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13 books everyone should read and why—as voted by you
Add these great titles to your wish list or secure copies for yourself.
- We asked BigThink's readers and staff for their recommendations on books everyone should read.
- A collection of fiction and non-fiction works from around the world spanning millennia, these books will expand your horizons.
- Many of these books are long out of copyright, and can be read for free.
Do you ever want to read more but find yourself unsure of what to read? Lots of people have the same problem. To help, we're adding to the collection of "books everyone should read" lists. For this one, we reviewed hundreds of suggestions on what book everybody should read from a post on our Facebook page and combined them with some of our staff's picks.
They span more than 2,000 years of literature, include fiction and non-fiction works, and will make you think, laugh, and cry. So without further ado, here are 13 books you should read when you get the chance.
If you prefer digital books but yet own an e-reader, we've included links to purchase one (at two price points) at the bottom of this list.
"Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one…. cities will never have rest from their evils"
One of the most famous books of all time, Plato's "Republic" depicts Socrates debating the nature of justice. To do so, he appeals to the metaphysical theory of the forms, a vision of a Utopian city designed to exhibit perfect justice, the allegory of the cave, the Ring of Gyges, and the metaphor of the Ship of State.
To say that it has influenced and excited thinkers since it was written (around 375 BC) would be an understatement. The British philosopher Julian Baggini argued that while in this book Plato, "was wrong on almost every point, the questions it raises and the methods it uses are essential to the western tradition of philosophy. Without it we might not have philosophy as we know it."
Plato failed to take out a copyright on his book [it being written over 2,000 years ago likely played a role in this error] and several translations aren't copyrighted either. You can buy a copy at the link above, but it can also be read for free on Project Gutenberg.
"But rest assured: This tragedy is not a fiction. All is True."
Set in an unnamed Indian city during The Emergency, the story follows four people from very different walks of life as the country endures the struggle and changes of independence, a shifting economic picture, and social difficulties. Diving into one of the most controversial parts of India's modern history is no easy feat, but this book does it in a way that manages to keep the focus on the human side of the era.
Praised as one of the 10 greatest Asian novels by The Telegraph, the book won many awards upon release. The Wall Street Journal considered the book "A rich and varied spectacle, full of wisdom and laughter and the touches of the unexpectedly familiar through which literature illuminates life."
"The Tao that can be expressed is not the eternal Tao; The name that can be defined is not the unchanging name."
Taoism's foundational text, and a philosophical work that influenced most Chinese philosophy that came after it. The book attempts to explain The Way (Tao) and the virtues which can express it. Nature and actions in accordance with it are praised. The unity or oneness that underlies the universe is also highlighted.
The oldest known copies of the text date back to 300 BCE. Despite ups and downs in Taoism's fortunes, the rise and fall of other philosophies, and occasional persecution, this book and its wisdom have endured all the while. Hundreds of Millions of people still adhere to some form of Taoism, and this book is the key to understanding their worldview.
Many thinkers have commented on the brilliance of the book. Chinese philosopher and writer Lin Yutang went so far as to say, "If there is one book in the whole of Oriental literature which one should read above all the others, it is, in my opinion, Laotse's Book of Tao."
"Oh dear, you seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you alright?"
While the various editions of the book differ, the basic plot remains the same. Arthur Dent, recently forced off Earth due to it being blown up so a freeway could be built, goes on hilarious adventures around the galaxy with President Zaphod Beeblebrox, joyfully existential writer Ix, and Marvin the Paranoid Android—yes, Radiohead got it from here.
Also, the answer is 42, but we don't know the question.
Deemed a "whimsical odyssey" by Publishers Weekly and "inspired lunacy" by the Washington Post, the book series has legions of dedicated fans and several well-known adaptations.
The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." — Mark 12:31
As the holy text of Christianity and a collection of books with many focuses, there can be little wonder why the Bible is a frequently read, studied, criticized, and praised book. Featuring heroes like Sampson, teachers like Jesus, and epic tales like the Exodus, the Bible is a book with a large footprint on history and one to be counted among the great works of literature.
Even if you aren't a Christian, the Bible is worth a read. LearnReligions.com points out:
"If you're an avid reader, this is one bestseller you shouldn't miss. The Bible is an epic story of love, life, death, war, family, and more. It has its ups and downs, and it's pretty riveting. If you're not a reader, this may be the one book worth saying you read. If you're going to read anything, you can say you read the biggest bestseller of all time."
Plus, you know, understanding the belief system of the world's largest religion might come in handy sometime.
While some versions have copyrights, others don't, and most of them can be read online for free. Project Gutenberg has the very popular King James Edition here.
"A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognize truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself and for others."
