Neil deGrass Tyson’s 8 Books Every Intelligent Person Should Read

Several years ago, when Neil deGrass Tyson was on Reddit’s popular Ask Me Anything (AMA), he was asked a particularly insightful question by Reddit user ElCracker: Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on planet?

His answers might not surprise you, but the fact that all of the books are free and readily available online is a feat of technology that makes the internet a marvel. Here, we list the books as prescribed by Tyson and their relevant links to the eBooks version on the Project Gutenberg Project and their audiobooks on Librivox. We think they’re perfect classics to start your new year’s reading lists. Enjoy!

  1. The Bible  by various authors- to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself. (eBook; Audiobook)
  2. The System of the World by Isaac Newton – to learn that the universe is a knowable place. (eBookAudiobook, free with trial)
  3. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin- to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.  (eBookAudio Book)
  4. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos. (eBook;  Audio Book)
  5. The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine – to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world. (eBook – Audio Book)
  6. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith – to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.  (eBook – Audio Book)
  7. The Art of War by Sun Tsu – to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art. (eBook – Audio Book)
  8. The Prince by Machiavelli – to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it. (eBook – Audio Book)

If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.


Tyson also went on later to explain his synopsis of the books once the discussion got “interesting”…

Thanks for this ongoing interest in my book suggestions. From some of your reflections, it looks like the intent of the list was not as clear as I thought. The one-line comment after each book is not a review but a statement about how the book’s content influenced the behavior of people who shaped the western world. So, for example, it does no good to say what the Bible “really” meant, if its actual influence on human behavior is something else. Again, thanks for your collective interest.

When not discussing books, you can find Tyson hosting Star Talk Radio and on Twitter trolling science fiction films like Gravity.