21 Lessons for the 21st Century
Yuval Noah Harari
Yuval Noah Harari’s past books were nothing short of histories of mankind. Turning his erudite attention to the overwhelming present, Harari gives us blistering insights into some of our most pressing conundrums, such as the relevancy of nation states and religions. This is a book not only for our own learning, but for the education of our children as well.
Brief Answers to the Big Questions
When Stephen Hawking died last March, the world lost its greatest scientific mind. But fortunately for us, Hawking left behind one final contribution to our collective understanding. Brief Answers to the Big Questions has the super-genius cosmologist tackling important subjects—ranging from the future of humanity to the existence of God—and answering them with his trademark wit, humor, and, of course, intelligence.
The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth
Medical historian Thomas Morris examines some bizarre and cringe-inducing cases from the past, including the title mystery, which was exactly what it sounds like: people’s teeth were exploding. Other cases include a woman who peed through her nose and a soldier who operated on his own bladder stone. These stranger-than-fiction tales offer more than oddball anecdotes, but teach us a lot about the progression of medicine and the blunders that have gotten us to where we are today.
Palaces for the People
NYU professor of sociology Eric Klinenberg posits that rather than shared ideologies, it’s our shared spaces—like libraries, churches, bookstores, and parks—that are America’s keys to coming together. The current climate of extreme division must be amended, and Klinenberg believes we should step out of our heads and into the real world, to the physical places we communally utilize, to find our literal common ground.
The Personality Brokers
Whether you’re an INFP, an ESFJ, or if you just DGAF, Merve Emre’s The Personality Brokers will offer an important look into our obsession with reductive identity labels and the concept of self-definition. In a culture hoping to break away from simplistic categories of who a person can be, Emre’s book is an essential step forward.
The Poison Squad
Did you know that milk used to kill thousands of children every year because it contained formaldehyde? Before the Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906, food manufacturers had no oversight and could basically peddle whatever they wanted. That is, until Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley became chief chemist of the agriculture department and began testing food on a group of men known as “the Poison Squad.” Wiley, along with others like Upton Sinclair, waged a war against unsafe food and saved generations of Americans.
Shaping the Future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Last year, World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab published The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which argued that advances in technology were creating an industrial revolution unlike any witnessed in history. His new work, Shaping the Future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, offers a practical guide to the oncoming shift in human economies and culture. For anyone who hopes to be alive for the near future, this is a must-read.
Everything All at Once
Bill Nye explains how his personal history—from being an engineer at Boeing to a stand-up comedian to the beloved Science Guy—taught him to look at problems through a nerd’s lens, i.e., with rapacious curiosity, optimism, and a willingness to act, and how this has helped him solve numerous issues he’s personally faced and some that confront the world at large. If you’re going to listen to anyone about tackling problem-solving, who better than the man whose middle name is Science?
The Feather Thief
Kirk Wallace Johnson
In 2009, an American flautist stole hundreds of bird skins from the British Museum of Natural History and then vanished. But why? That’s the question journalist Kirk Wallace Johnson tries to answer in his riveting book, which delves into the niche world of salmon fly-tying (a fascinating topic in and of itself) and uncovers a years-long investigation in the hunt for the criminal behind this strange robbery.
Living with the Gods
Art historian Neil MacGregor, author of the bestseller A History of the World in 100 Objects, takes on religion’s influence on cultures. By examining national narratives and sacred places, he discovers the relationship between beliefs and the society of those who subscribe to them. A rich and educational tour through contemporary religion, Living with the Gods helps us understand how the inarticulable shapes the way we live.
With so many how-to websites and YouTube instructionals out there, we often forget that books can still be used to teach us things—like practical, everyday things, as well as the weird, historical, and out-of-this-world. For those who’ve never lost that sense of curiosity, we present gifts for lifelong learners: books on all manner of topics, from science to history to economics and more. The books on this list were written by experts—and I mean top-of-their-field, no-one-knows-more type experts—so consider them top-notch gifts for the inquisitive, curious science nerds, math whizzes, and (lovable) know-it-alls in your life.
Editor: Eliza Smith; Featured Image: Matt McCarty