What are some mind-expanding books to read?

Miss : books : Some mind expanding books

Answer by Marcus Geduld:

Already Mentioned

Gödel, Escher, Bach; Thinking, Fast and Slow; Predictably Irrational; Darwin's Dangerous Idea; Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking; Amazon.com: The Selfish Gene; The Black Swan; Antifragile; The Symbolic Species; The User Illusion; The Beginning of Infinity;

My Top Picks For General Readers

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them: Joshua Greene
This is the best book about morality I've ever read. The first half is a tour of the current science (social science, anthropology, animal studies, brain-imaging, evolutionary theory, etc) that is connected with morality. The second half is a philosophical (and psychological) defense of the moral theory called Utilitarianism. Even if you're wind up rejecting that theory, you'll find huge value in this book. The writing is crystal clear, provocative, and laced with humor.

“After two and a half millennia, it’s rare to come across a genuinely new idea on the nature of morality, but in this book Joshua Greene advances not one but several. Greene combines neuroscience with philosophy not as a dilettante but as an expert in both fields, and his synthesis is interdisciplinary in the best sense of using all available conceptual tools to understand a deep phenomenon. Moral Tribes is a landmark in our understanding of morality and the moral sense.” — Stephen Pinker

You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation: Deborah Tannen.
Tannon, a linguist, had the clever idea of framing women and men are two different cultures—and to study their "languages" the way one would study English and French. The book made me think beyond "the battle of the sexes" to the many ways words can both clarify our ideas and befuddle our listeners. This is a great books for couples, writers, actors, and students of human nature.

The Little Schemer – 4th Edition: Daniel P. Friedman, Matthias Felleisen, Duane Bibby, Gerald J. Sussman.
The authors use a Socratic approach to teach a difficult subject: recursion. This is a book you work through with pencil and paper, and, if you work through it, the way it stretches your mind will be more meaningful to you than the subject it teaches. It begins with the simplest of ideas and very gradually ramps up the complexity, until, by the end, your understanding is at a high level. This book is takes teaching and elevates it to a work of art. It's sort of a computer-programming book, but you don't need any programming experience to work through it.

From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present: Jacques Barzun.
Barzun tells the entire story of Modern Western History, making a brilliant case that there really is such a thing: that, in a sense, our culture began on its current (and future) course 500 years ago, at the birth of the Reformation. As with the best of this sort of book, it doesn't matter if you agree or disagree with its premise. It's value is that it makes a clear statement, one that will prompt you towards a sharp reaction.

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction: Christopher Alexander.
"Brilliant….Here's how to design or redesign any space you're living or working in–from metropolis to room. Consider what you want to happen in the space, and then page through this book. Its radically conservative observations will spark, enhance, organize your best ideas, and a wondrous home, workplace, town will result."–San Francisco Chronicle

This book's influence has leaked into other fields, notably Computer Science.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion: Jonathan Haidt.
Why are Conservatives and Liberals they way they are? Why are they so often at odds? Is it due to Nature or Nurture? This book delves into why we so often argue each other. It explores the core values we live by, both consciously and unconsciously. Check out the author's TED talks!

Jonathan Haidt: The moral roots of liberals and conservatives | Video on TED.com

Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence | Video on TED.com

Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives: David Sloan Wilson.
This is a great companion to "The Selfish Gene," and it's a good recommendation for people who are interested in the subject but turned off by Dawkins.

"Evolution for Everyone is a remarkable contribution. No other author has managed to combine mastery of the subject with such a clear and interesting explanation of what it all means for human self-understanding. Aimed at the general reader, yet peppered with ideas original enough to engage scholars, it is truly a book for our time. "—Edward O. Wilson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of On Human Nature

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires: Tim Wu.
This book puts the Internet, and, more specifically, the forces that control it, in a historical context. Rather than seeing the web as a unique and new thing, Wu considers it along with the telegraph, radio, telephone, and television networks. His book is a good general history of communication networks.

Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis: Eric Berne.
The three people in the world who are still believers in Transactional Analysis will be upset by the following claim: it's a "toy psychology." As far as I'm concerned, it's an oversimplified model of how humans work. And that's its strength. It's a kind of "Humans for Dummies." It's a marvelous books for fiction writers and actors, and even though it's an oversimplified model, it contains many grains of truth. Berne thought of all human interactions as games with winners and losers. And the book is a compendium of those games.

