The best books to challenge your preconceptions

Karen C. Murdarasi Author Of Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood Is Wrong: Featuring a pirate monk, a French maid, and a surprising number of morris dancers
By Karen C. Murdarasi

Who am I?

As a writer and historian, I’m all about rabbit holes. When something I’ve never heard about before catches my interest, I have to find out more—and sometimes I end up writing whole books on the subject! I have a head full of bizarre little nuggets of information, and I love reading books, like the ones here, that tell me something new and change my way of thinking. 


I wrote...

Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood Is Wrong: Featuring a pirate monk, a French maid, and a surprising number of morris dancers

By Karen C. Murdarasi,

Book cover of Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood Is Wrong: Featuring a pirate monk, a French maid, and a surprising number of morris dancers

What is my book about?

What if everything you ever knew about Robin Hood was wrong? He never met Maid Marian. He wasn’t a nobleman. He never went on Crusade. And he absolutely did not rob from the rich to give to the poor. 

Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood Is Wrong is an illuminating, entertaining, and really quite sarcastic trip through what we actually do know about one of England’s most famous heroes.

The books I picked & why

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The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers

By Andrew Dilnot, Michael Blastland,

Book cover of The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers

Why this book?

A book on statistics that is interesting? Yes, actually. And The Tiger that Isn’t is more than just interesting, it’s useful. Maths was never my strong point at school, but even someone who never got the hang of quadratic equations can learn to ask useful questions when faced with bamboozlingly large numbers and dodgy ‘averages’. 

This book offers a way to see through statistics that are used to conceal information as much as to reveal it. It’s worth reading just for the section on rice and random distribution. And the tiger in the title? It’s what happens when you think you see a pattern (in this case, stripes in the undergrowth), but there is no pattern at all. 

The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers

By Andrew Dilnot, Michael Blastland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tiger That Isn't as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mathematics scares and depresses most of us, but politicians, journalists and everyone in power use numbers all the time to bamboozle us. Most maths is really simple - as easy as 2+2 in fact. Better still it can be understood without any jargon, any formulas - and in fact not even many numbers. Most of it is commonsense, and by using a few really simple principles one can quickly see when maths, statistics and numbers are being abused to play tricks - or create policies - which can waste millions of pounds. It is liberating to understand when numbers are…


Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things

By Richard Wiseman,

Book cover of Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things

Why this book?

Quirkology has a whole chapter on jokes, and the search for the funniest one. I listened to this as an audiobook and did a lot of chortling while I was out walking. (Fortunately there weren’t too many people around.) 

But there’s also plenty of serious and handy stuff, about whether you can tell when you are being lied to, what makes some people “luckier” than others, and what to talk about during speed dating. (Men should talk about travel, not films, if they want to make a connection with the opposite sex.) 

There’s also a section on nominative determinism (your name defining your destiny), and the irony was not lost on author and researcher, Dr. Wiseman. 

Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things

By Richard Wiseman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Quirkology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For over twenty years, psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman has examined the quirky science of everyday life. In Quirkology, he navigates the backwaters of human behavior, discovering the tell-tale signs that give away a liar, the secret science behind speed-dating and personal ads, and what a persons sense of humor reveals about the innermost workings of their mind- all along paying tribute to others who have carried out similarly weird and wonderful work. Wisemans research has involved secretly observing people as they go about their daily business, conducting unusual experiments in art exhibitions and music concerts, and even staging fake sances…


Time and Time Again

By Ben Elton,

Book cover of Time and Time Again

Why this book?

I’m sneaking a novel in amongst all this nonfiction. Ben Elton’s books usually make you think, while also making you laugh. This one dispenses with the laughs and messes with your understanding of time, consequences, and history instead. 

I enjoy time travel stories, and because I’ve read a fair few of them, I felt pretty confident that I understood what was going on: Be careful when you change the past, unintended consequences, and all that. But I had not understood, and the twist at the end really hit home. I won’t give any spoilers, but the significance of a simple chair and some scuff marks in the dust is still imprinted in my mind many years after reading it.

Time and Time Again

By Ben Elton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Time and Time Again as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's the 1st of June 1914 and Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier and celebrated adventurer is quite literally the loneliest man on earth. No one he has ever known or loved has been born yet. Perhaps now they never will be.

Stanton knows that a great and terrible war is coming. A collective suicidal madness that will destroy European civilization and bring misery to millions in the century to come. He knows this because, for him, that century is already history.

Somehow he must change that history. He must prevent the war. A war that will begin with a single bullet. But…


The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase

By Mark Forsyth,

Book cover of The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase

Why this book?

This clever and funny book explains that there are specific techniques that make good writing sound good, or a pithy phrase stick in the mind, and tells you the long and difficult Greek (or slightly easier Latin) names for all these rules you kind of knew without actually knowing.

I can hardly retain any of the Greek labels, but I do remember the fun little examples, like why Oscar Wilde’s epigrams are so striking (antithesis) and how Shakespeare totally lifted part of Julius Caesar from a historian, but polished it up (alliteration). And whenever you hear a memorable three-part phrase, it was probably longer but everyone forgot the other bits (tricolon). 

This is not one for fans of utilitarian writing, but as Forsyth says, “To write for mere utility is as foolish as to dress for mere utility.”

The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase

By Mark Forsyth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Elements of Eloquence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the #1 international bestselling author of The Etymologicon and The Horologicon comes an education in the art of articulation, from the King James Bible to Katy Perry…

From classic poetry to pop lyrics, from Charles Dickens to Dolly Parton, even from Jesus to James Bond, Mark Forsyth explains the secrets that make a phrase—such as “O Captain! My Captain!” or “To be or not to be”—memorable.

In his inimitably entertaining and wonderfully witty style, he takes apart famous phrases and shows how you too can write like Shakespeare or quip like Oscar Wilde. Whether you’re aiming to achieve literary…


Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong about the World--And Why Things Are Better Than You Think

By Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling, Hans Rosling

Book cover of Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong about the World--And Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Why this book?

The subtitle of this book is a pretty accurate summary. The more pessimistic opinion often seems the more plausible, but these Swedish researchers provide lots of data, graphs and logical sense to show that things are not as black, or as black and white, as we often think.

I hate being wrong about things, but worse than being wrong is staying wrong once you know better, so with some discomfort but a lot of pleasure I learned from this book why labels like ‘the third world’ and ‘the global south’ are inexact and unhelpful, and what toothbrushes and children drowning have to do with economic development. Genuinely eye-opening.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong about the World--And Why Things Are Better Than You Think

By Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling, Hans Rosling

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Factfulness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A hopeful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases.' BARACK OBAMA

'One of the most important books I've ever read - an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.' BILL GATES

*#1 Sunday Times bestseller * New York Times bestseller * Observer 'best brainy book of the decade' * Irish Times bestseller * Guardian bestseller * audiobook bestseller *

Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.

When asked simple questions about global trends - why the world's population is increasing; how…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in statistics, the English language, and civilization?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about statistics, the English language, and civilization.

Statistics Explore 16 books about statistics
The English Language Explore 18 books about the English language
Civilization Explore 161 books about civilization

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Art of Statistics, The Numbers Game, and Thinking, Fast and Slow if you like this list.