A behemoth of a book centering around a murder, "The Brothers Karamazov" is part mystery, part love story, part court case, and part theological drama all wrapped up in a philosophical novel that has attracted the attention of the world's greatest minds since it came out.
It was declared "the most magnificent novel ever written" by Sigmund Freud. William Faulkner and Ludwig Wittgenstein claimed to have read it regularly. Both Franz Kafka and Martin Heidegger felt the book directly influenced their work. Anything a group like that can all agree on is likely worth reading.
"The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired."
For the person who wants to know how the universe and our understanding of it came to exist but also wants a side of extremely dry British wit, this is the book for you. Featuring only a single equation, E=MC2, Hawking's book explores the history of astronomy, ideas of space and time, black holes, the universe, quantum mechanics, the theory of everything, and frontiers in science without jargon or the assumption that the reader has a degree in the hard sciences.
Widely praised on release, the book became a best seller and went through several editions, including "A Briefer History of Time" and an illustrated version.
"It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU the caption beneath it ran."
The magnum opus of George Orwell, this novel considers a then-future England under the boot of a totalitarian state known as Oceania. The plot follows mid-level bureaucrat Winston Smith as he tries to navigate the surveillance state in which he lives, works, loves, and secretly dreams of rebellion. All the while, Big Brother is watching.
As one of the most influential novels of the 20th century, it should come as no surprise that the review from Victor Pritchett read: "I do not think I have ever read a novel more frightening and depressing; and yet, such are the originality, the suspense, the speed of writing and withering indignation that it is impossible to put the book down."
"What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either."
The story of a road trip from Minnesota to California features discussions of life, philosophy, hang-ups, and the effect of altitude on how well a motorbike runs. The problems of living life from a Romantic point of view against a Classical stance are a crucial part of the novel, and the attempt to find a middle ground lasts long after the road trip ends. All the while, ghosts from the past stalk the characters and ask questions that even they weren't prepared to answer.
The original New York Times review called the book "intellectual entertainment of the highest order," and it has become the best-selling philosophy book of all time.
"I haven't seen Calvin for about 15 minutes now. That probably means he's getting in trouble."
An anthology of comics by the great Bill Watterson depicting a young boy and his stuffed tiger, the series was the most popular comic strip in the United States for much of its run and continues to be loved by millions. While lacking an overarching plot, the series features several running gags and never loses its ability to touch on elements common to every childhood.
Praised as "vibrant, accessible, and beautiful" by mental floss and "one of the most beloved comic strips of all time" by the New York Post, this series is among the champions of comic strip fun.
"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly. No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried. Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked. "They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone." "And what difference does that make?"
Our first staff pick is the hilarious, zany, and shell-shocking story of bomber pilots in WWII just trying to stay alive while they navigate the bureaucracy of the U.S. Army Air Corps. It follows the misadventures of John Yossarian as he and his squad mates try to get out of having to complete their ever-increasing quota of missions. The book also considers (anachronistically placed) elements of American society that began to emerge in the '50s and the absurdity of human existence.
The New York Herald Tribune called the book "A wild, moving, shocking, hilarious, raging, exhilarating, giant roller-coaster of a book." Despite the non-linear plot, surreal occurrences, and dense language, Harper Lee said it was the only war novel she ever read that made any sense.
Widely considered a cult-classic, the book, fittingly, didn't win any awards on release and has been deemed a significant work of the 20th century.
"It is important to understand that the system of advantage is perpetuated when we do not acknowledge its existence."
Our second staff pick is from psychologist and Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum. Written in 1996, the book returned to the New York Times' best-seller list in June of 2020.
A bold consideration on how we discuss, or fail to discuss, race in America and its effects on our psychology, the book has sparked endless conversations and advanced debate since it first hit shelves. Featuring personal stories, empirical data, and her previous work in this field, the book makes a strong case for the need to engage with issues of racial identity in ways that many people currently do not.
Kirkus Reviews concluded that it is:
"A remarkably jargon-free book that is as rigorously analytical as it is refreshingly practical and drives its points home with a range of telling anecdotes. Tatum illuminates 'why talking about racism is so hard'' and what we can do to make it easier, leaving her readers more confident about facing the difficult terrain on the road to a genuinely color-blind society."
"'That is all. With the exercise of a little care, the nettle could be made useful; it is neglected and it becomes hurtful. It is exterminated. How many men resemble the nettle!' He added, after a pause: 'Remember this, my friends: there are no such things as bad plants or bad men. There are only bad cultivators.'"
Our final staff pick is a masterpiece that tells the story of reformed criminal Jean Valjean, his adopted daughter Cosette, the people they met from all parts of French society, and the battle of the human spirit against the injustices of the world. Along the way, it takes the time to consider questions of life, death, God, evil, justice, convents, revolution, love, and French slang.
