Social Sciences, Economics, and History Reading List
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann (Nonfiction)
This book about pre-Columbian America reads like a detective novel, and raises fascinating questions about the Americas that existed before the journeys of Columbus. May engage or enrage, depending upon your point of view.
Moneyball by Michael Lewis (Nonfiction)
Much more than a book about baseball, this is a story about mathematics—how numbers can tell a truer, more dramatic story about human potential.
Quiet by Susan Cain (Nonfiction)
America loves loudmouths and braggarts, but Susan Cain’s insightful book demonstrates that it’s the quiet ones who often change the world.
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Nonfiction)
The genius of Lincoln, according to Goodwin, was his ability to harness the opinions and views of his opponents, turning his enemies into allies.
Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch (Nonfiction)
A Harvard professor of Education explains why the trend toward privatizing education is actually a sham, perpetrated by modern-day snake-oil salesmen.
Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (Nonfiction)
A Gladwell-esque survey of the latest research on learning and child-rearing that explains how conventional wisdom is often contradicted by empirical research.
Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison (Nonfiction)
A first-hand account of life with Asperger’s. Some elements of this book are not suitable for children.
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (Nonfiction)
This hard-hitting example of muck-raking journalism asks, “What’s in the meat?” You might not want to know…
Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson (Nonfiction)
Was Jobs a genius or a jerk? Or perhaps both? This painstakingly-researched biography reads like a Korean drama, with twists and turns involving business, romance, and cancer. Spoiler alert: the hero dies in the end.
The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt (Nonfiction)
A Harvard English professor examines a seminal Roman text that was rediscovered in the Renaissance, tracing its impact on the modern, secular world that we know today.
Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin (Nonfiction)
Grandin, a Ph.D. and entrepreneur who happens to be autistic, explores the idea that autism offers a vital clues to decoding animal behavior.
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen (Nonfiction)
Why are U.S. History texts so boring and stale? A History professor turns what you learned in APUSH upside down, and examines the consequences of textbooks chosen and written by clunky committees.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (Nonfiction)
A fascinating, world-changing perspective on the interaction of culture and geography in the last 13,000 years of human history.
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (Nonfiction)
Gladwell has become a brand unto himself—the graphic design of his books, even the tight, concise style are essentially trademarks. This collection of short essays is perhaps his best writing—full of insights that make complex social phenomena seem like commonsense.
Predictably Irrational by Daniel Ariely (Nonfiction)
Ariely is a prominent voice in Behavioral Economics, linking the insights of Social Psychology and Economics in ways that explain otherwise puzzling social and economic behavior.
Newton and the Counterfeiters by Thomas Levenson (Nonfiction)
An MIT professor of The History of Science reveals that Newton spent the last decades of his life as Warden of the Royal Mint. His duties effectively turned him into one of the first modern detectives, hunting down a notorious counterfeiter. Woe to the criminal who matches wits with Issac Newton…
The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker (Nonfiction)
This extensively researched book argues a strongly counter-intuitive point—we are apparently living in the most peaceful, least violent period in human history. Pinker (perhaps the most famous professor at Harvard) uses his insights from Cognitive Science to explain how and why this trend has developed.
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J Dubner (Nonfiction)
This book brought Behavioral Economics (a combination of Psychology and Economics) to the mainstream reader, offering counter-intuitive insights to questions like, “Why Do Drug Dealers Live With Their Mothers?”
Columbine by Dave Cullen (Nonfiction)
The definitive account of what really happened in Columbine, the first (but unfortunately not the last) media-soaked school shooting in America. Cullen carefully picks apart most of the mythology and urban legends surrounding Columbine. Note: This books describes acts of violence that could be disturbing to some readers.
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman (Nonfiction)
We congratulate ourselves that Orwell’s 1984 never came to pass—we are not constantly spied upon and fed a diet of propaganda by the news media (although Edward Snowden and many others might disagree). But perhaps it was Huxley’s dystopian vision that was more prescient—Americans have access to real news, but they choose entertainment and distraction instead.