10 books like The Big Picture

By Sean Carroll,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Big Picture. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Darwin's Dangerous Idea

By Daniel Dennett,

Book cover of Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life

Easier to read than On the Origin of Species, this book connects Darwin’s overwhelmingly significant explanatory insight to the last fifty years of advance in our understanding of biology, psychology, social science, and the nature of the mind. Dennett is a brilliantly ingenious builder of images and metaphors that really enable you to grasp Darwin’s breakthrough, one at least as important as Newton’s and Einstein’s, but more relevant to understanding the meaning of life. 

Darwin's Dangerous Idea

By Daniel Dennett,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Darwin's Dangerous Idea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life Daniel C. Dennett argues that the theory of evolution can demystify the miracles of life without devaluing our most cherished beliefs.

From the moment it first appeared, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection has been controversial: misrepresented, abused, denied and fiercely debated. In this powerful defence of Darwin, Daniel C. Dennett explores every aspect of evolutionary thinking to show why it is so fundamental to our existence, and why it affirms - not threatens - our convictions about the meaning of life.

'Essential and pleasurable for any thinking…


Guns, Germs, and Steel

By Jared Diamond,

Book cover of Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Diamond carries the Darwinian method from biology to human history and culture, in an argument so simple and so powerful that one ends up feeling as Darwin’s bulldog, Thomas Huxley felt, when he finished On the Origin of Species: “How stupid of me not to think of that!” Starting with an open mind and no “theory” Diamond advanced the most powerful argument for a Darwinian process of human cultural evolution. 

Guns, Germs, and Steel

By Jared Diamond,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Guns, Germs, and Steel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why did Eurasians conquer, displace, or decimate Native Americans, Australians, and Africans, instead of the reverse? In this "artful, informative, and delightful" (William H. McNeill, New York Review of Books) book, a classic of our time, evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond dismantles racist theories of human history by revealing the environmental factors actually responsible for its broadest patterns.

The story begins 13,000 years ago, when Stone Age hunter-gatherers constituted the entire human population. Around that time, the developmental paths of human societies on different continents began to diverge greatly. Early domestication of wild plants and animals in the Fertile Crescent, China,…


Until the End of Time

By Brian Greene,

Book cover of Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe

This book covers a dizzying array of human thought: Greene’s trademark is physics, of course – but in this wildly ambitious work, the Columbia University physicist also dives into evolution, the origins of human culture, the origins of art and music and religion – even the puzzle of consciousness and the paradox of free will. He tackles the deepest of questions – including the problem of finding “meaning” in a universe governed only by the laws of physics. Be prepared to go slow. Your brain will get a workout – but it will be worth every minute of your time.

Until the End of Time

By Brian Greene,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Until the End of Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the world-renowned physicist and bestselling author of The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, a captivating exploration of deep time and humanity's search for purpose

In both time and space, the cosmos is astoundingly vast, and yet is governed by simple, elegant, universal mathematical laws.

On this cosmic timeline, our human era is spectacular but fleeting. Someday, we know, we will all die. And, we know, so too will the universe itself.

Until the End of Time is Brian Greene's breathtaking new exploration of the cosmos and our quest to understand it. Greene takes us on a…


The End of Everything

By Katie Mack,

Book cover of The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking)

Who doesn’t love to think about how the universe—so big, so old already—will ultimately end? Reading the book encouraged me to look at the universe as its own thing, of which I and all of Earth, were tiny parts, and tiny parts that would end long before the cosmos itself would. Katie Mack explores what five such conclusions might look like, getting everybody a little more comfortable with the idea that every story has an ending, even if we don’t know what this one looks like.

The End of Everything

By Katie Mack,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY THE ECONOMIST, OBSERVER, NEW SCIENTIST, BBC FOCUS, INDEPENDENT AND WASHINGTON POST

'Weird science, explained beautifully' - John Scalzi

'A rollicking tour of the wildest physics. . . Like an animated discussion with your favourite quirky and brilliant professor' Leah Crane, New Scientist

From one of the most dynamic rising stars in astrophysics, an eye-opening look at five ways the universe could end, and the mind-blowing lessons each scenario reveals about the most important ideas in cosmology

We know the universe had a beginning. But what happens at the end of the story?…


Black Hole Survival Guide

By Janna Levin,

Book cover of Black Hole Survival Guide

Black holes are surely the most mysterious structures known to physics. In this short and highly accessible book, Levin, an astrophysicist at Barnard College of Columbia University, brings her unique poetic style to the puzzles found at the frontiers of physics. Warped spacetime, event horizons, singularities – it’s all here. And Lia Halloran’s delightful illustrations help bring the story to life.

Black Hole Survival Guide

By Janna Levin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Hole Survival Guide as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What would happen if you fell into a Black Hole?

Black holes are found throughout the universe. They can be microscopic. They can be billions of times larger than our Sun. They are dark on the outside but not on the inside. Anything that enters them can never escape, and yet they contain nothing at all.

