What should you read this summer? A mega reading list from TED

The Ted Institute released an amazing summer reading list, compiling some of the most inspirational people on earth's books recommendations. Now go read and be inspired.
When you’re by the beach

What a Fish Knows by Jonathan Balcombe
“Our fishy ancestors emerged from the watery depths around 400 million years ago, and this beautiful book connects us back to that time. Balcombe fishes out an eclectic array of studies that show we’re much more similar to fish than meets the eye. Showing that fish share predilections to music types, have dysfunctional family interactions and can be finicky gourmands, this books channels the goldfish in each and every one of us.” — David Gruber (TED Talk: Glow-in-the-dark sharks and other stunning sea creatures)



Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
“This is the book I’ve read in the past 18 months that I’ve enjoyed the most, and it’s best summed up by saying that if you enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Matrix and you want to see one story that delivers on both of those kinds of fun at the same time, this is the summer read for you!” — Astro Teller (TED Talk: The unexpected benefit of celebrating failure)


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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
“The quintessential celebration of summer in Scandinavia — 22 vignettes of a girl and a grandmother on an island. Jansson is known as the creator of Moomin, but this book is my quiet, curious and simple favorite.” — Linda Liukas (TED Talk: A delightful way to teach kids about computers)



Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
“Pirsig takes you on a wonderful adventure, trying to define the one elusive thing impossible to quantify with numbers: quality.” — Riccardo Sabatini (TED Talk: How to read the genome and build a human being)


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle… by Robert M. Pirsig
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Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle… by Robert Pirsig

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
“Scientists rarely write beautifully, but Dr. Jahren does exactly that in this memoir. She takes us through her childhood and reminds us how one can fall in love with science and nature and turn it into a successful and fulfilling career.” — Prosanta Chakrabarty (TED Talk: Clues to prehistoric times, found in blind cavefish)

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
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Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
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Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
“A great adventure woven with fascinating details about running and the human ability to achieve far more than we can possibly imagine. You won’t be able to put it down.” — Jill Heinerth (TED Talk: The mysterious world of underwater caves)


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
“An amazing and very accessible story about a woman with cancer, her family, and the cells from her cancer that have revolutionized aspects of biological research and our understanding of cancer. This story also raises important issues about the importance of informed consent, research ethics and the ‘business’ of clinical medicine and medical research. Beautifully written, and a story that continues to play out.” — Russ Altman (TED Talk: What really happens when you mix medications?)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


When you’re on a staycation

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
“Bill Bryson’s book is an eloquent refresher on humanity’s simultaneous significance and smallness. A Short History of Nearly Everything helps place humans in the context of both time and space in the universe, and Bryson compiles great evidence on the unpredictability of planetary events that leads to the demise of ‘successful’ species such as ours. To me, the book makes a compelling case for why we must continue to explore both on Earth and the space beyond.” — Lisa Nip (TED Talk: How humans could evolve to survive in space)

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A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Dreams of a Final Theory by Steven Weinberg
“A concise, inspiring account of the most ambitious intellectual project in science — the search for an ultimate description of the laws of nature. Written by one of the most influential physicists of the 20th century, this brilliant (and at times controversial) book reveals the beauty found in a world governed by symmetry and physical law, and it argues that the long-sought final theory may be within our reach.” — Harry Cliff (TED Talk: Have we reached the end of physics?)

Dreams of a Final Theory by Steven Weinberg
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Dreams Of A Final Theory by Steven Weinberg

The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner
“This book details the rise and decline of what is arguably the finest research and development lab that the world has ever seen, the Bell Labs, under the supervision of Mervin Kelly, who is little known today but certainly the greatest of all the organizers of industrial research in the 20th century. Woven in are the stories of intellectual giants such as Claude Shannon (whose centennial is this year), a large collection of Nobel Prizes and an amazing list of technological breakthroughs, dwarfing the accomplishments of any of the modern giant companies. Above all, it is a testimony of an era of big innovation done by a meritocracy which was driven by curiosity and duty rather than money or fame. An amazing, eye-opening book on the history of science and technology and innovation, unique in its kind.” — Cédric Villani (TED Talk: What’s so sexy about math?)


