Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Eight Books Everyone Should Read

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Ever since Oprah started stamping her name across the front of books, celebrity book recommendations have been all the rage. I think you’ll agree that the merit of those recommendations depends entirely on the person doing the recommending. If a writer I respect steers his fans toward a particular book, I’ll generally at least add it to my Amazon wishlist for future reference. If, on the other hand, somebody like Snooki suggests I check out this or that bestseller, my interest is probably going to last only slightly longer than the time it takes me to marvel at the fact that she can read.

And while printing the name of noted science advocate and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on the cover of a book might not move as many copies as Oprah’s blessing, I’d be a lot moe likely to pay attention to his suggestions. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a Neil deGrasse Tyson Book Club at the moment, so I’ll just have to stick with these eight books he suggests we all owe it to ourselves to read.

The list came in response to a question posed to Tyson by a Reddit user. Specifically, the question was, “Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on the planet?” Shockingly, nothing by John Grisham, Dan Brown, or Nicholas Sparks appears on the list. Here are Tyson’s suggestions, along with his brief explanations of why he picked each one. In his own words, “If you read all of the [below] works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.” They also include links to free eBook copies, so you’ve got no excuse to procrastinate.

  • The Bible (eBook) – “to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”
  • The System of the World by Isaac Newton (eBook) – “to learn that the universe is a knowable place.”
  • On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (eBook) – “to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.”
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (eBook) – “to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.”
  • The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (eBook) – “to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.”
  • The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (eBook) – “to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.”
  • The Art of War by Sun Tsu (eBook) – “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”
  • The Prince by Machiavelli (eBook) – “to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it.”


  1. Abraxsis says:

    And I’ll add Don Quixote to the list … “to learn that sometimes it’s a heck of a lot better just being insane.”

  2. Matt Towns says:

    Capitalism is also the only system that has ever worked. Humanity isn’t ready for communism…..if there is no incentive to work harder, 99 percent of people will only scrape by. Dream all you want, this is, for the time being, humanity.

    • frank stallone says:

      Bullshit. Plenty of people just get by, its not solely based on how hard people work. Uncontrolled capitalism is dangerous, it rewards exploitation, not hard work. There are people who break their backs on a daily basis who will never get ahead in life.

    • The state of many of the developed world’s economies say something very different. Even controlled capitalism is slowly failing.

    • Jeff Hanson says:

      Capitalism working was a short term illusion which is rapidly fading. It’s fundamentally incompatible with democracy.

      • kyle says:

        do you want a metal for pointing out something so obvious? The reason it works in china and other places, is because the people care about the good of the whole and are not selfish “americans”

        but you are correct 🙂

    • Communism is not the only alternative to capitalism. All communism is socialism, but all socialism isn’t communism. The anarchists too have a good amount of provocative anti-capitalist works. If you believe any so-called communist country has achieved or even sought to achieve what Marx himself outlined, you clearly know nothing of the subject. Communism cannot be accomplished except in a society where capitalism has been pushed to its absolute limits… that was not the climate in early 1900s Tsarist Russia, nor has that been the climate in any communist country to date. If a desirable version of communism is to be achieved, it will be achieved right here in the United States. I suggest you read up, your odd take on Marxist theory is considerably off from the reality of what such could turn out to be.

    • Dimiter "malkia" Stanev says:

      Gorbatchev said somewhere in 1994, something along the lines that he believe in communism for a long time, but then he realized that trading/exchange of goods between people have been ingrained in us as humans, and central planing simply does not work. I’ve seen the effect of it, it’s not necessarily bad unless you see what the other systems might provide.

      • And in 2007 he called the fall of the Soviet Union an unfortunate event in world history and Russian history. So much for that.

        • kyle says:

          people in russia have said that they perfered it when the country was communist, and i have talked to some who say that everythign about an american and european way of controlling the world, is the main problem.

          Government is supposed to be there to guard and protect the people in their country, with a seperate department, or private organization to run the rest of the amenities. But on the flip side, it also creates a lot of hassel and problems for the world as a whole.

          But nether system is better or worse, it should all depend on what people want and how they are raised. If your from a broken home, you will naturally want a democratic system where you have a say in the matters at hand, unlike you were able to with your home life, and those who come from a place, like china and other nations, where the main idea is to support your family and care for the peopel you live with and who have taken care of you, is a perfect environment for comunism and it works. Everything about American society, is the downfall of our whole planet.!.

    • Ivo Wever says:

      You seem to be interpreting deGrasse Tyson’s comment on The Wealth of Nations as a disparagement of capitalism. I don’t think that is what he intended: his comment can be compared to stating “a hurricane is an air movement of destruction, a force of nature unto itself”. Such a comment wouldn’t be considered as disparaging hurricanes, as that would be silly.

      Capitalism, in the meaning of “the inclination to obtain as much private ownership as possible” can be seen as a force of nature, because the majority of people *will* strive to reduce uncertainty about their future by coming into possession of sufficient means to live comfortably (to old age or even forever). You can’t stop them from acting in capitalist ways, unless a large cultural change were to happen. Like other forces of nature, you cannot control this. You can, and must, try to guide it and defend yourself from it or it will destroy you. Turning capitalism into an ideology is as silly as worshiping lightning or procreation.

