Here is a short list of books that have influenced me and changed the way I view the world.
- The Feynman Lectures in Physics, Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, and Matthew Sands, Addison-Wesley, New York, 1964. This three volume set is one of the most insightful introductions to the subject ever written. Its primary author, Richard Feynman, was one of the greatest and most influential theoretical physicists of the second half of the twentieth century. There is a video of Feynman in action talking about the Nature of Physical Law as he gives The Messenger Series of lectures at Cornell University. This annotated video is part of Project Tuva sponsored by Bill Gates. Here is his Wikipedia entry and a website devoted to his career and accomplishments.
- The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself, Daniel J. Boorstin, Random House, New York, 1985. Written by a scholar of remarkable breadth and erudition this book describes how we developed our modern concepts of time, geography, nature and history.
- The Biological Roots of Human Nature: Forging Links Between Evolution and Behavior, Timothy H. Goldsmith, Oxford University Press, New York, 1991. For those entering or engaged in the nature versus nurture debate, a clear discussion of how biology influences behavior, both animal and human.
- Consilience, The Unity of Knowledge, Edward O. Wilson, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1998. E. O. Wilson is one the the twentieth century's greatest biologists. Motivated by deep distress at the increasing divergence of the sciences from the humanities, he presents a vision of how these two great human intellectual endeavors can and should rejoin.
- The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Judith Rich Harris, Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1998. An impeccably researched discussion of the overlapping roles of nature and nurture and parenting in the development of children.
- The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Steven Pinker, Viking Penguin Books, New York, 2002. An eloquent discussion of the role three now discredited assumptions about human nature, the Blank Slate (the mind has no innate traits), the Noble Savage (people are born good and corrupted by society), and the Ghost in the Machine (each of us has a soul that makes choices free from biology), have played in human society. Pinker argues that these three false assumptions have done far more harm than good in shaping modern society.
- Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease, Gary Taubes, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2007. This is a tour-de-force of scientific investigative journalism that traces the abandonment, in the1960s, of the idea that carbohydrates were fattening and the rise of the counter proposal that fat and cholesterol are the cause of obesity, heart disease, and even cancer. Taubes, a Science magazine correspondent, shows how this paradigm shift was based on weak and insufficient scientific data. He presents compelling evidence that our modern consumption of refined carbohydrates rather than fat may actually be responsible for the modern epidemic of obesity, heart disease, and type II diabetes.