Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is arguably the most famous scientist in the world. His way of speaking to the general public about complex scientific information is informative, enthusiastic, and infectious. He makes science cool in a time when scientific knowledge has never been greater, but interest in science in the public imagination has been waning.

When he decided to do an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit, it should come as no surprise that his thread got over 7,500 responses. One question in particular seemed to resonate with followers. A redditor named “ElCracker” asked: “Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on the planet?”

This was Neil deGrasse Tyson’s response, helpfully compiled by with links to free copies of the book in eBook for and audio book where available.

1. The Bible


The Bible (eBook) - “to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”

2. The System of the World


The System of the World by Isaac Newton (eBook) – “to learn that the universe is a knowable place.”

3. On the Origin of Species


On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (eBookAudio Book) - “to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.”

4. Gulliver’s Travels


Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (eBookAudio Book) – “to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.”

5. The Age of Reason


The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (eBookAudio Book) – “to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.”

6. The Wealth of Nations


The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (eBookAudio Book) - “to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.”

7. The Art of War

artThe Art of War by Sun Tsu (eBookAudio Book) - “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”

8. The Prince


8.) The Prince by Machiavelli (eBookAudio Book) - “to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it.”

Tyson concludes his list by saying:

If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.

A spirited conversation took place over the merits of his list in the comment section of Reddit, which allowed Tyson to clarify his choices a bit more:

Thanks for this ongoing interest in my book suggestions. From some of your reflections, it looks like the intent of the list was not as clear as I thought. The one-line comment after each book is not a review but a statement about how the book’s content influenced the behavior of people who shaped the western world. So, for example, it does no good to say what the Bible “really” meant, if its actual influence on human behavior is something else. Again, thanks for your collective interest. -NDTyson

If you had to compile a list of the eight most important books in Western history, how would yours look? Would it be similar to Tyson’s or completely different?



About The Author

I let my curiosity take me for a walk. My job is to describe what I find under the rocks.