In Black Hole Survival Guide physicist and novelist Janna Levin takes you on a journey into a black hole, explaining what would happen to you and why. In the process you'll come to see how their mysteries contain answers to some of the most…


Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

By Carlo Rovelli,

Book cover of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

If you struggled with physics in high school – or even if you didn’t – this is the book for you. Rovelli, an Italian physicist, manages to take the most difficult concepts in physics, from relativity and quantum mechanics to the nature of space and time, and explain them in straightforward, everyday language. He spells out not only what these idea are, but why they matter. Thanks to Rovelli’s easy-going style, after a few pages you’ll forget that you’re even reading a physics book. It is, in a word, delightful.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

By Carlo Rovelli,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Seven Brief Lessons on Physics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

INDEPENDENT, ECONOMIST, TELEGRAPH, GUARDIAN, NEW SCIENTIST, EVENING STANDARD BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2015

THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

Everything you need to know about modern physics, the universe and our place in the world in seven enlightening lessons

'Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it's breathtaking'

These seven short lessons guide us, with simplicity and clarity, through the scientific revolution that shook physics in the twentieth century and still continues to shake us today. In this beautiful and mind-bending introduction to…


The Secret of Our Success

By Joseph Henrich,

Book cover of The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter

Ask any anthropologist and they’ll readily tell you that the secret of our success as a species is culture. But few—if any—will be able to offer such a comprehensive argument as to why and how. This book tells a tale of two forces, human culture and the human genome, which co-evolved to make us more successful than any other species, not by making us faster, stronger, or even necessarily smarter as individuals, but by making us better cultural learners and therefore allowing us to become wiser as a species.

The Secret of Our Success

By Joseph Henrich,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Secret of Our Success as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Humans are a puzzling species. On the one hand, we struggle to survive on our own in the wild, often failing to overcome even basic challenges, like obtaining food, building shelters, or avoiding predators. On the other hand, human groups have produced ingenious technologies, sophisticated languages, and complex institutions that have permitted us to successfully expand into a vast range of diverse environments. What has enabled us to dominate the globe, more than any other species, while remaining virtually helpless as lone individuals? This book shows that the secret of our success lies not in our innate intelligence, but in…


The Darwin Economy

By Robert H. Frank,

Book cover of The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good

Frank explains why Darwin is a better guide than Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations to the problems the economy raises for almost everyone. The most important market and the only market where almost everyone is a seller instead of a buyer is the labor market. Yet it is the one that Adam Smith got almost completely wrong and Charles Darwin got almost completely right. Frank shows us how the Darwinian process of the labor market makes employers rich at the expense of workers, and how they stitched their advantage into the “Right to Work” (at lower wages) laws.

The Darwin Economy

By Robert H. Frank,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Who was the greater economist--Adam Smith or Charles Darwin? The question seems absurd. Darwin, after all, was a naturalist, not an economist. But Robert Frank, New York Times economics columnist and best-selling author of The Economic Naturalist, predicts that within the next century Darwin will unseat Smith as the intellectual founder of economics. The reason, Frank argues, is that Darwin's understanding of competition describes economic reality far more accurately than Smith's. And the consequences of this fact are profound. Indeed, the failure to recognize that we live in Darwin's world rather than Smith's is putting us all at risk by…


The Vital Question

By Nick Lane,

Book cover of The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life

How did the first life form emerge from the chaos of Earth, billions of years ago? How did we come to be? Nick Lane systematically debunks the idea of a primordial soup, instead painting an equally amazing picture of alkaline hydrothermal vents acting like ancient bioreactors deep in the sea, their porous walls forming what might be thought of as the first biological membranes; the evolution of the proton pump, fueling all that happened afterward; and the improbable endosymbiosis between an archaeon and a bacterium that sparked the origins of the mitochondrion and the birth of complex life. Whether or not Lane’s theories prove true in every detail, I came away with a deep appreciation of the wondrous series of coincidences required for our evolution—and wondering too about the probability that such unlikely events might already have occurred elsewhere in our universe.

The Vital Question

By Nick Lane,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Earth teems with life: in its oceans, forests, skies and cities. Yet there's a black hole at the heart of biology. We do not know why complex life is the way it is, or, for that matter, how life first began. In The Vital Question, award-winning author and biochemist Nick Lane radically reframes evolutionary history, putting forward a solution to conundrums that have puzzled generations of scientists.

For two and a half billion years, from the very origins of life, single-celled organisms such as bacteria evolved without changing their basic form. Then, on just one occasion in four billion…


The Origins of Order

By Stuart A. Kauffman,

Book cover of The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution

This book comes at biology from an unusual angle, ignoring fine details and instead of going for the deepest underlying principles of life as seen by a dyed-in-the-wool theoretician. When I read it, I felt I was like being given 'X-ray specs' - an ability to see beyond the surfaces at which we mostly work to hidden mechanisms of order, control, and evolution. I have never seen biology the same way since, and this book changed my research and teaching immediately and lastingly. The writing is superb but still demands concentration and commitment because the concepts may be alien at first, but any reader willing to give the book time and a bit of effort will be richly rewarded.

The Origins of Order

By Stuart A. Kauffman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In what will certainly be one of the key works in the emerging science of complexity, Kauffman here presents a brilliant new paradigm for evolutionary biology. It extends the basic concepts of Darwinian evolution to accommodate recent findings and perspectives from the fields of biology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. The book drives to the heart of the exciting debate on the origins of life and maintenance of order in complex biological systems. It focuses on
the concept of self-organization - the first time this concept has been incorporated into evolutionary theory. The book shows how complex systems, contrary to expectations,…


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