100 books like This Idea Must Die

By John Brockman,

Here are 100 books that This Idea Must Die fans have personally recommended if you like This Idea Must Die. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

James L. Sherley Author Of Missing Elements in the Public Science Supporting the COVID-19 Spread Narrative in the US

From my list on what science and scientists are really all about.

Why am I passionate about this?

A childhood friend says that I am the only person he knows who grew up to be exactly what he said he wanted to become. But he is mistaken because I was born a scientist. I have no memories when I was not thinking about science, learning it, doing it, teaching it, trying to improve it, pondering it, or sharing it with others. Over my life and career as a scientist, I have been further fulfilled by undergirding my scientific work with reflection and introspection through reading the history, philosophy, and practice of science revealed and disclosed in books like the five I recommend here. Enjoy them as I have!

James' book list on what science and scientists are really all about

James L. Sherley Why did James love this book?

When I was a biomedical science graduate student, this book was on my shelf for a couple of years before I read it. I had pulled it out of a classmate’s trash bag when I was helping him move. Later, when I became distressed because my research findings were dismissed as “controversial,” a postdoctoral fellow in my lab told me that what I experienced was actually quite normal for novel scientific findings and I should read this book.

I did, and it changed forever my understanding of science and how scientists often resist accepting from others the very thing they pursue themselves: new discoveries. When I became a principal scientist, I made a gift of this book to every new scientist graduating from my laboratory.

By Thomas S. Kuhn,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A good book may have the power to change the way we see the world, but a great book actually becomes part of our daily consciousness, pervading our thinking to the point that we take it for granted, and we forget how provocative and challenging its ideas once were-and still are. "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" is that kind of book. When it was first published in 1962, it was a landmark event in the history and philosophy of science. And fifty years later, it still has many lessons to teach. With "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", Kuhn challenged long-standing…


Book cover of American Dementia: Brain Health in an Unhealthy Society

Alberto Espay Author Of Brain Fables: The Hidden History of Neurodegenerative Diseases and a Blueprint to Conquer Them

From my list on rethinking brain aging and neurodegeneration.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of neurology at the University of Cincinnati, interested in the many ways in which we acquire impairments in movements, in cognition, or in both. I have sought to measure these behaviors, quantify their responses to different pharmacological treatments, and determine how they inform the biology of the aging brain. In publications along the way, I have increasingly questioned how we classify neurological diseases and treat those affected.

Alberto's book list on rethinking brain aging and neurodegeneration

Alberto Espay Why did Alberto love this book?

This book explains the tight connection between Alzheimer’s disease and education, health, income, and environment, and why the rate of Alzheimer’s disease in the population actually decreased in the decades following the most important societal changes enacted after World War II. Social safety, environmental protections, and income inequality have had far greater impact than any of the pharmacological approaches ever attempted. The authors make the compelling case that brain health is intimately connected to societal health.

By Daniel R. George, Peter J. Whitehouse,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked American Dementia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Have the social safety nets, environmental protections, and policies to redress wealth and income inequality enacted after World War II contributed to declining rates of dementia today-and how do we improve brain health in the future?

For decades, researchers have chased a pharmaceutical cure for memory loss. But despite the fact that no disease-modifying biotech treatments have emerged, new research suggests that dementia rates have actually declined in the United States and Western Europe over the last decade. Why is this happening? And what does it mean for brain health in the future?

In American Dementia, Daniel R. George, PhD,…


Book cover of How the Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness

Alberto Espay Author Of Brain Fables: The Hidden History of Neurodegenerative Diseases and a Blueprint to Conquer Them

From my list on rethinking brain aging and neurodegeneration.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of neurology at the University of Cincinnati, interested in the many ways in which we acquire impairments in movements, in cognition, or in both. I have sought to measure these behaviors, quantify their responses to different pharmacological treatments, and determine how they inform the biology of the aging brain. In publications along the way, I have increasingly questioned how we classify neurological diseases and treat those affected.

Alberto's book list on rethinking brain aging and neurodegeneration

Alberto Espay Why did Alberto love this book?

