Every book lover in the world is aware of the incredible powers books possess. Books educate, influence, and endow us with new perspectives. Powerful and thought-provoking books can change our way of thinking. They can guide you toward your goals or help set new goals for you. They can unveil a whole different world in front of you – a world that you thought never existed.
Long story short, some books, indeed, have the ability to transform our lives.
In this post, I am sharing a list of life-changing, unmissable books from different genres that cover everything from the history of civilization to human psychology and politics. These incredible jewels of literary thought have helped many construct their minds and ideas and have led them to a less confusing life.
This booklist will give you invaluable insights into how the world actually works. (By the way, the list is in no particular order)
1. The Dictator’s Handbook (2011) by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith
If you are a student of political science or aspire to be a politician, this is one book you cannot miss. Arguably, this is the best book on politics ever written.
It offers a lucid argumentation on how democracy supporters and dictators preserve political authority.
Not reading this book will keep you from understanding the nitty-gritty of politics. Reading it will not make you a genius overnight either, but it will definitely leave you a lot less politically naive than before.
2. Chimpanzee Politics (1982) by Frans de Waal
Frans de Waal shows how the roots of politics are older than humanity and nowhere is this phenomenon less visible than in groups of Chimpanzees.
Written nearly four decades ago, this book reveals bonding, jealousy, rivalry, and coalition, common among chimps. Frans de Waal, especially, highlights Machiavelli-like behavior prevalent in chimps. Like their human cousins, chimps scheme, plot, and sometimes, assassinate, too.
De Waals’s work was praised for its scientific value and deep insights into basic human needs and behaviors. This book is undoubtedly a classic, it will make you think differently about humanity and chimps.
3. Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) by Jared Diamond
Jared Diamond won a Pulitzer Prize for his fantastic literary work. He argues that the modern world is shaped by geographical and environmental factors.
Most importantly, he answers the thorny question:
Why do some societies advance so much quicker and further than others?
This book basically dismantles the basis of theories about racial, cultural, and religious supremacy. A must-read if you wish to grasp how the world works.
4. The Camp of the Saints (1973) by Jean Raspail, Norman R. Shapiro
This book, published in 1973, has been like a Bible within white supremacist circles for decades. It is the most controversial, but also the most influential and famous of Raspail’s books.
This dystopian bestseller in France and America poses a difficult question:
What will happen when millions from Third World countries “swarm” the white nations?
The novel is provocative and disturbing but very powerful in impacting anyone who reads it.
5. Manufacturing Consent (1988) by Naom Chomsky
For anyone even dabbling in journalism, this is the book they need to read. Manufacturing Consent marks the trailblazing work of Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky.
Working on a series of case studies, the two show how, despite the usual portrayal of media as the defender of justice, media often work to defend the social, economic, and political agendas of the privileged groups that dominate the society.
Though it is meant to be a polemic on the US Foreign Policy, the book mirrors the Media-Government alliance situation in many countries.
6. Why the West Rules, For Now (2011) by Ian Morris
This ‘Big History’ book addresses one critical question – Why has the West dominated the world for the past two hundred years? And more importantly, will this power stay in the hands of the West in the future?
The archeologist and Stanford historian Ian Morris offers some surprising answers to these questions while describing the patterns of human history.
It shows how progress sows the seeds of trouble for itself and how development often hits a ceiling. Morris also argues the horrific impacts of the everyday struggle of ordinary men who lack resources, sickness, migration, and a rough climate.
7. Sapiens (2011) by Yuva Noah Harari
Sapiens became a Bible for many people all around the world. It was engraved on the reading bucket list of tech giants like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
Yuva Harari talks about the past and future of humanity in the “Sapiens” provocatively, raising many questions that sparked heated debates around many dinner tables.
Are we humans really this powerful because of our ability to tell stories? Is our happiness just a matter of expectations? If you read Sapiens, will you achieve total consciousness? 🙂 Probably not, but Sapiens will broaden your horizons and expand your perspective of man’s journey from the Stone age to the present day.
