Forum:Book Club

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The first and only rule of Book Club is that you do not talk about Book Club.

RationalWikians have often asked for book recommendations. Please use this page to post your own recommended reading. Feel free to add you own comments about each book for the benefit of future readers. (Please try to keep to mission-related topics or genres that might appeal to most other RWians; no matter how much you might like Barbara Cartland.)

Science[edit]

  • The Ancestor's Tale - Richard Dawkins: A reverse pilgrimage through evolution, from modern homo sapiens to the earliest forms of life on Earth.
  • The Art of Computer Programming Donald Knuth
  • Why does E=mc2- Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw: Pretty much the best pop science explanation of special relativity you can hope for. Includes an easy to follow derivation of the titular equation.
  • Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You - Marcus Chown: A concise and entertaining read that covers quantum phenomena in remarkable detail despite being maths free. However, it might seem patronizing and bordering on woo if you're already experienced with quantum theory from an academic and mathematical perspective.
  • Seeing Further - Edited by Bill Bryson. Three hundred and fifty years of the Royal Society.
A fascinating history of the world's premier scientific society. Redchuck.gif ГенгисIs the Pope a Catholic?
  • What Einstein Didn't Know - By Robert Wolke. The scientific explanations of mundane everyday phenomena that you never thought needed explanation.
  • What Einstein Told His Barber - By Robert Wolke. The sequel to the easy-to-read book What Einstein Didn't Know.
  • Packing For Mars - By Mary Roach. The charming book that explores the other side of space programs- the funny, the boring, the sad, the gross, the plain bizarre. OVERLORDSupplicate yourselves before me! 17:07, 15 February 2015 (UTC)

Philosophy & Religion[edit]

  • The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins. Dawkins' full-on attack on theism in general. People either love this book or find it unreadable. But it's a must-read if you want the clearest explanation of the position of the New Atheists.
I do find TGD to be very readable, and definitely a good book to cover the basic reasoning behind atheism. Anyone looking for ammo to attack religion could do worse than start with the examples Dawkins collects through the book. Dawkins is at his strongest here arguing from evolutionary and memetic grounds to explain the existence of religion, and a fair proportion of the book is given over to this and makes interesting reading. I don't recall his critics challenging him on these grounds. Scarlet A.pngmoral 15:05, 23 October 2010 (UTC)
I heard it makes atheists ashamed of being atheists. Dawkins is like a beating a version of Christianity that is suitable for a 6-years old child. --Idiot number 57 (talk) 11:32, 23 July 2011 (UTC)
Perhaps you should read it before holding an opinion?--BobSpring is sprung! 11:45, 23 July 2011 (UTC)
Did I ask your opinion on my opinion?!--Idiot number 57 (talk) 12:01, 23 July 2011 (UTC)
  • On Liberty, John Stuart Mill. The definitive work on liberal thought.
  • The Black Swan - Nassim Nicolas Taleb. Working through the concept of the black swan and the theory of rare but high impact events.
The concept of the Black Swan is easy to understand and grasp, Eliezer Yudkowsky's writings on the subject are arguably easier if you just want to know what it is with sound and to-the-point examples. Taleb on the other hand, elaborates on it at great length, delving into the psychology and deeper nature of the problem. The autobiographical parts do seem a little self-indulgent but at least make it entertaining to read and gives you something to relate to. He also writes from the perspective of an economist, so anyone coming from a science background may be thrown by his more esoteric moments and the time he seems to spend bragging about how filthy rich he became by being a kick-ass Quantitative analyst and way smarter than you. However, even at his most self indulgent there are plenty of tidbits in there that really make you think. Learning about Black Swan Theory is a must for any aspiring rationalist, but do give the full book a good go too. Scarlet A.pngmoral 14:53, 23 October 2010 (UTC)
Great book. Highly recommendable.--BobSpring is sprung! 11:46, 23 July 2011 (UTC)
  • The True Believer, Eric Hoffer - A sociological/psychological view into the nature of mass movements; what motivates people to join them, how they start/progress/end, what similarities they share across ideological boundaries, etc.
  • Anything by John Gray, the philosopher, not the Men Are From Mars guy. Especially Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, and The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom.