How to Solve It: G. Polya.
If you ever have to solve problems (of any type), it's worth reading this book.

"Every prospective teacher should read it. In particular, graduate students will find it invaluable. The traditional mathematics professor who reads a paper before one of the Mathematical Societies might also learn something from the book: 'He writes a, he says b, he means c; but it should be d.' "–E. T. Bell, Mathematical Monthly

"[This] elementary textbook on heuristic reasoning, shows anew how keen its author is on questions of method and the formulation of methodological principles. Exposition and illustrative material are of a disarmingly elementary character, but very carefully thought out and selected."–Herman Weyl, Mathematical Review

What Is the Name of This Book?: The Riddle of Dracula and Other Logical Puzzles: Raymond M. Smullyan.
Smullyan wrote many puzzle books, and I picked this one pretty much at random. When I was a kid, I worked through all of them, and it was as if I could feel my brain growing. Here's an example to give you a taste:

Dr. Tarr is a psychologist with the Department of Health. Her job is to inspect asylums to determine whether they are in compliance with the law. Asylums have Doctors and Patients. In a compliant asylum, all the doctors are sane and all the patients are insane. Clearly, an asylum with an insane doctor or a sane patient is Not A Good Thing.

Sane persons are correct in all of their beliefs. Insane persons are incorrect in all of their beliefs. Both sane and insane persons are scrupulously honest: they always state what they believe to be the case. Unfortunately, the asylums are very modern and do not use identifying devices such as uniforms, ID tags, or other devices to show which persons are doctors and which are patients. Nor is it possible to know whether a person is sane or insane by any means other than questioning them.

One day, after inspecting a number of asylums, Dr. Tarr was having a drink and cigar with her good friend Professor Feather. The professor found her work interesting and asked her to recount some of her findings.

“Well,” said Dr. Tarr, “at the first asylum I visited, I met an inhabitant who made a single statement. I immediately took steps to have them released.”

“Wait,” interjected the professor, “so you’re saying this person was not an insane patient?”

“Of course,” replied Dr. Tarr.

Professor Feather thought for a moment, then asked “How is that possible? This sounds like the old Liar and Truth Teller puzzle. This person either told the truth or they lied. But there are four possibilities for any person in an asylum: Sane Doctor, Insane Patient, Insane Doctor, or Sane Patient.

“Even if you knew whether they were lying or telling the truth, that would only narrow the matter down to two possibilities. For example, if they told a truth such as ‘two plus two equals four’, you would know that they were Sane. But how would you know that they were a Patient, not a Doctor?”

Dr. Tarr replied with a chuckle “I agree that I could not have deduced what to do based on an inhabitant saying ‘two plus two equals four’. But in this case, the patient was quite intelligent and thought of a single statement which could establish the fact that only a Sane Patient could make that statement.

“I’m sure if you think about it, you could construct such a statement. Name a statement which could only be uttered by a Sane Patient.”

A Few Easy Ones from Raymond Smullyan.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World: Steven Johnson.

This is one of the most entertaining History books I've ever read, but it goes beyond that. As it explores the biases that keep smart people from understanding "obvious" truths, it delves into Psychology and even Philosophy.

Metaphors We Live By: George Lakoff, Mark Johnson.
This book explores a fascinating thesis about how we think. The authors believe that metaphor is a core part of human cognition and that our writing, speech, and ideas are laced with metaphors and metaphorical frameworks we often fail to notice. It's terrific food for thought, whether you wind up agreeing or disagreeing.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces: Joseph Campbell.
“Campbell’s words carry extraordinary weight, not only among scholars but among a wide range of other people who find his search down mythological pathways relevant to their lives today….The book for which he is most famous, The Hero with a Thousand Faces [is] a brilliant examination, through ancient hero myths, of man’s eternal struggle for identity.” — Time

Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence: Hans Moravec.
One would be making a mistake to let Mind Children recede unopened into a guiltless oblivion. It's a tonic book, thought-provoking on every page. And it reminds us that, in our accelerating, headlong era, the future presses so close upon us that those who ignore it inhabit not the present but the past.
–Brad Leithauser (New Yorker )