This book offers a captivating tale of how the increasing knowledge of one disease, syphilis, created the foundations to understanding that the brain and mind are one and the same. The authors narrate the stories of patients whose “hysteria” (today referred to as functional neurological disorder) were traced to degenerative brain lesions that only belatedly were understood to be complications caused by remote infections with the bacterium Treponema pallidum. Several chapters follow the story of the important characters depicted by André Brouillet in the Une leçon clinique à la Salpêtrière (A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière), one of the most recognized paintings by neurologists, as it depicts Jean-Martin Charcot, shown among many of his disciples, demonstrating a “hysteric” seizure in one of his patients. The authors illustrate how we have gotten away with conceptualizing behaviors without biological basis and put the reader on notice that “mental illnesses” are neurological problems…

By Allan H. Ropper, Brian Burrell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How the Brain Lost Its Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Hugely entertaining' Guardian

'Fascinating' Mail on Sunday

In 1882, Jean-Martin Charcot was the premiere physician in Paris, having just established a neurology clinic at the infamous Salpetriere Hospital, a place that was called a 'grand asylum of human misery'. Assessing the dismal conditions, he quickly upgraded the facilities, and in doing so, revolutionized the treatment of mental illness.

Many of Charcot's patients had neurosyphilis (the advanced form of syphilis), a disease of mad poets, novelists, painters, and musicians, and a driving force behind the overflow of patients in Europe's asylums. A sexually transmitted disease, it is known as 'the great…


Book cover of Madness and Memory: The Discovery of Prions--A New Biological Principle of Disease

Alberto Espay Author Of Brain Fables: The Hidden History of Neurodegenerative Diseases and a Blueprint to Conquer Them

From my list on rethinking brain aging and neurodegeneration.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of neurology at the University of Cincinnati, interested in the many ways in which we acquire impairments in movements, in cognition, or in both. I have sought to measure these behaviors, quantify their responses to different pharmacological treatments, and determine how they inform the biology of the aging brain. In publications along the way, I have increasingly questioned how we classify neurological diseases and treat those affected.

Alberto's book list on rethinking brain aging and neurodegeneration

Alberto Espay Why did Alberto love this book?

Stan Prusiner received the Nobel Prize of Medicine in 1997 for identifying what at the time was considered a novel mechanism of neurodegeneration: the prions. These “infectious proteins” were responsible for ravaging the brains of animals suffering from scrapie and mad cow disease, and of humans with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Although I have come to doubt that prions are a cause of rapidly progressive dementia and may instead represent a consequence, Prusiner’s memoir is filled with moments of skepticism, self-doubt, adversity, and intellectual rivalries –the ingredients for a gripping drama in neurosciences. 

By Stanley B. Prusiner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Madness and Memory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A first-person account of a revolutionary scientific discovery that is now helping to unravel the mysteries of brain diseases

In 1997, Stanley B. Prusiner received a Nobel Prize, the world's most prestigious award for achievement in physiology or medicine. That he was the sole recipient of the award for the year was entirely appropriate. His struggle to identify the agent responsible for ravaging the brains of animals suffering from scrapie and mad cow disease, and of humans with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, had been waged largely alone and in some cases in the face of strenuous disagreement.

In this book, Prusiner tells…


Book cover of Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain

Rick Shenkman Author Of Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics

From my list on why voters often behave irrationally.

Why am I passionate about this?

Rick Shenkman is a New York Times bestselling author, historian, and journalist who, after reading and writing history books for 40 years, decided to spend the past decade discovering what social scientists have to say. To his great joy, he learned that since he had last studied their work in college they had come to a vast new understanding of human political behavior. He now uses their insights into political psychology, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and genetics to help explain our fucked up politics.

Rick's book list on why voters often behave irrationally

Rick Shenkman Why did Rick love this book?

As a young researcher Michael S. Gazzaniga studied people afflicted with epilepsy. A recent discovery was that they fare better when the corpus callosum – the nerve fiber bundle that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain – is cut, disconnecting the organ's two halves. Amazing insights can be gleaned from these split-brain patients, Gazzaniga demonstrated, as he explains in this book. His most famous experiment involved patient P.S. 