Politics[edit]

  • Arthur Schlesinger, The Imperial Presidency - great analysis of the changing role of executive power in American politics
  • Bob Woodward, Bush at War/Plan of Attack/State of Denial - the definite account of the Bush administration's planning and execution of the Iraq war
  • Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince - an all-time classic about how being a sociopath can be helpful in advancing your political career. His equally important, if less known Discourses presents the completely opposite personality at work, leading to Machiavelli being one of the least understood political theorists of all time. Beware of Poe's Law, Rousseau saw it too...
  • Woodward and Bernstein, The Final Days - The sequel, in a sense, to the hastily published All The President's Men, this is more in-depth and complete account of the events leading up to the resignation of Nixon
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Oratore - Oratory for dummies.
  • Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East - 1300 concise pages of why there will be no easy path to peace in the Middle East. One of the few western writers who can convey the anger that many in the Muslim world feel against the US and its allies.
  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto. Read it - you have nothing to lose but your chains.
  • Friedrich von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom. Read it - you have nothing to lose but your chains.
  • Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom - You may not agree with everything he says, but Zakaria is a guy who knows what he's talking about
  • Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics: And Other Essays - The title essay explains much about the right wing in the U.S. today, despite being written in 1964.
  • James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. An extensive discourse on the failures of Rational Planning.

Economics[edit]

  • Robert Shiller, Irrational Exuberance - originally a study about market volatility during the dotcom bubble, also a nice perspective on the more recent bust
  • Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational - a behaviourist critique of the rational-choice-school in economics, very entertaining
  • Schumacher, E.F. small is beautiful — economics as if people mattered - nineteen essays published in 1973, the original work is presented with sidebar commentary in a volume (1999) which adds the subtitle 25 years later... with commentaries. Schumacher argues that an economy and economics should first be concerned with meeting the needs of people, all people. Wikipedia entry .

History[edit]

  • George Chauncey Gay New York A history of gay men in NYC in the first half of the 20th century (the next book will be Stonewall and everything after, from what I understand...). The Introduction has a great discussion of the historical construction of gay identity, and tell you why it used to be that a guy could get blown by another guy and not be called a "fairy" but the guy who blew him couldn't. Peace. AgingHippie (talk) 02:18, 4 February 2015 (UTC)
  • Niall Ferguson, Empire, How Britain Made The Modern World - rather revisionist work which challenges preconceptions on the politically correct left.
  • Frederick Jackson Turner, The Significance of the Frontier in American History - Influential essay that explores the significance of the frontier on the American pysche, and how it came to define the 'American Race'.
"Influential?" Extremely influential. Uke Blue 23:20, 15 October 2010 (UTC)
  • Stephen Runciman, A History of the Crusades, 3 vols - most authoritative and entertaining history of the crusades in the middle east ever written.
  • Simon Schama, Citizens, A Chronicle of the French Revolution - self descriptive title, critical and excellently written.
  • Richard J. Evans, In Defence of History - sophists, postmodernist poseurs and old style empiricists beware - there is no moral clarity here.
  • Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy - Simply must be read.
  • Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers - very detailed analysis of power shifts in the last five centuries
  • Louise Young, Japan's Total Empire - something of a niche topic, but an excellent account of Japan's colonialism in Manchuria
  • Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy - think of the man what you will, but his historiography is an entertaining read
  • Tony Judt, Postwar - a history of Europe since 1945. Simply brilliant.
  • Cornelius Ryan, The Longest Day and A Bridge too Far - well written accounts of the D-Day invasion and Operation Market Garden, respectively
  • Barbara Tuchmann, The Guns of August - Account of the first month of WWI and the political/military lead up
  • George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia - Orwell's account of fighting the Facists in Spain and disillusionment with the Socialists.
It is a very good read; however, it's an autobiography, not a history book. It does paint an interesting, if personal view on revolutionary Catalonia. Bismarck (talk) 09:55, 22 April 2014 (UTC)
  • George Orwell, Down and out in Paris and London - Life in gutter in the pre-war years by everyones favourite deep cover conservatist
  • Jack London People of the Abyss - An account of the poverty in the city of London's turn of century East End
  • William Manchester, Douglas MacArthur: American Caesar. - A fascinating book describing, in surprisingly readable prose, why MacArthur was the greatest general the US has ever had, and how he wound up destroying himself/his career due to his own arrogance and ambition. Worth at least a look if you're into WWII or military history.