Moravec, by his own admission, is an intellectual joyrider, and riding his runaway trains of thought is an exhilarating experience…This is an intellectual party that shouldn't be pooped, no matter how much it may disturb the neighbours and encourage over-indulgence.
–Brian Woolley (Guardian )

In the Blink of an Eye Revised 2nd Edition: Walter Murch.
This book, by one of Hollywood's greatest editors, goes beyond explaining a single craft. It's a door into the brain of a brilliant technician and problem solver, and many pages of it gifted me new ways of thinking, even though I'm not an editor. For instance, Murch came up with the simple (but genius) idea of taping two tiny, cut-out paper people to the bottom of his monitor. They continually remind him of the scale at which people will see movie images when they are in the theatre.

The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present: Eric Kandel.

This is an Art History/Criticism book written by a neuroscientist.

“Eric Kandel has succeeded in a brilliant synthesis that would have delighted and fascinated Freud: Using Viennese culture of the twentieth century as a lens, he examines the intersections of psychology, neuroscience, and art. The Age of Insight is a tour-de-force that sets the stage for a twenty-first-century understanding of the human mind in all its richness and diversity.”
—Oliver Sacks, author of The Mind’s Eye and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
 
“In a polymathic performance, a Nobel laureate weaves together the theories and practices of neuroscience, art and psychology to show how our creative brains perceive and engage art—and are consequently moved by it. . . . A transformative work that joins the hands of Art and Science and makes them acknowledge their close kinship.”
—Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)

“Engrossing … Nobel-winning neuroscientist Kandel excavates the hidden workings of the creative mind. Kandel writes perceptively about a range of topics, from art history—the book’s color reproductions alone make it a great browse—to dyslexia. … Kandel captures the reader’s imagination with intriguing historical syntheses and fascinating scientific insights into how we see—and feel—the world.”
—Publisher’s Weekly

“A fascinating meditation on the interplay among art, psychology and brain science. The author, who fled Vienna as a child, has remained captivated by Austrian artists Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, each of whom was profoundly influenced by Sigmund Freud and by the emerging scientific approach to medicine in their day … [calls] for a new, interdisciplinary approach to understanding the mind, one that combines the humanities with the natural and social sciences.”
—Scientific American

“Eric Kandel’s book is a stunning achievement, remarkable for its scientific, artistic, and historical insights. No one else could have written this book—all its readers will be amply rewarded.”
—Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
 
“Eric Kandel’s training as a psychiatrist and his vast knowledge of how the brain works enrich this thoroughly original exploration of the relationship between the birth of psychoanalysis, Austrian Expressionism, and Modernism in Vienna.”
—Margaret Livingstone, Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School
 
“This is the book that Charles Darwin would have produced, had he chosen to write about art and aesthetics. Kandel, one of the great pioneers of modern neuroscience, has effectively bridged the ‘two cultures’—science and humanities. This is a task that many philosophers, especially those called ‘new mysterians,’ had considered impossible.”
—V. S. Ramachandran, author of The Tell-Tale Brain

Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships: Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha.
If you want to grapple with understanding human sexuality, I recommend you read this book and its criticism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex…

Education

How Children Fail: John Holt.

A better title might be "How Teachers Fail." When I was in my teens and first starting to grapple with problems in Education, this book opened my eyes. It started me thinking in ways that had never occurred to me before.

Wounded by School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning and Standing Up to Old School Culture: Kirsten Olson.

Kirsten Olson's book is refreshingly unlike the general run of sludge I associate with writing about pedagogy: It seems to be entirely free of the familiar platitudes which replace thought when we read about school matters, is scrubbed clean of pretentious jargon, and offers up the twists and turns of Olson's analysis and citations with beautiful clarity. I can't imagine anyone not being better for reading this book Twice! –John Taylor Gatto, Author, Dumbing Us Down

Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood: A. S. Neill, Albert Lamb.

This book will challenge your ideas about education, whether you wind up agreeing with it or raging against it. While I was suffering through a traditional American public high school, this book showed me there were other possibilities, which both fascinated and depressed me. I longed to go to Summerhill.

Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas: Seymour A. Papert.

"This is the best book I have ever read on how to assist people to learn for themselves. Papert began his work by collaborating with Jean Piaget, and then applied those perspectives in a self-programming language designed to help children learn math and physics.