Gazzaniga used a machine to flash the image of a chicken claw to P.S.'s right eye (which was processed by his left hemisphere, where the speech center is located) and the image of a hut surrounded by snow to the other eye (which was processed by his right hemisphere). Then came the surprise, as Gazzaniga showed P.S. some pictures of a chicken and a shovel and asked him to match them with the images he'd seen. (This time he…

By Michael S. Gazzaniga,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The prevailing orthodoxy in brain science is that since physical laws govern our physical brains, physical laws therefore govern our behaviour and even our conscious selves. Free will is meaningless, goes the mantra; we live in a 'determined' world.

Not so, argues the renowned neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga as he explains how the mind, 'constrains' the brain just as cars are constrained by the traffic they create. Writing with what Steven Pinker has called 'his trademark wit and lack of pretension,' Gazzaniga ranges across neuroscience, psychology and ethics to show how incorrect it is to blame our brains for our…


Book cover of Little Kids First Big Book of Why

Alyssa Clements Author Of The Size of Everything: Ginormous Galaxies, Itty-Bitty Quarks, and Me

From my list on children’s science for Christian families.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a third-grade teacher turned book editor and writer who loves learning about the fascinating world God has made and exploring how it all points back to him. During my time in the classroom, I worked at a Christian classical school where my grade’s scientific focus was astronomy. I loved introducing my students to this awe-inspiring, gigantic universe that we are a part of and considering together just how big, powerful, and loving God must be to have designed and created it all. I am also mom to two wonderfully curious children who love to read, explore, and ask big questions. 

Alyssa's book list on children’s science for Christian families

Alyssa Clements Why did Alyssa love this book?

This National Geographic Little Kids book gives elementary children age-appropriate, true answers to fun, mind-bending science puzzles.

It is filled with tons of questions about how the world works, interesting facts, funny brain teasers, science experiments, and colorful pictures. I love that it encourages kids to think deeply about God’s world because God is not afraid of our scientific questions. In fact, asking “Why?” can be an act of worship!

This book has so much inside to keep kids coming back again and again to read on their own or with a parent while feeding their curiosity and interest in God’s world. 

By Amy Shields,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Little Kids First Big Book of Why as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 3, 4, 5, and 6.


Book cover of Sneaking a Look at God's Cards: Unraveling the Mysteries of Quantum Mechanics

Tim Maudlin Author Of Philosophy of Physics: Quantum Theory

From my list on quantum theory and its history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of philosophy at New York University, but my interests have always fallen at the intersection of physics and philosophy. Unable to commit to just one side or the other, I got a joint degree in Physics and Philosophy from Yale and a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. My fascination with Bell’s Theorem began when I read an article in Scientific American in 1979, and I have been trying to get to the bottom of things ever since. My most recent large project is a Founder and Director of the John Bell Institute for the Foundations of Physics.

Tim's book list on quantum theory and its history

Tim Maudlin Why did Tim love this book?

Ghirardi, together with Alberto Rimini and Tulio Weber, developed the first mathematically rigorous “objective collapse” interpretation of quantum formalism. This book is aimed at a popular audience, and includes discussion of quantum computation and quantum cryptography, which is absent from the other books on the list. The mathematics is slightly greater than in Albert’s book, but does not go beyond a high school level.

By Giancarlo Ghirardi, Gerald Malsbary (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sneaking a Look at God's Cards as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Quantum mechanics, which describes the behavior of subatomic particles, seems to challenge common sense. Waves behave like particles; particles behave like waves. You can tell where a particle is, but not how fast it is moving--or vice versa. An electron faced with two tiny holes will travel through both at the same time, rather than one or the other. And then there is the enigma of creation ex nihilo, in which small particles appear with their so-called antiparticles, only to disappear the next instant in a tiny puff of energy. Since its inception, physicists and philosophers have struggled to work…


Book cover of The Unexpected Universe

Eric M. Schlegel Author Of The Restless Universe: Understanding X-Ray Astronomy in the Age of Chandra and Newton

From my list on humbly learning our place in the universe.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been increasingly interested in astrophysics since I was six years old. My mother hooked me on reading at five by stopping novels at critical points and urging me to continue. I’ve ever since read a broad range of books. I stumbled upon Dr. Loren Eiseley in the early 1970s and enjoyed his books immensely. As soon as a book by Dr. Carl Sagan was published, I wanted to read it. As I’ve grown older, I try not to think that ‘peak humanity’ is behind us–and books such as Sagan, Eiseley, and Rovelli offset that potentially depressing thought and provide solid encouragement.