Described as "one of the half-dozen greatest novels of the world" by no less a writer than Upton Sinclair, and a frequently adapted favorite of audiences since its release, the book continues to speak to an essential part of our humanity in a way few others have.
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Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to light recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.
- A new review of a famous study on declining sperm counts finds several flaws.
- The old report makes unfounded assumptions, has faulty data, and tends toward panic.
- The new report does not rule out that sperm counts are going down, only that this could be quite normal.
Several years ago, a meta-analysis of studies on human fertility came out warning us about the declining sperm counts of Western men. It was widely shared, and its findings were featured on the covers of popular magazines. Indeed, its findings were alarming: a nearly 60 percent decline in sperm per milliliter since 1973 with no end in sight. It was only a matter of time, the authors argued, until men were firing blanks, literally.
Well… never mind.
It turns out that the impending demise of humanity was greatly exaggerated. As the predicted infertility wave crashed upon us, there was neither a great rush of men to fertility clinics nor a sudden dearth of new babies. The only discussions about population decline focus on urbanization and the fact that people choose not to have kids rather than not being able to have them.
Now, a new analysis of the 2017 study says that lower sperm counts is nothing to be surprised by. Published in Human Fertility, its authors point to flaws in the original paper's data and interpretation. They suggest a better and smarter reanalysis.
Counting tiny things is difficult
The original 2017 report analyzed 185 studies on 43,000 men and their reproductive health. Its findings were clear: "a significant decline in sperm counts… between 1973 and 2011, driven by a 50-60 percent decline among men unselected by fertility from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand."
However, the new analysis points out flaws in the data. As many as a third of the men in the studies were of unknown age, an important factor in reproductive health. In 45 percent of cases, the year of the sample collection was unknown- a big detail to miss in a study measuring change over time. The quality controls and conditions for sample collection and analysis vary widely from study to study, which likely influenced the measured sperm counts in the samples.
Another study from 2013 also points out that the methods for determining sperm count were only standardized in the 1980s, which occurred after some of the data points were collected for the original study. It is entirely possible that the early studies gave inaccurately high sperm counts.
This is not to say that the 2017 paper is entirely useless; it had a much more rigorous methodology than previous studies on the subject, which also claimed to identify a decline in sperm counts. However, the original study had more problems.
Garbage in, garbage out
Predictable as always, the media went crazy. Discussions of the decline of masculinity took off, both in mainstream and less-than-reputable forums; concerns about the imagined feminizing traits of soy products continued to increase; and the authors of the original study were called upon to discuss the findings themselves in a number of articles.
However, as this new review points out, some of the findings of that meta-analysis are debatable at best. For example, the 2017 report suggests that "declining mean [sperm count] implies that an increasing proportion of men have sperm counts below any given threshold for sub-fertility or infertility," despite little empirical evidence that this is the case.
The WHO offers a large range for what it considers to be a healthy sperm count, from 15 to 250 million sperm per milliliter. The benefits to fertility above a count of 40 million are seen as minimal, and the original study found a mean sperm concentration of 47 million sperm per milliliter.
Healthy sperm, healthy man?
The claim that sperm count is evidence of larger health problems is also scrutinized in this new article. While it is true that many major health problems can impact reproductive health, there is little evidence that it is the "canary in the coal mine" for overall well-being. A number of studies suggest that any relation between lifestyle choices and this part of reproductive health is limited at best.
Lastly, ideas that environmental factors could be at play have been debunked since 2017. While the original paper considered the idea that pollutants, especially from plastics, could be at fault, it is now known that this kind of pollution is worse in the parts of the world that the original paper observed higher sperm counts in (i.e., non-Western nations).
There never was a male fertility crisis
The authors of the new review do not deny that some measurements are showing lower sperm counts, but they do question the claim that this is catastrophic or part of a larger pathological issue. They propose a new interpretation of the data. Dubbed the "Sperm Count Biovariability hypothesis," it is summarized as:
"Sperm count varies within a wide range, much of which can be considered non-pathological and species-typical. Above a critical threshold, more is not necessarily an indicator of better health or higher probability of fertility relative to less. Sperm count varies across bodies, ecologies, and time periods. Knowledge about the relationship between individual and population sperm count and life-historical and ecological factors is critical to interpreting trends in average sperm counts and their relationships to human health and fertility."
Still, the authors note that lower sperm counts "could decline due to negative environmental exposures, or that this may carry implications for men's health and fertility."
However, they disagree that the decline in absolute sperm count is necessarily a bad sign for men's health and fertility. We aren't at civilization ending catastrophe just yet.
A year of disruptions to work has contributed to mass burnout.
