June 03, 2011

Prepare to be addicted by your own curiosity

Great Non-Fiction: Learn About Everything! A Listmania! list by Christopher Vitale (Brooklyn, NY)      
The list author says: "So the following books make you smarter with every turn of the page, and yet they're so much fun, you get your geek on while having a great time. These books were such a joy to read, yet also total brain food (and most are pretty affordable in paperback). That's why I decided to make the list, when you find good stuff, you've just gotta share!
For anyone who loves to learn about everything and anything, learning just for the sheer joy of it, these books are total finds. I've read each one, almost all of them cover-to-cover, and I'm a big geek, so these are ones that totally remained with me, even years after I read them. But beware, prepare to be addicted by your own curiosity!"
The list author says:              "WORLD/ANCIENT HISTORY, GEOGRAPHY: Amazing, couldn't put it  down. Why did some societies come to dominate the earth, and not others? By showing how some societies got to 'guns, germs, and steel' before others, Diamond gives a short history of early civilization and its relation to tons of issues."
The list author says:              "SYSTEMS THEORY, POLITICS: If you want to understand how what used to be chaos/'complex systems theory' can explain everything from biological to political systems, this is the book for you. My students love it, one even said their dad started reading it when it was laying around the house and couldn't stop."
The list author says:              "EVOLUTION, RELIGION: A whirlwind tour of how religions came about, from hunter-gatherers to the 'religions of the book', not from the perspective of a believer, but based on what the historical/archaeological evidence seems to support. If human culture can be thought of as evolving, might our idea of God evolve with it? Recommended this to friends for pleasure reading, they loved it."
The list author says:              "EVOLUTION, HISTORY, TECHNOLOGY: Another great book from Wright, shows how what's known as 'game theory' can be used to understand human history, and where it might be going. In the process, he touches on so many different topics in human history, making sense of widely disparate points in human social and technological evolution. Great stuff."
The list author says:              "SYSTEMS THEORY, BIOLOGY: Another 'complex systems' book, this one shows how everything from the earliest forms of life to wikipedia can be understood as complex networks. Wide-ranging, smart, and fun to read. If you're interested in everything from bacterial colonies to primate social behavior, you'll love this."
The list author says:              "ECONOMICS: Best general book on economics I've ever read, and with none of the jargon or math. Uses evolutionary and complex systems theories (no prior experience necessary!) to show how evolution and economics aren't all that different.  In the process, you'll learn about stock markets, theories of evolution, robotics, fractals, Toyota, power grids, and lots of other cool stuff."
The list author says:              "LANGUAGE, HISTORY: If you're a language geek, there's SOOOO much in here: what makes some language spread, even when the people who created it lose battles, culture wars, etc? Ostler examines every language that has ever come to dominate part of the world, from Egyptian to Sanskrit to English."
The list author says:              "LINGUISTICS: How did languages evolve? What do linguists study, and how do they do it? If you ever wondered where verbs came from, and want to enjoy the process, this is a great book."
The list author says:              "MATH: I never thought a book on the history of math could be so much fun. This book's about a LOT more than just algebra, it's a whirlwind tour of how match changed in history. Tons of cool stories, and no difficult symbols. Anyone can read this and learn a ton."
The list author says:              "MATH, PHYSICS: Ian Stewart is such a great writer, all his books are amazing. This one introduces the notion of symmetry, and how it can be used to understand, well, just about anything. You'll go from ancient Babylon to quantum theory, no math background required!"
The list author says:              "MUSIC: If twentieth century music totally baffles you, and you want to understand it, it's history, why and how and where, this is the book for you. And you get a tour of the early twentieth century in the process. Lots of fun, well written, a joy to read."
The list author says:              "RELATIVITY THEORY, QUANTUM PHYSICS: Clearest explanation you'll ever find of relativity and quantum physics, all packaged with bits from the life story of Albert Einstein. Tons of cool paradoxes, written a a relaxed, talky, laidback style that everyone can understand, even on this difficult stuff! A really great book."
The list author says:              "PSYCHOLOGY, THERAPY: If you ever wondered how or why therapy works, or what it's like to be a therapist, read this book. Yalom shows how therapy can be an ethical practice for life. Incredible."
The list author says:              "MODERNISM: The roaring twenties in art, literature, music, and culture comes to life in this excellent read."

The list author says:              "QUEER/GENDER STUDIES, NYC: This great book describes worlds most people have no idea ever existed, from the cabarets of Harlem to the drag balls at Madison Square Garden to the lives of sailors on the bowery. A great intro to queer theory, lgbt history, the roaring twenties, and the history of nyc."
The list author says:              "EDUCATION, PEDAGOGY: Best book written about teaching that I've ever read. Deeply ethical, practical, intense. Also a great intro to thinking about race, class, gender, and sexuality and how they relate to the classroom."
The list author says:              "EDUCATION, PEDAGOGY: What should we teach, and how? Dewey shows how education is all about form over content, and he does it in plain English. Great stuff."
The list author says:              "ART: A great history of art from the easel painting to laptops, with tons of film theory, discussions of perspective, window making, and other cool visual storylines. A bit more 'scholarly' than some of the others, but still well written and accessible to all."

The list author says:              "SCIENCE, HISTORY: A really great history of the development of science, up to and including quantum physics and the theory of relativity. Has some basic math, but nothing above HS level. Does a great job of explaining why and how major breakthroughs came about."
The list author says:              "THE BRAIN: Explains how the brain works, pure and simple. Really smart, and pretty easy to read. And after this, you'll understand why your neocortex is like a network . . ."
The list author says:              "THE BRAIN, EMOTION: Damasio's a great writer, and with tons of examples, he shows why emotions are central to what it means to think, throwing in a lot of the architecture of the brain in the process."
The list author says:              "THE BRAIN, LANGUAGE: How did our brain and language coevolve? Slightly more technical than some of the others, but still a good read. And so much in here! You'll learn about the evolution of so many different parts of the brain, how they taught chimps human language using language-boards, and so much more."
The list author says:              "INFORMATION THEORY: Every wondered what information theory is? Here's a totally accessible book to explain it to you, with tons of scientific tidbits thrown in."
The list author says:              "NETWORKS: If you wanna know more about why the study of networks is hot these days, check this book out."
The list author says:              "SYSTEMS THEORY: Another great pop-sci systems theory book. If you wanna get why order evolves from chaos, often by itself, starting from how crickets come to flash in sync, look no further. And it's a fun read."
The list author says:              "MULTIPLE UNIVERSES: Ever wonder about why scientists argue that there could be many univeres? All explained, and its lots of fun."
27.  What Is Thought? (Bradford Books) by Eric B. Baum - 2006
The list author says:              "WHAT IS THOUGHT?: Unlike the other books, this book is difficult, but there's nothing here that requires a math or science background, he explains everything. Introduces everything from the DNA to computer science to artificial intelligence, etc. Amazing."
The list author says:              "MUSIC AND MATH: If you're ever wondered what music and math have in common, this book is for you. It's not the easiest going, but it does explain almost all the music theory you'll need as you go along. And this is the first book that really brings music theory and modern mathematics (ie: group theory) together. A little more difficult than some of the other texts on the list, but amazing."

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