Fiction[edit]

  • Aldous Huxley, Ape and Essence - Baboon erection cult in a post-WWIII dystopia.
  • Aldous Huxley, Eyeless in Gaza - has it all, including smarmy public schoolboys, trying to find intellectual consistency in an inconsistent age.
  • Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point - There is no clarity of argument. There is no clarity of thought. There is no clarity of soul.
  • Charles Dickens, Great Expectations - Dicken's classic bildungsroman charts the fortunes of Pip, set within Victorian London.
  • Charles Stross, Accelerando
  • David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest - Very funny/sad portrait of American addictions taking place in the not so distant future. Very non-linear with almost 200 pages of footnotes which are necessary to read. Not for everybody.
  • Douglas Adams, The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Nobody added this before now?
  • Frank Herbert, Dune The ones by Frank NOT HIS SON.
  • Fydor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
  • George Eliot, Middlemarch - Set in reform era Britain, at the outset of the Great Reform Act of 1832. Paints an image of a changing country with vivid description and sentimentality.
  • Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird - a genuine classic, enjoyed by children and adults alike for half a century.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin - Seminal abolitionist novel.
  • J.G. Farrel, Troubles, The Siege of Khrishnapur and Singapore Grip - These three novels comprise Farrells celebrated 'Empire' trilogy, which exposes the absurdity, the beauty, the aspiration, the hardship and the indignity of the British Empire through the mechanism of symbolic characterisation and some of the wittiest descriptive paragraphs ever put to paper.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings - no description necessary.
  • James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - Although I have yet to read Ulysses, Portrait is a good headstart. Should tell you all you need to know about Joyce - how he conveys the incomprehension of perception, of the madness of reality, of the histrionic headache of what it means to be young and to not understand.
  • Jean M. Auel, The Clan of the Cave Bear - The tale of a young human girl who grows up with a clan of Neanderthals. The first one is brilliant. The later books less so, but still very readable.
  • John Irving, The Cider House Rules - Irving is one of the best American writers of the past 30 years. This is easily his most important book. Tackles a lot of big themes.
  • Jose Saramago. Cain. Last book by the author of Blindness. A ruthless critique of the old testament written in a passive aggressive, evocative and entertaining narrative.
  • Koushun Takami, Battle Royale - Think middle-school Survivor meets Lord of the Flies in the world of 1984.
  • Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Covers a lot of ground water. Runaway slaves and those who help them as heroes, vividly appealing descriptions of river transport, and lots of human idiocy along the way (e.g., woo-meisters who pose as royalty, and families feuding who long ago forgot why.)
  • Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon - Epic geek classic of cryptography, heroism and romance.
  • Orhan Pamuk, Snow - East and west collide... Within the east.
  • Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly - Explores the effects of drug abuse on an undercover policeman. Autobiographic elements thinly veiled by some minor sci-fi trappings (the scanners and the scramble suits).
  • Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials trilogy - Excellent & inventive fantasy, notorious critical of religion, also very moving. Also The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ for an exploration of how stories are bastardised by vested interests.
  • Robert Penn Warren, All The King's Men - Roughly based on the governorship of Huey Long, this novel explores the inner circle of a power craven corrupted Louisiana governor, and the various moral sacrifices made along the way.
  • Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt - A peek into 1920's conservatism
  • Sinclair Lewis, Main Street - Is small town, midwestern America really so different now as it was in the 1920s?
  • Terry Pratchett, Discworld series. Early books are straightforward satires of sword and sorcery novels, later books are broader social satires.
  • Victor Hugo, Les Miserables - the epitome of French melodrama.
  • William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch - Tales of drugs, perversion, and Mugwumps. Remember, though, "there are that least two things wrong with that title."