Of Time
Author: Steven Hawking
Probably the most famous popular science book of all time, A Brief History Of Time has sold over 10 million copies. Funnily enough though, hardly anyone has actually read it!
What it’s about: While the first book in this list dealt with the miniscule, this book deals with the massive. From the Big Bang to black holes, and everything in between, this book covers the hot topics in cosmology with as much clarity as could be expected. While a little mind-boggling at times, persevering is totally worth it.
Why it will expand your mind: For the same reason as Antimatter — this book deals with things we haven’t evolved to comprehend.
If reading is not your thing, there are plenty of documentaries online about all the topics these worthy tomes cover. Perhaps I’ll make a list of those too one day.