8. Storm in a Teacup (2016) by Helen Czerski
If are a newbie, but you want to dabble in the exciting world of physics, grab this book at once. Helene Czerski, a physicist and oceanographer, explains everyday things and phenomena and presents them with enthusiasm and a touch of erudition.
She demystifies physics in everyday life. Even as she delves into more complex areas, she keeps the mood light and easy.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about how and why the world works the way it does.
9. Pedagogy of the oppressed (1968) by Paulo Freire
The book is considered one of the primary texts of critical pedagogy. This book is an unmistakable pick if you’re looking for a definitive work on education and social change.
It’s an inspiring work of the incredibly impactful Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. As per Google Scholar, it is one of the top 10 cited books in the Social Sciences space.
10. Utopia for Realists (2014) by Rutger Bregman
It is one of those rare books that takes you by surprise and challenges what you think you know.
To appreciate and enjoy Utopia For Realists, you must buy into its initial premise that our problem is we can’t come up with anything better than the way things are now. We have run out of goals. We have run out of ideas. What we need now is a new Utopia to aim for.
This book is filled with challenging ideas that are presented with such clarity you are likely to go out and win some brewpub arguments with your newfound audacity.
11. The Black Swan (2007) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Black Swan is one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read. Taleb uses the analogy of a Black Swan to symbolize his thesis – that significant, but unexpected, events occur and determine history.
The elusive thing about the Black Swans is that they are difficult, if not impossible, to accurately predict.
Taleb’s book is one of those landmark cross-disciplinary works that should be read by all people interested in deepening their knowledge of our understanding of reality and the distortion of reality by cognitive and emotional biases.
12. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995) by Carl Sagan
I have found the best way to understand the world, is through skeptical scrutiny.
To say you understand something about the universe, you need to be able to demonstrate it. Science has shown its ability to understand the universe to such a degree that we can use that knowledge to our own benefit by creating technologies that improve our lives.
Carl Sagan felt that reason and logic could make the world a better place, and this book is really an extended essay on that idea. A highly liberating piece of literature.
13. Imagined Communities (1983) by Benedict Anderson
If the recent rise of nationalism politics all around the world piques your interest and you seek answers, then Benjamin Anderson’s seminal work Imagined Communities is for you.
This book is not one of those breezy reads and requires the reader’s rapt attention.
Anderson explores the influence of language, script, and mass literacy, with the fall of the old languages like Latin and the spread of vernacular language through the advent of print capitalism. He confronts the reader with the historical and socio-cultural foundations for the formation of ideas of national identity.
14. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016) by Jane Mayer
This book will help you understand what has happened in the last quarter of a century to our political system. Though Jane Mayer’s focus is the US, it’s not hard to imagine how it mirrors what’s happening elsewhere.
Dark Money highlights how well-equipped the ultra-rich are at fracturing their own democracy through think tanks, beachheads, non-profit foundations, private investigators, lobbyists, and much more.
Their sheer power to politically and ideologically influence society is astonishing. Definitely worth a read.
15. Prisoners of Geography (2015) by Tim Marshall
In this pathbreaking book, Marshall explains why geography plays a pivotal role in the foreign policies of nations. If you have never read a book on geopolitics, let this be your first.
Reading Prisoners of Geography allows you to explore interesting political issues including the India-Pakistan rivalry, the importance of Tibet to China, the complicated relationships between North and South Korea, and how Africa’s location affects their economic development.
The maps presented along with the elaboration on how the geographical boundaries were formed and how they affect the socio-political milieu of our age is eye-opening and revealing. Honestly mind-blowing!
16. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972) by Walter Rodney
With the intelligent Marxist analysis of underdevelopment in Africa, Walter Rodney has created somewhat of a legacy. This is a pivotal, compelling work that brought a fresh perspective to an essential question about Africa’s relations with the West.
