Books

“Why can’t people just sit and read books and be nice to each other?”

David Baldacci
David Baldacci seated in his study
Photo Credit: Montgomery Community Media

One of the reasons I started Dare to Know was that my friends see me as someone who reads books and knows things. Visitors here have asked me to suggest a reading list to help them discover more about our universe, place in nature and humanity.

Here are a dozen books that have influenced my worldview and I recommend all of them to readers looking to explore these topics. I’ll update this list from time to time as new books come my way or I’m reminded of others that should be here. I hope you enjoy some or all of these offerings.

Universe

Journey Of The Universe

Journey Of The Universe
Mary Evelyn Tucker and Brian Swimme
I bought this book as a companion volume to the PBS film and the course at Yale with the same title. The Journey of the Universe life stance struck a deep and resonant chord with me. We need a new, science-based story to explain our place in nature and the universe. If that’s what you’re seeking, this is definitely the book for you.

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
Carl Sagan
The PBS television series on which this book is based was compelling for many of my generation.  Carl Sagan brilliantly introduced us to the wonders of the cosmos, nature and science itself.  This is definitely one of the seminal books in my library and if you haven’t read it or seen the series, there’s no time like the present.  This is a truly revelatory work.

A Brief History Of Time

A Brief History Of Time
Stephen Hawking
This book was my introduction to many aspects of science that I write about today, including the expansion of the universe, particles, black holes and a possible theory of everything. Hawking wrote in witty, plain language with a strict “no equations” policy. I suggest this book as an engaging guide into the mysteries of science.

Cosmic Queries: StarTalk’s Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here and Where We’re Going
Neil DeGrasse Tyson with James Trefil
Neil DeGrasse Tyson hosts an on-demand podcast/multi-platform talk show called StarTalk. He and his co-author have set out ten chapters, each corresponding to one of science’s “deepest questions.” On page after page, I found myself asking, “why can’t other writers express ideas this clearly?”

Nature

The Seven Mysteries of Life
Guy Murchie
I first came across this comprehensive work back in college. I’ve returned to it in later life. It’s the culmination of a 17-year exploration of nature, science and philosophy. It offers poetic wisdom about the interrelatedness of our world.

Silent Spring: Anniversary Edition

Silent Spring: Anniversary Edition
Rachel Carson
This is a seminal text that launched the modern environmental movement and made Rachel Carson its face.  I found it both informative and moving.  Carson combines her eloquent prose with her passion for nature in this rebuke to the pesticide industry.

Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth

Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth
James Lovelock
This is another classic book for the worldwide ecological movement.  If you like to think of the whole earth as an interconnected web of life, almost like a living organism, you have James Lovelock to thank for that.  Everyone who loves the environment should learn about the Gaia Hypothesis from this book at least once.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History Of Four Meals

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History Of Four Meals
Michael Pollan
My readers have been educating me on the connection between nature and the food movement.  This book was a revelation. Michael Pollan exposes the global food system by tracing the supply chain of four types of meals back to their sources.  Pollan is an engaging storyteller and a skilled investigative reporter.  If you’re having ethical issues with the question, “What should we have for dinner?” this book is for you. 

Humanity

Man And His Symbols

Man And His Symbols
Carl Jung
Jung agreed to publish this book late in life to make his work accessible to a general audience.  In it, he and some carefully chosen colleagues outline his ideas on archetypes, symbols and the unconscious.  Jung has been challenged by more modern theories. Even so, his thoughts on humans as symbol makers are still highly influential.  I found it a timeless and engaging read.

The Hero With A Thousand Faces
Joseph Campbell
I picked up this book during a time when I was especially interested in the role of stories in cultures.  I knew that Joseph Campbell was an authority on the tales we tell each other.  This is the classic text on human storyteling and it gave birth to the phrase “the hero’s journey,” which is now everywhere in writing circles.  Journalist Bill Moyers said that this was the one book from his college years that he constantly referred to throughout his life.

A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Mary Ann Gleason
Beginning in the shadow of the horrors of the Second World War, Eleanor Roosevelt led the UN committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Gleason brings the project to life, drawing on extensive archival research. I got an insight into this formidable First Lady and into the philosophy behind human rights.

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
Chris Hedges
I could never understand humanity’s propensity to settle conflicts by going to war. Chris Hedges has been a war correspondent for many years and he draws on that experience to explain how war can seem to help some kinds of people make sense of their world. Hedges is not a strict pacifist but he does call on his readers to approach conflict with humility and compassion. This is a concise and insightful volume.