Do you even read anymore? I do. Sometimes I go the old fashion route with a nice paperback or hardcover under a mango tree, other times I’m catching up on my iPad with an eBook but even when I don’t have free hands to hold a book or device, my entire audio library happens to be from audible.com. You really can get information and laughs from memes on 4Chan or in movies and on TV. But to me, nothing beats the unabridged thoughts and ideas that an author lays out in their pages.
Most of my favorite books are Non-Fiction. I couldn’t possibly digest enough books on history or tales of scientific endeavors. My favorite author, by a long shot, is Carl Sagan. The Sagan speaks to me through his books in a way that no other author can. My two favorite Carl Sagan books are Broca's Brain and A Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. I’m also a big fan of Yuval Noah Harari, a historian who shook my world with his prophetic book, Homo Deus: a Brief History of Tomorrow, and opened up my eyes to the human condition in his first book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Being a Star Trek fan all my life, no list of my favorite books or authors would be complete without Manu Saadia’s Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek.
Carl Sagan has been an inspiration to me for a long time. He had a way with words and layman examples that can bring anyone into his world. I still remember getting my first Sagan book, Cosmos, and feeling like I knew every word in every chapter, until about a quarter the way through when I realized the book was the television series in written form. After devouring Cosmos, I took on Pale Blue Dot - a prophetical book about the human future in space exploration, extrapolated from his experiences in the early Mars Missions and rendezvous with other planets in the outer solar system. Followed by Billions and Billions, The Varieties of Scientific Experience and then I stumbled across my two favorites: Broca’s Brain and A Demon Haunted World. The latter, A Demon Haunted World, is a book that I personally believe every human being should read before they become an adult.
Society has become so jam packed full of crack-pot conspiracy theorists and pseudo-science mumbo-jumbo that’s its become almost impossible to find a reasonably scientific thinker, outside of a university laboratory. We have a president of the United States who throws conspiracy theories in the mainstream without a second thought to the impact that misinformation can have on society as a whole. School systems are affected, economic falsehoods are established and Huge hurdles are created for the scientific community to help the average person understand and get involved in technologies that will very much make everyone’s lives easier and better. Take Aliens for instance. A portion of the population legitimately worries about Aliens, Secret Space Programs and the HISTORY channel even has an hour a week special on Ancient Alien Cover-Ups... When in reality, the likelihood of extraterrestrials finding their way across the unimaginably vast distances between the stars is incredibly slim. Not to mention it would be nearly impossible for extraterrestrials to know there is even intelligent life on this planet from such distances (a prerequisite before expending immense resources to check us out) because radio waves wouldn’t have enough time to propagate through space on that long journey to their solar system.
What about witches and mystical cures? Human fallibility and charlatans have been well documented throughout history, yet we fall for the same mistakes and tricks over and over again. Political Activism? Have you put thought into who’s guiding the activists and what their ultimate agendas really are? Big Brother? Sci-Fi makes you fear the wrong peeping tom, it's Facebook who watches your every move. Tricks have been played on people repeatedly for thousands of years and with a little scientific thinking, we, as a society, might finally start to recognize the old illusions disguised with new colors. Scientific thinking and a healthy skeptical mentality has been almost lost in our society today with the rampant growth of the anonymized internet. Reading A Demon Haunted World opens up your eyes to the BS all around you and provides anyone willing to try with the tools to be a healthy skeptic and make educated conclusions about the world around them.
Yuval Noah Harari is also one of my favorite authors. I stumbled across his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind, a couple years ago while trying to find a thorough and understandable explanation of human history from the Very Beginning of our species. Sapiens tells stories of individuals through time, the growth and destruction of whole empires, the invention of democracy and how we lost it for over a thousand years, misconceptions of famous historical figures as well as a more in depth understanding into why we are the way we are today. After devouring Sapiens, I found his follow up book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, which spells out how Yuval believes we will grow as a species and eventually evolve into something completely different, to be utterly fascinating. Mr Harari sets the stage for our future in a myriad of lights, from where we may find ourselves with the wrong leadership (self-destructive) to a beautiful image of our utopia if we can keep the reigns in the right hands and stay the course of progress, without blowing ourselves up with nukes.
Manu Saadia put together an awesome book about the economics and world of Star Trek called Trekonomics. In a future envisioned by Gene Roddenberry, there is no money, there is no need or responsibility to "fend for yourself". A utopia where there is no illness and no poor. I’ve heard time and time again, “a world with no money or illness seems like a boring place to live”. But I’ll tell you this much, Manu nailed his attempt at envisioning how money will transform into something else of value in the future - Merit. Mr Saadia dives deep into the lives of characters throughout Star Trek’s universe to prime the audience for what our future Could be, one day. There are technologies like the “Replicator” that are far from our reach today, but Manu does a splendid job painting the picture of how we can approach this utopian lifestyle around the world, even without some of the uber-futuristic tech required for some of the perks. In a world where our Ethics and Effort speak louder than our Dollars - opportunities and possibilities are bound only by a willingness to achieve. This is a Great read for any Star Trek fan as well as anyone wanting a glimpse of what the world Could be like in the semi-distant future.
Reading is one of my favorite escapes. I tend not to be the type that requires an escape to fanciful fantasies, but rather one who finds it invigorating to learn about our history as well as ponder the realistic possibilities of our future. I don’t want to give the impression that I look down on fiction, I see the enjoyment in daydreaming about space cowboys and wizards and I find myself postulating sci-fi dramas to my friends all the time. The books I remember however, the ones that crop up in my mind on a daily basis and helped make me who I am today, are the ones in this list. When I find myself reading an incredible tale of technological innovation online or an article from a political spin-doctor in a newspaper, my first thoughts are of Carl Sagan, how he would evaluate the information and decide if it was legitimately useful knowledge or misunderstood spread of unfounded information. We need more scientific thinkers in this world, check out A Demon Haunted World. I hope you find these books as enlightening as I did.