The book has a prophetic quality and talks about one of the biggest paradoxes there is. How come the continent richest in natural resources, also is the poorest?
More importantly, this book talks about major powers still lurking over Africa’s lucrative resources.
17. The Selfish Gene (1976) by Richard Dawkins
An alien visits Earth and poses a question – “Have they discovered evolution yet?”Dawkin’s study of evolutionary theory became the first globally popular science bestseller.
It was a blockbuster book, forcing a drastic change in how we see ourselves and the world surrounding us. Let’s just say people have not thought of evolution in the same way since The Selfish Gene.
This book will persuade you to buy into its central claim – that genes, not organisms, are the self-replicating entities upon which natural selection acts.
18. The Lessons of History (1968) by Will and Ariel Durant
The husband and wife duo spent over 50 years writing their much-acclaimed 11-volume series The Story of Civilization.
The lessons of history is the distillation of their academic work boiled down to a few essential points. It explains how historic events are driven by several factors including biology, race, morals, religion, economics, government, war, progress, and decline.
This book is essentially the summary of recorded human history in over 120 pages, without flair and fluff—just pure facts.
19. The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions (2017) by Peter Brannen
Peter Brannen is a gifted science writer and his first book fills in the voids, puts things in perspective, and clears the air about how the Earth actually works.
I’m sure many people will be familiar with the extinction of the dinosaurs but this book also covers extinctions prior to that one. Brannen provides an excellent overview of our current thinking on prehistoric mass extinction events.
An extraordinarily insightful, colorfully written, and partly intimidating book.
20. Civilized to death: Price of Progress (2019) by Christopher Ryan
Is human progress merely an illusion of our age? Have our brilliant technological advances brought the various “plagues” we’re dealing with today? Are these actually the dark days?
With dystopian scenarios looming over the world, it’s time to ask some difficult questions. Material abundance comes at a price, and this book assesses this issue with a scientifically, multidisciplinary look.
Christopher Ryan makes his case that the modern world is unfit for our species with wit, charm, and examples throughout.
21. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (1984) by Cialdini
A phenomenal book that underlines how human beings are continuously duped into making automatic decisions without thinking them through. Persuasion is so subtle that many times even the most educated people don’t realize when someone is using covert tactics on them.
Although it teaches techniques used by different businesses and groups, it also helps the customer. Not only does it teach you how to use the techniques, but it also teaches you how to spot them when they’re being used on you.
The following quote from Cialdini is a one-sentence course on persuasion:
“People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, and help them throw rocks at their enemies.”
22. Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (1962) by Jacques Ellul
Jacques Ellul was a French sociologist and Professor Emeritus of Law and of History at the University of Bordeaux, France. In Propaganda, he shows the subtleties of manipulation – both on the part of the manipulator who creates the propaganda and on the part of those who are manipulated.
Central to Ellul’s thesis is that modern propaganda cannot work without education. He reverses the widespread notion that education is the best antidote against propaganda.
For those who already have some knowledge of the phenomenon. This book will take your understanding of propaganda to the next level, and for anyone serious about the topic, it’s a must-read.
23. Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) by Daniel Kahneman
A seminal book from a transcendent author that gives you the vocabulary to spot cognitive biases. You learn what you can consciously control, how your intuition works, and how your brain makes decisions.
The prose is rich with examples and experimental case studies. His explanations of cognitive biases and how they affect judgment and decision-making are both insightful and compelling.
If you want to understand better how your people make decisions, and how advertisers and peddlers of propaganda exploit flaws in our decision-making processes, I strongly recommend this book.
The knowledge about how the world actually works and what levers people pull to make the world go round, make this list of 23 books a must-read stack. I am not claiming that this booklist is the alpha and omega of wisdom; I am sure there are many more books that encompass higher forms of knowledge, but this list can give you a great headstart in understanding the ways of the world.
I am sure you have a lot to say on this booklist. Please leave your suggestions in the comment box below.
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