      If you let capitalism run free, you get monopolies and slavery. If you restrict it too much, you reduce the incentives for individuals to produce value and cumulative production will be much lower. A balance must be struck. It’s basically an argument against extreme libertarianism.

  3. Meh, terribly obnoxious.

  4. damialyonvb says:

    It’s funny that I have most of these on my Kindle, but I haven’t found the time to read them. Now I don’t have to because Neil just told us all what their teachings are…..but I already learned all those lessons by being a compasionate and reasoning person, and I have seen all the Star Trek Series.

  5. John Haynes says:

    The Colour Of Magic, Mort, Wyrd Sisters, Men At Arms, Soul Music, Hogfather, The Fifth Elephant, Going Postal. To learn just how stupid and therefore funny the human race really is.

  6. hasACTUALLYreadmachiavelli says:

    A guy who reads Paine and Machiavelli yet calls capitalism merely an economy of greed…lol maybe he thinks “greed, for lack of a better word, is good”….

  7. How funny that the first criticism of this list is in defence of capitalism. I took issue with his snipey, arrogant remark about the Bible. I guess we live in a time when its fashionable to trash the writings of an ancient civilisation recalling their entire history, beliefs, and culture. I wonder if Professor Tyson would care to denigrate other cultures, or if the ancient Hebrews are the only acceptable target.

  8. Also find it funny that he would say the Bible is just for people who don’t want to think for themselves. The Bible is a collection of books, written from many different perspectives and really in a sense asks more questions than it asserts answers if you read it closely and with an open mind. The irony is that Prof. Tyson would like you to read Origin of the Species, a book that attempts to describe natural history, and turn it into religious philosophy. I’m sure he’d like people to read his book, or The God Delusion without thinking for themselves.

    • Comparing a mythological and blatantly fictitious collection of ancient goat herding tales to one of the greatest scientific works of all time is a bit of a losing prospect. The Bible is not some magical book filled with wisdom, it is a childish book describing some of the most unthinkable of ancient horrors in such a way as to promote these things. No respectable book legitimately suggests stoning gays or troublesome children – but the Bible does.

      • frint frinterson says:

        Alyssa, for the record, I’m not a Christian or a Jew. I don’t think calling the Bible, or any other collection of beliefs names counts as argument. I don’t know if you are aware that the requirement to bring one’s troublesome son (daughters not included in the law you refer to) to the elders before executing him actually represented an increase in human rights? Many if not all cultures in that area and time considered the right of parents to kill their offspring to be absolute. In reality, restricting that right by requiring judicial approval was a big step forward in human rights. To my knowledge, their is no record of this law being used to kill a son in the Bible or any of the supplementary Jewish texts — it likely never was. That said, the supposed Divine command to slaughter the Amalekite people, with specific mention of children and suckling infants is one of the more horrible things ever blamed on God, so I’m not defending the indefensible.

        As to the Bible being fictitious, it depends on what you’re reading. Do I believe in 6 days creation? No. Do I believe in the talking Donkey? No. Do I believe the Jews were carried into captivity in Persia, and later released with their wealth and religious artifacts restored by Cyrus? Yes, and the two Greek histories support this, along with recent archaeology. Do I believe the Apostle Paul was on a boat with 600 souls that was shipwrecked? Yeah, I think it’s likely, even though the idea of a boat of that capacity was long mocked in academia. Now we (and the academics) know that boats carrying as many as 1000 people plied the Mediterranean in that era. So all myths of “goat herders”? Don’t think so. You have some insights. Don’t ruin them with name calling. It just doesn’t constitute argument.

        As for a fine piece of poetic existential angst, have another go at Ecclesiastes.

        The Psalmist’s acknowledgement that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” rings as true to the modern scientist as it does/did to the believer in 6 days creation, regardless of whom or what “made” us.

        You recognized that the Bible is a collection, so I think it’s better to treat the various texts on their individual merits. Also I think the Jewish Bible must be judged in the context of its time. We extend that courtesy to writings of Mark Twain and he existed only scant decades ago.

        On your remark on communism, I know so little about it, but I do know that Lenin wanted to “force fruit out of season” so to speak, i.e. use violence to cut the time spent in the capitalistic phase to a minimum — hence his vacillation on the New Economic Plan. My impression agrees with your assertion that a nation in the state that the US finds itself in today is more likely to fulfill, in time, Marx’s vision. I think it’s possible we reached tipping point in the last election. It’s not what I want, but I don’t pretend to know for certain that it would be bad. A little humility in prophetic matters is a good thing, no?


    • Ivo Wever says:

      He doesn’t say the Bible is for people who don’t want to think for themselves. He is encouraging people to read the Bible: why on earth would he do that if he didn’t believe they would come away smarter from it?

      The point of his comment is that if churchgoing Christians were to actually read the Bible (which, according to research, they mostly don’t), and think about what it says in there, that they would probably think and believe different things than they do now.

      The further point of that being that you shouldn’t always believe or accept what you hear, because it is colored by the interpretation of the person telling it to you (and the one he heard it from, etc.).