Papert explains Piaget's work and provides case studies of how the programming language, LOGO, can help. He provides a wonderful contrasting explanation of the weaknesses of how math and physics are usually taught in schools." — from an Amazon reader review.

See also Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre: Keith Johnstone, below (in the theatre section).

Writing

In my view, despite frequent references to "Elements of Style" and Stephen King's "On Writing," there are few good books on how to write. Most of what learned was either by reading and imitation or from short essays, such as Orwell's Politics and the English Language and Twain's "Finmore Cooper's Literary Offenses": http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3….

I've tried to list most of my core beliefs about writing, here: Marcus Geduld's answer to What should everyone know about writing?

These two books (really three, since the first is a collection of two books) stand out. The first …

Hat Box: The Collected Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim: Stephen Sondheim.

… is a thorough analysis of Sondheim's lyrics—by Sondheim. In case you don't know who he is, he's the generally-acknowledge "greatest muscial-theatre composer/lyricist of all time." His shows include "Sweeney Todd," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", and "West Side Story" (lyrics only). What sets his books apart is the care he takes over evert single word and the lucid explanations with which he explains his choices. Read these books even if you're a non-lyricist.

Clear and Simple as the Truth: Francis-Noël Thomas, Mark Turner.

Though somewhat dry, this is the only book I know of that clearly explains how to write in a very specific style. And it's kind-of the ur-style: the one I'd argue all writers should master before going on to anything more complicated. It's what "Elements of Style" should be but isn't.

Theatre

A Practical Handbook for the Actor: Melissa Bruder, Lee Michael Cohn, Madeleine Olnek, Nathaniel Pollack, Robert Previtio, Scott Zigler, David Mamet.

This is the best introduction I've ever read to Stanislavsky-based acting. (See Constantin Stanislavski). I think of it as book one in a three-book trilogy. (Composed of this book and the next two in my list.)

It helps actors avoid playing murky emotional states and become active on stage. Its core approach is to have actors choose goals for each moment they are on stage.

If you know someone who is thinking of becoming an actor, get him this book.

The Actor and the Target: Declan Donnellan.

This book (part two of my ad-hoc trilogy) delves into one specific aspect of Stanislavsky-based acting: the person (the other actor) or object you're trying to affect when you're on stage. As a director, I find motivating actors towards targets tremendously useful. For instance, if an actor is trying to "be sexy" I ask him to stop and, instead, to try to get the actress (the target) to kiss him.

How to Stop Acting: Harold Guskin.

In my mind, there's tremendous value in Stanislavky's system, which forms the basis of the first two books on this list. But in the end, most actors need to let all frameworks go, stop thinking about them, and just improvise. They must "be in the moment."

This is the best treatment I've found of this slippery subject. Guskin was the acting coach to James Gandalfini, Kevin, Kline, Glenn Close and many other famous actors.

Different Every Night: Putting the play on stage and keeping it fresh: Mike Alfreds.

This book clearly explores what to me is the core difference between theatre and film. Filmmakers must sweat to get the best performance possible onto film. Theatre practitioners should, if they're smart, create an environment where there is no "best." Great theatre should be different every night (or why not see a film, instead?). Each actor in each performance should try something new, and all the performances, taken together, should explore every avenue of the story, every possible interpretation.

Notes on Directing: 130 Lessons in Leadership from the Director's Chair: Frank Hauser, Russell Reich.

The ideas behind directing are very, very simple: watch and listen; avoid doing anything most of the time; step in with a suggestion when necessary. But, boy oh boy, is it hard to put these simple procedures into practice! Most directors do too much. Or they focus on the wrong things. I read this smart little book before every rehearsal period.

Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre: Keith Johnstone.

Impro ought to be required reading not only for theatre people generally but also for teachers, educators, and students of all kinds and persuasions. Readers of this book are not going to agree with everything in it; but if they are not challenged by it, if they do not ultimately succumb to its wisdom and whimsicality, they are in a very sad state indeed . . . .Johnstone seeks to liberate the imagination, to cultivate in the adult the creative power of the child . . . .Deserves to be widely read and tested in the classroom and rehearsal hall . . . Full of excellent good sense, actual observations and inspired assertions.
–CHOICE: Books for College Libraries

Shakespeare

Thinking Shakespeare: A How-to Guide for Student Actors, Directors, and Anyone Else Who Wants to Feel More Comfortable With the Bard: Barry Edelstein.

