There is a high value placed on the act of reading. Advantages include improved vocabulary, increased memory, and better writing and analytical skills. Obviously many books are meant for pleasure and entertainment as opposed to intellectual stimulation, but even these kinds of literature are working your brain.
Many intellects and pompous readers place a high value on books that are considered “intelligent”. Books that raise your IQ might sound like a daunting read, but they don’t have to be as long-winded as James Joyce’s Ulysses or as complex as Stephen Hawking’s work on quantum theory.
In fact, the best books are the ones that are both intelligent enough for the scientist but simple enough for the layman. An easy bridge between the two is to use humor and engaging writing to enlighten and entertain both audiences. You might not enjoy all of these books, but with the variety of subject matter I’m sure you will find at least one to tickle your fancy.
So here are ten absorbing books that will make you smarter without giving you a headache.
- Your Survival Instinct is Killing You – Marc Schoen. The subtitle of this book is “Retrain Your Brain to Conquer Fear, Make Better Decisions, and Thrive in the 21st Century”. Basically it is a guide to surviving the stress and discomfort of modern day life. Schoen posits that though life is becoming more comfortable it is actually also bringing down our discomfort threshold. This in turn leaves our “survival instinct” always on and makes us more susceptible to anxiety and tension. Full of strategies and tips on how to reduce stress in numerous areas of life, this book is great for the 21st century reader. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to learn ways to alleviate stress, get sleep at night, and become more energized. [Read: Recharge Now! – 15 Ways to Feel Energized]
- Metaphors We Live By – George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Lakoff’s and Johnson’s work on theories in linguistics and metaphor have shaped the understanding of how people use thoughts and expressions to communicate. Metaphors We Live By is based on their research on human cognition and it explains how metaphors shape our perceptions and influence the way in which we think about different areas of our lives. This book is applicable and interesting to a wide range of people because, well, everyone talks!
- Cosmos – Carl Sagan. During his life Carl Sagan was probably the most famous scientist of his time. Even since his death in 1996 there still hasn’t been a scientist that the general public has latched on to with such fervor. One of the reasons for Sagan’s popularity was his ability to relate scientific matters in a manner that the everyday citizen could understand. Some of the science in Cosmos is outdated by now, but it is still a fascinating look into life, the universe, and everything else. You will learn a lot about different scientific methods, where they came from, and the exciting way they are shaping the present and the future.
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln – Doris Goodwin. Not just another rehashed biography of Lincoln, Goodwin’s Team of Rivals is less focused on Lincoln’s life and more concerned with his abilities as a leader. The author closely examines Lincoln’s relationship with three of the men he ended up appointing to his cabinet. Along the way we learn about Lincoln’s superb comprehension of human behavior and how he used his leadership and motivational skills to become the powerful man he was. Many people, especially those in leadership positions at their jobs, can learn a lot from Lincoln’s methods and ideas.
- Gulp: Adventures of the Alimentary Canal – Mary Roach. Mary Roach is one of my favorite scientists because of her wit and her approach to subject matter. The ways she looks at a topic and the questions she asks are quirky and unique, and Gulp is a great example of her style. The book discusses a variety of subjects all centered around food and how it interacts with the body. As she travels body functions related to food Roach is able to imbue even the grossest topics with a sense of awe and wonder.
- Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman. Postman’s harsh book about mass media may be older, but it is made all the more powerful by how relevant it still is. The book is about the rise of electronic media (mostly television) and how this media is manipulating our culture and our politics. Postman is concerned that this manipulation is having a negative influence on how citizens think about and discuss politics, technology, economics, and other important areas of life. It is interesting to see how many of Postman’s predictions and fears have come true almost thirty years later.
- Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul. This book is part of a series that examines pop culture through a philosophical lens. Each section is written by a different philosopher and teacher, and it is a fun and interesting way to learn about various classical schools of thought. Theories range from Aristotle and Hobbes to Existentialism and Toaism. Some of the chapters might be a little too thoughtful (like the one on metaphysics), but overall the content is engaging and appealing to both philosophical thinkers and fans of the caped crusader.
- Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics. These two books are the hilarious brainchild of economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner. The goal was to turn conventional wisdom upside down by looking at a wide range of economical topics in a very different manner. For example, the authors look at the subject of cheating by asking the question “What do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?” The book covers areas which, on the surface, don’t seem to have anything to do with economics, like crack gangs and the Ku Klux Klan, but reveal surprising and provocative connections. I never thought economics could be interesting until I read these books.
- David and Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell. Malcolm Gladwell is another author who manages to make nonfiction extremely interesting in his novels. The subtitle “Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” gives an indication of what the book is about. Here Gladwell uses previously unconsidered connections to challenge our fundamental beliefs about the power and role of advantages and disadvantages. Looking into such diverse subjects as traumatic childhood, cancer researchers, and opinions about childhood education, he manages to unveil the hidden links between what is weak, what is mighty, and why it matters.
- This Will Make You Smarter. Well, the title pretty much says it all. Gathered together by John Brockman are “New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking,” all from various scientists, researchers, and thinkers in the top of their respective field. The book compiles much of the latest discoveries and wisdom concerned with improving our cognitive toolkit. Sharpen your decision-making skills as you learn about cutting-edge ways to think about yourself and the world around you. Another must-read for the 21st century citizen.