- Junior members of the workforce, including Generation Z, are facing digital burnout.
- 41 percent of workers globally are thinking about handing in their notice, according to a new Microsoft survey.
- A hybrid blend of in-person and remote work could help maintain a sense of balance – but bosses need to do more.
More than half of 18 to 25 year-olds in the workforce are considering quitting their job. And they're not the only ones.
In a report called The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?, Microsoft found that as well as 54% of Generation Z workers, 41% of the entire global workforce could be considering handing in their resignation.
Similarly, a UK and Ireland survey found that 38% of employees were planning to leave their jobs in the next six months to a year, while a US survey reported that 42% of employees would quit if their company didn't offer remote working options long term.
New work trends
Based on surveys with over 30,000 workers in 31 countries, the Microsoft report – which is the latest in the company's annual Work Trend Index series – pulled in data from applications including Teams, Outlook and Office 365, to gauge productivity and activity levels. It highlighted seven major trends, which show the world of work has been profoundly reshaped by the pandemic:
- Flexible work is here to stay
- Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call
- High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce
- Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energized
- Shrinking networks are endangering innovation
- Authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing
- Talent is everywhere in a hybrid world
"Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says in the report. "Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly – inclusive of collaboration, learning and wellbeing to drive career advancement for every worker, including frontline and knowledge workers, as well as for new graduates and those who are in the workforce today. All this needs to be done with flexibility in, when, where and how people work."
Organizations have become more siloed
While the report highlights the opportunities created by increased flexible and remote working patterns, it warns that some people are experiencing digital exhaustion and that remote working could foster siloed thinking. With the shift to remote working, much of the spontaneous sharing of ideas that can take place within a workplace was lost. In its place are scheduled calls, regular catch-ups and virtual hangouts. The loss of in-person interaction means individual team members are more likely to only interact with their closest coworkers.
"At the onset of the pandemic, our analysis shows interactions with our close networks at work increased while interactions with our distant network diminished," the report says. "This suggests that as we shifted into lockdown, we clung to our immediate teams for support and let our broader network fall to the wayside. Simply put, companies became more siloed than they were pre-pandemic."
Burnout or drop out
One of the other consequences of the shift to remote and the reliance on tech-based communications has been the phenomenon of digital burnout. And for those who have most recently joined the workforce, this has been a significant challenge.
The excitement of joining a new employer, maybe even securing a job for the first time, usually comes with meeting lots of new people, becoming familiar with a new environment and adapting to new situations. But for many, the pandemic turned that into a daily routine of working from home while isolated from co-workers.
"Our findings have shown that for Gen Z and people just starting in their careers, this has been a very disruptive time," says LinkedIn Senior Editor-at-Large, George Anders, quoted in the report. "It's very hard to find their footing since they're not experiencing the in-person onboarding, networking and training that they would have expected in a normal year."
But it is perhaps the data around quitting that is one of the starkest indications that change is now the new normal. Being able to work remotely has opened up new possibilities for many workers, the report found. If you no longer need to be physically present in an office, your employer could, theoretically, be located anywhere. Perhaps that's why the research found that "41% of employees are considering leaving their current employer this year".
In addition to that, 46% of the people surveyed for the Microsoft report said they might relocate their home because of the flexibility of remote working.
A hybrid future
In looking for ways to navigate their way through all this change, employers should hold fast to one word, the report says – hybrid. An inflexible, location-centred approach to work is likely to encourage those 41% of people to leave and find somewhere more to their tastes. Those who are thinking of going to live somewhere else, while maintaining their current job, might also find themselves thinking of quitting if their plans are scuppered.
But remote working is not a panacea for all workforce ills. "We can no longer rely solely on offices to collaborate, connect, and build social capital. But physical space will still be important," the report says. "We're social animals and we want to get together, bounce ideas off one another, and experience the energy of in-person events. Moving forward, office space needs to bridge the physical and digital worlds to meet the unique needs of every team – and even specific roles."
Bosses must meet challenges head on
Although the majority of business leaders have indicated they will incorporate elements of the hybrid working model, the report also found many are out of touch with workforce concerns more widely.
For, while many workers say they are struggling (Gen Z – 60%; new starters – 64%), and 54% of the general workforce feels overworked, business leaders are having a much better experience. Some 61% said they were 'thriving', which is in stark contrast to employees who are further down the chain of command.
Jared Spataro, corporate vice president at Microsoft 365, writes in the report: "Those impromptu encounters at the office help keep leaders honest. With remote work, there are fewer chances to ask employees, 'Hey, how are you?' and then pick up on important cues as they respond. But the data is clear: our people are struggling. And we need to find new ways to help them."
Buildings don't have to be permanent — modular construction can make them modifiable and relocatable.