This is the only worthwhile Shakespeare book I've ever found for beginning actors, and seasoned actors who are new to Shakespeare. Even pros will probably learn something from it. And it's a cool book for Shakespeare fans, too, who want to learn how to read the plays better and who want an understanding of how Shakespeare's approach it.

Hamlet in Purgatory: Stephen Greenblatt.

"Hamlet" has a bewildering and brilliant relationship to Religion, and this is the best book on the subject.

Hamlet and Revenge: Eleanor Prosser.

Elizabethan morality considered revenge to be a great sin. So how is it possible that Shakespeare's audience considered Hamlet a hero? This is one of the most eye-opening pieces of dramaturgy I've read. I discuss it, here: Marcus Geduld's answer to In Hamlet, what does the phrase "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" mean?

Pick this up used if you can. It's expensive new.

Shakespeare's Metrical Art: George T. Wright.

If you want to understand what Shakespeare was doing poetically, this is the bible. If you're new to blank verse, I recommend your read "Thinking Shakespeare" before tackling this.

I delve into lots of other Shakespearean issues, here: Directing "Hamlet".

Fiction

I gobble down fiction, so if this question was "What are some great novels?" I could list hundreds of books. Ones that would definitely make the list are "Sense and Sensibility," "Pride and Prejudice," "Emma," "Wuthering Heights," "House of Mirth", "One Hundred Years of Solitude," "Watership Down," "Cat's Eye", "Bleak House," "Lonesome Dove," "Catcher in the Rye," "The Queen's Gambit," and … well, I could go on and on.

While all great novels expand my mind, I've included two, below, that did so via formal experimentation. In general, I hate experimental novels. Most of them are Sophomoric: "What if the author was a character in his own work? What if the characters knew the were living in a work of fiction? Like, wow men! Cool!"

Here are two exceptions:

1Q84: Haruki Murakami, Jay Rubin, Philip ­Gabriel.

War and Peace: Leo Tolstoy.

And this, to me and many others, is the greatest novel of all time:

The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I've read it over a hundred times and it still keeps giving. Several famous writers, like Hemmingway, copied it out by hand, so that they could study each sentence. I've often thought of doing the same thing. Here's a lesson I learned from just one of Fitzgerald's sentences: Post by Marcus Geduld on Words! Words! Words!

UPDATE: Someone recently PMed me, asking me to recommend two fiction and two non-fiction books to him. What follows is my reply, in which I cheated and recommend more. It's interesting to compare the following list with the one above, and see how some books have a stable placement in the front of my mind while others shift.

As a lifelong reader, it's almost impossible for me to pick four books without doing so at random, but I'll try, as long as you understand these aren't my four favorites. They're just four books that are meaningful to me chosen somewhat arbitrarily.

I'm going pick books that I first read at least five years ago, because I want to give you recommendations that haven't just temporarily dazzled me. Otherwise, I'd suggest

"Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman
Amazon: Thinking, Fast and Slow

and

"Antifragile" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Amazon: Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

which both struck me as deeply profound and deeply useful. But they're too recent to be "canonized" in my mind.

Finally, my favorite novel is

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Amazon: The Great Gatsby

but I won't list it, because it's on so many great-works list. It's probably more helpful for me to suggest books you're less-likely to have heard about.

Non-fiction:
– "The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World," by Steven Johnson, is a book about one event in history (and a fascinating one), but it manages to delve into deep matters of philosophy, science, and psychology, too. It's very exciting and readable, like a "page-turner" novel.
Amazon: The Ghost Map

– "From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present," by Jacques Barzun. The best modern-Western history I've ever read.
Amazon: From Dawn to Decadence

Fiction:
– "Lonesome Dove," by Larry McMurtry, is, to me, a Great American Novel. It belongs on shelves next to "The Great Gatsby," "Moby Dick," and "The Scarlet Letter." It's a quest story, similar in that sense to "Lord of the Rings," but its setting is the American West in 1876.
Amazon: Lonesome Dove

– "Cat's Eye," by Margaret Atwood, is one of the most brutally-honest stories about childhood ever written. It's "Lord of the Flies" without the the island. And it's about little girls instead of little boys.
Amazon:  Cat's Eye: Margaret Atwood