Eric's book list on humbly learning our place in the universe

Eric M. Schlegel Why did Eric love this book?

Eiseley first became known for his book The Immense Journey. I enjoyed that book, but I enjoyed this one considerably more, perhaps because its context was closer to my interests.

There were paragraphs within this book where my thoughts were right there on the page. I found that to be very exciting.

By Loren Eiseley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Drawing from his long experience as a naturalist, the author responds to the unexpected and symbolic aspects of a wide spectrum of phenomena throughout the universe.Scrupulous scholarship and magical prose are brought to bear on such diverse topics as seeds, the hieroglyphs on shells, lost tombs, the goddess Circe, city dumps, and Neanderthal man. AUTHOR: Loren Eiseley's many works include The Night Country, The Invisible Pyramid, The Immense Journey and The Firmament of Time, all available in Bison Books editions. He worked at the University of Pennsylvania until his death.


Book cover of Discovering: Inventing Solving Problems at the Frontiers of Scientific Knowledge

Samuel Arbesman Author Of The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date

From my list on how science actually works.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in startups at the frontiers of science and technology. I have a PhD in computational biology and focused my academic research on the nature of complex systems, but I soon became fascinated by the ways in which science grows and changes over time (itself a type of complex system!): what it is that scientists do, where scientific knowledge comes from, and even how the facts in our textbooks become out-of-date. As a result of this fascination, I ended up writing two books about scientific and technological change.

Samuel's book list on how science actually works

Samuel Arbesman Why did Samuel love this book?

I remember reading this book probably about twenty years ago, and it has a great deal of insight into how to understand the scientific process, both in how it is carried out as well as how scientists can get better at discovery. Written primarily in the form of a dialogue between a set of archetypical characters and informed by a huge amount of work into the history and sociology of science, it takes the reader through how to understand creativity in science.

By Robert Root-Bernstein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Root-Bernstein (natural science and physiology, Michigan State) attempts to understand how scientists invent through an imaginary reconstruction of the arguments, reflections, and games of six fictional characters. The index is of names only. TheRoot-Bernstein (natural science and physiology, Michigan State) attempts to understand how scientists invent through an imaginary reconstruction of the arguments, reflections, and games of six fictional characters. The index is of names only. The bibliography is extensive but would be more useful to general readers if it were classified or annotated. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or. bibliography is extensive but would be more useful to…


Book cover of The Best of All Possible Worlds: Mathematics and Destiny

Joseph Mazur Author Of The Clock Mirage: Our Myth of Measured Time

From my list on narrative merit in mathematics and science.

Why am I passionate about this?

Meaningful communications with people through life, books, and films have always given me a certain kind of mental nirvana of being transported to a place of delight. I see fine writing as an informative and entertaining conversation with a stranger I just met on a plane who has interesting things to say about the world. Books of narrative merit in mathematics and science are my strangers eager to be met. For me, the best narratives are those that bring me to places I have never been, to tell me things I have not known, and to keep me reading with the feeling of being alive in a human experience.

Joseph's book list on narrative merit in mathematics and science

Joseph Mazur Why did Joseph love this book?

Ekeland’s book is an entwinement of philosophical views of scientists with metaphysics dealing with nature’s directives. It’s an embroidery of lively anecdotes involving illustrious individuals and great historical moments of human decisions. We go through the Peloponnesian Wars, Venetian concessions to the Hapsburg emperor Maximilian, Darwin’s voyage to the Galapagos, and other enriching accounts. His explanations are clear, elegant, fluid, exhilarating, and suspenseful, reminding me of the effortless style of Richard Feynman. While reading, I felt compelled by a force of nature and purpose to learn about the best of all possible worlds.   

By Ivar Ekeland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Best of All Possible Worlds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Optimists believe this is the best of all possible worlds. And pessimists fear that might really be the case. But what is the best of all possible worlds? How do we define it? This question has preoccupied philosophers and theologians for ages, but there was a time, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when scientists and mathematicians felt they could provide the answer. This book is their story. Ivar Ekeland here takes the reader on a journey through scientific attempts to envision the best of all possible worlds. He begins with the French physicist Maupertuis, whose least action principle, Ekeland…


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