      • Chris Duffy says:

        From what is given here, it’s not clear that is his “point” has anything to with the reading habits of churchgoing Christians. It is clear that he’s holding it up as a negative example, essentially, “read this and see for yourself how stupid people who believe in it are,” so to speak. (my impression)

        I always chuckle when people encourage or claim to have read the Bible “cover-to-cover” because it is numerous books written and collected over thousands of years, not at-all chronological, or intended to be read as a linear narrative. In fact, there’s much narrative duplication and jumping around in the OT as well as accounting of the same windows of events in the NT, but form different perspectives.

        To be clear, I am not a “Bible thumper.” and really don’t care, but the answer, as stated, indicates to me that he actually hasn’t read some of these entirely, for his reasoning reflects a somewhat superficial understanding of them. (I include Art of War in this assessment too. I haven’t read all of the The Prince or the others. I actually haven’t even read “all” of the Bible or Art of War, but I have studied both enough to see that these are superficial assessments of why you would bother to read them)

        In short, it would be an unproductive waste of time to try to read some of these for the reasons he says you should. I will hands down admit, he’s probably several orders of magnitude more intelligent than I, but his comment is kind of generic and a little bit of a cop out. I agree they’re all pivotal selections, but I would like to ask him if he personally has read them all or is just giving a broad answer full of stuff in the public domain that’s well-versed. I’d be more interested in knowing what his personal favorites are. What’s really impacted him personally more than any other work. Or just what he enjoys.

  9. BUB says:

    I just love the arrogance of his comments. The guy is clearly a genius. And when it comes to matters of physics and astronomy, he’s the man. As to notions on faith & history (The Bible) and politics and capitalism (The Wealth of Nations) his opinions are silly and ignorant. I’m not looking for the best history books from my accountant. I don’t care how great of an accountant he is, because he simply doesn’t have the practical knowledge of the subject matter.

    It’s kind of like the Oprah book club, unless it’s about celebrity or talk shows, why is she making any book recommendations. Just ridiculous.

  10. Ryan Deschamps says:

    All rationalist texts by men (except the Bible). Give me Emile Durkheim _Suicide_ to show that we always should be thinking critically about “expert opinions.”

  11. Wrathfulram says:

    Guess im going to start reading books

  12. Jeremy Keat says:

    Would like to see some more John Stuart Mill in people’s life with his book “On Liberty” dealing with the principle of liberty. Learn just how important and the effects of seeking the most liberty-minded approach in life.

    To give a good quote: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing
    that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

  13. Isaac Yonemoto says:

    You really shouldn’t go about saying ‘most of the time humans are yahoos’, especially if you’re a Houyhnhnm (or, worse, a Laputan).

  14. uneducatedbagger says:

    People calling him arrogant, get over yourselves. Some people (like me) respect this man, including what and how he thinks. share with me your secrets to what you believe makes people better so i can call you a jackass.

  15. Richard says:

    OK, where do I begin? First off, if it’s opinions and/or knowledge about science that I’m looking for, then Tyson would be one of the first people I’d consider consulting. If it’s opinions and/or knowledge about anything else, I’d find true authorities about those subjects and deal with them. Capitalism works everywhere it’s tried, and communism/socialism fails everywhere it’s tried because the former leverages human nature for its goals while the latter must violate human nature for its goals. Tyson might have recommended The Art of War, but he either never read the book or didn’t develop an understanding of what that book is about if that really is the reason for his recommendation. It has nothing to do with killing people (although ancient Chinese combat is how its lessons are developed), it has to do with how to handle your adversary in a competition or an open conflict. Lawyers, politicians, CEOs, and coaches read that book for those purposes as well as military leaders, and for good reason.
    As for that comment about the Bible (and the ones that followed in this thread), there’s more to the Bible than just what’s on the written page. The Book of Genesis DOES say the universe was created in six days, but given that nothing in the universe existed (including itself) before it was created, who’s to say how long a “day” was at the time? Simply because WE define a day as a single 24 hour period (or as Tyson might say, one revolution of the Earth around its axis) does not mean it was always 24 hours in duration. Whoever wrote Genesis might have seen the dead skeletons of a man and a woman and discovered that women have symmetrical rib cages, but a man’s rib cage is short a rib on one side and invented the story about the creation of woman to explain it. Context is EVERYTHING when you talk about ancient texts, or any text not written in the current time.

  16. scrib29 says:

    You know, a fistful of Batman and Avenger comic books will tell you all the same things. Just sayin.

  17. Jeez, he’s bit up his own arse isn’t he?

  18. I’m disappointed to see NDGT making such a simplistic and ignorant comment about the Bible

  19. Carl Then says:

    If Tyson thinks Capitalism is a “bad” thing…..then he is a fool and a tool beyond compare….

  20. You can add the Talmud and the Koran along with the Bible. Great list, I have about half of them read.

  21. I’d add Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers, to learn the value and cost of individuality and conformity. I’d also add other forms of scripture, Bhagavad Gita to teach the force of society, the Qu’ran, because they really mean what it says.