Here are some other books I love:

Fiction:

– "One Hundred Years of Solitude," by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Magic Realism. Maybe the best fantasy novel ever written. Marquez creates an absolutely unique world that runs via its own surreal logic. You emerge from it a different person. The English translation is gorgeous.
Amazon: One Hundred Years of Solitude

– "1Q84," by Haruki Murakami is the Japanese "One Hundred Year of Solitude." It's worth reading both of them, to understand what fiction can do and where it can go—and how it can play by its own rules.
Amazon: 1Q84

– "House of Mirth," by Edith Wharton. A fantastic portrait of 19th-Century New York and a young woman who has to maneuver in that complex, suffocating society.
Amazon: The House of Mirth

– "The Queens Gambit," by Walter Tevis is simply a perfect tale. It's like a masterclass on how to write a honed but unpretentious novel. It's about a child chess prodigy. Tevis isn't a well-known guy, but many people are aware of his novels via their film adaptations. These include "The Man Who Fell to Earth," "The Hustler," and "The Color of Money."
Amazon: The Queen's Gambit: A Novel

– "This Perfect Day," by Ira Levin is, in my mind, the best dystopia ever written. Few agree with me, because its politics are naive compared to books like "1984" (which I also love). But Levin isn't playing politics. Nor is he doing social criticism. He's weaving a yarn, and his spare prose and world-building do just that with immense confidence. I'd say it's one of the best sci-fi books of all time. Levin's mystery "A Kiss Before Dying" is also terrific. Don't watch either of the movie versions.
Amazon: This Perfect Day

– "Amy and Isabelle," by Elizabeth Strout is the best story about a mother/daughter relationship I've ever read.
Amazon: Amy and Isabelle

– "The Box of Delights," by John Masefield is my favorite children's fantasy novel. Though not nearly as well-known as "The Hobbit" or the Narnia books, for my taste it's superior.
Amazon: The Box of Delights

Other novels I love include "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte; "The Time Machine" and "The Island of Dr. Moreau" by H.G. Wells; "Emma," "Sense and Sensibility," and "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen; pretty much any Jeeves book by P.G. Wodehouse; "Bleak House" by Charles Dickens; "Plain Song" by Ken Haruf; "Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain; "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy; "Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger; "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee; and "Secret History" by Donna Tartt.

Non-fiction:

– "Godel, Escher, Bach," and "Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies," by Douglas Hoffstadter, two of the most thought-provoking books I've read about the human mind and artificial intelligence.
Amazon: Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Amazon: Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies

– "Shadow Divers," by Robert Kurson is the most exciting non-fiction book I've ever read. It's about deep-sea divers, a subject that (prior to reading this book) didn't interest me in the slightest.
Amazon: Shadow Divers

– "The Botany of Desire," by Michael Pollan is about the symbiotic way humans live with plants. Pollan is better known for "The Omnivore's Dilemma," which is fantastic, but, for my money, not quite as much the masterpiece as this earlier book.
Amazon: The Botany of Desire

– "Against Joie De Vivre" and "Being With Children," by Phillip Lopate. Lopate is the best personal essayist of the 20th Century and one of the best of all times.
Amazon: Against Joie de Vivre
Amazon: Being with Children

– Essays by George Orwell. I love all of Orwell's writing, but I find his essays—especially "Shooting an Elephant" and "Such, Such Were the Joys" to be the best of his writing.
Amazon: Essays
Free, online: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300011h.html

– "How Children Fail," by John Holt; "Summerhill School," by A.S. Neal; "A Mathematician's Lament" by Paul Lockhart; and the much more recent "Wounded by School," by Kristin Olson, were all deeply important to forming and informing my ideas about education.
Amazon: How Children Fail
Amazon: A Mathematician's Lament
Free online (shorter) version (pdf): http://mysite.science.uottawa.ca…
Amazon: Summerhill School
Amazon: Wounded by School

– "The Little Schemer," by Daniel Friedman and Matthias Felleisen, is the only computer-programming book I've read that's a work of art. (Really it's a puzzle book, since one doesn't need to use a computer to work through it. It explores the subject of recursion.)
Amazon: The Little Schemer

– "In the Blink of an Eye" by Walter Murch, about the art of film editing.
Amazon: In the Blink of an Eye

What are some mind-expanding books to read?

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