Expand your consciousness with these Books Recommended by Neil deGrasse Tyson

If you enjoyed Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, and want inspiration for what to read next, then consider adding the best books recommended by the world class astrophysicist to your reading list
by Uptime Staff / 2021-08-23

Have you ever wondered how Neil deGrasse Tyson became the expert astrophysicist he is? Or how he gained the ability to communicate his expertise to millions of viewers (like in his TV shows StarTalk or Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, for example?) Do you want to learn the secrets of the universe but don’t have time for a whole class, let alone a degree? 

To the untrained eye, astrophysics seems like such a complicated topic that there’s no way anyone could gain a proper understanding simply from reading a book. But that’s not the case - all it takes is a great communicator like Tyson to distill the knowledge into something that the average person can understand. 

Through his studies at Harvard University, the University of Texas, and Columbia University, Tyson has a world class education in not only the astrophysics he practices, but also in how to communicate complex topics to a large audience. Having worked as a lecturer both at universities and planetariums, he's an expert in helping people understand the world around them. 

This list of his hand-picked reads should give you a better understanding of the astronomer’s ethos and influences, and the books he believes everyone should read.

On the Origin of Species - Charles Darwin

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When you think about someone who helped the world understand the complexities of science, Charles Darwin is no doubt one of the first candidates to come to mind. Darwin not only discovered the basis of evolution, i.e., the foundational understanding of how humans came to exist; he also communicated his ideas far and wide with the publication of On the Origin of Species. 

Although natural selection is a familiar concept to us now, when it was first introduced, it was just as confusing a concept to the average person as, say, astrophysics might seem today. Darwin was responsible for distilling those ideas into something that became common thought. 

In On the Origin of Species, you’ll read simple explanations of complex concepts like human selection, sexual selection, diversification, gene theory, and divergent biospheres, as well as how they relate to human issues that still exist today, such as how physical attraction plays into finding partners. It’s easy to see how Darwin inspired Tyson; both are scientific pioneers who show average people how much their lives are influenced by science every day.

The Art of War - Sun Tzu

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Going back even further in time than the industrial revolution, The Art of War has been the definitive text on military strategy since 500 BC. No wonder Neil deGrasse Tyson reveres this book - for someone who understands that every secret of the universe goes back thousands of years, this book provides a fundamental understanding of not only war, but also human nature and conflict. 

The lessons of The Art of War are still applied today in sports, business, and the sciences. After all, Tyson isn’t just a brilliant astrophysicist - he’s also created an incredible career that took time and strategy to build. 

quotation marksOnly enter battles you know you can win.

In extrapolating this famous quote from the book to academia, we see some of the lessons that Tyson has imposed on his career: find a specific niche that you know you can fulfill perfectly, and perfect that against any adversary. 

After all, Tyson doesn’t try to be the head honcho of NASA and Tesla, or create a new telescope every month - he focuses on his specific niche of communicating the mysteries of the cosmos to the casual viewer.

The Better Angels of our Nature - Steven Pinker

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In this volume that blends history with the present day, Pinker explores how despite the trials going on in the world right now, we’re actually living through one of the most peaceful times in history. How did we get here, and how can we continue on this path? 

Pinker is a psychologist, once again showing how the various disciplines can work together to come to new insights about modern society. He talks about the five main motivators of violence, and the four ‘better angels of our nature’ that counteract these forces, giving examples of how this has played out throughout history. He shares the dangers of stringent ideologies, and how peaceful ideologies can become violent, with examples of the Christian crusades, Naziism, and the Jihad war. 

He also explores how as humans get smarter through deeper scientific discoveries, they become less violent. Equally, the more we learn about scientific reasoning, the easier it becomes to negotiate with others and to quell violence. The average IQ score rises by an average of 3 points per decade, and this is how generations prosper beyond the feats of their parents.

Everything is connected. You don’t have to be a renowned astrophysicist to learn to see the world through Neil deGrasse Tyson’s eyes - you just have to learn about the world through the same thinkers he did, and you’ll begin to draw your own connections between the strange forces that govern the world around us. 

For the reading lists on other of our greatest visionaries, from Steve Jobs to Bill Gates, check out a few of our other blog posts to add a few more titles to your 'TBR List'. To unpack the lessons from Tyson’s recommended reads in full, check them out over on Uptime.

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