On Photography by Susan Sontag
“In this moment when we are all photographers, it’s important to know the power of this media and to take responsibility for the images that we consume, create and share. This delightful read reflects on what photography is, especially the short selection of quotes that closes this book.” — Angélica Dass (TED Talk: The beauty of human skin in every color)

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On Photography by Susan Sontag
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On Photography by Susan Sontag

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
“On the content: it’s about the first human mission to an alien planet, led by Jesuits. On the effect: when I closed the cover on this novel, I wandered around my house in a daze, despairing that I could ever write anything as good. I’m still not fully recovered.” — Monica Byrne (TED Talk: A sci-fi vision of love from a 318-year-old hologram)

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The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
“Although it can be tedious at times, I love it when you find those gems of wisdom, and they make all the effort worth it. It’s also been really fun finding people who have read it not once but three times! I found myself starting a book club just from meeting people passionate about David Foster Wallace’s work.” — Magda Sayeg (TED Talk: How yarn bombing grew into a worldwide movement)

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Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
When you’re on a long-haul flight (or two)

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
“A perfect summer read. McCullough’s genius is in the way he brings history to life. The extraordinary story of the Wright brothers, their life, work ethic and relentless will to innovate makes this a powerful and inspiring read. It captures our world in a unique moment in history, where globally we’re more interested in innovation, not war.” — Stephen Wilkes (TED Talk: The passing of time, caught in a single photo)



Good to Great by Jim Collins
“This book is full of extraordinary insights into how to manage an organization based on rigorous research. I also love the intercalated stories that help bring home points, like the Admiral Stockdale Paradox, a concept I have lived by both in my work and own life.” — Pardis Sabeti (TED Talk: How we’ll fight the next deadly virus)



The Vertical Farm by Dickson Despommier
“Dickson is a thought leader in the field of vertical farming. This book was a call to action and inspired many individuals like myself to dream about the future of food in a new and compelling way.” — Caleb Harper (TED Talk: This computer will grow your food in the future)



The Big Idea by Donny Deutsch
“This book will always hold a very dear place in my heart because it was given to me in 2009 by my younger sister, who is now of blessed memory. The book was to encourage me in my entrepreneurial journey, as I switched from a corporate career in the US into the unknown world of starting and running an enterprise in Nigeria. It’s filled with stories of entrepreneurs saying ‘There’s got to be a better way of doing this,’ asking, ‘How can I provide an innovative solution to this problem?’ and forging ahead to change the world with their ideas. A must read for anyone who is thinking about taking the entrepreneurship route.” — Achenyo Idachaba (TED Talk: How I turned a deadly plant into a thriving business)


The Big Idea by Donny Deutsch
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The Big Idea by Donny Deutsch
When you want to challenge yourself

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
“My all-time favorite book. It may seem like a strange choice for a conservationist, but life is not simple, clean-cut or straightforward — something I think Moby Dick does an exceptional job illustrating. Vivid descriptions make it a detailed, 165-year-old time machine, transporting me to a different world, curiously full of familiar issues and themes that are just as relevant today, such as idealism vs. reality, human nature, spirituality, God’s existence, racism, bigotry and even conservation, to name a few. It’s a journey about finding ourselves internally as we face external struggles, and that is something I deeply relate to.” — Andrés Ruzo (TED Talk: The boiling river of the Amazon)



Spiral by Mark Danner
“This compelling, critical and powerful book looks at the ways in which terror groups have goaded America and other Western nations into a state of perpetual war, and why our military responses further strengthen their hand. Spiral is a searing exposé of the ‘war on terror,’ backed by rigorous research and laid out in page-turning prose. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in why, despite our advanced arsenals and record-breaking military spending since September 11th, we aren’t any safer.” — Samantha Nutt (TED Talk: The real harm of the global arms trade)


Evicted by Matthew Desmond
“One of the most compelling and heart-wrenching looks at poverty in America, seen through the lens of the transient poor who are constantly shuffled in and out of rental apartments through a neverending series of exploitations, abuses and gross abuses. A must-read this year, including all the footnotes.” — Michael Murphy, architect and TED2016 speaker

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Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Evicted by Matthew Desmond

My Promised Land by Ari Shavit
“I grabbed this book as I was heading off for a work-related visit to Israel. It provided great insight into the culture of the country and the reasons why its problems are so difficult to resolve. An interesting and worthwhile read, even if you don’t have an excuse to visit the country.” — David Sedlak (TED Talk: 4 ways we can avoid a catastrophic drought)

When you need help ignoring everyone

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
“Learning to be ‘present’ in your life and to appreciate every single moment is certainly a wonderful skill to have. Being mindful has made such a difference in my life — most significantly in adapting and accepting the acute discomfort that I live with as a double amputee. Practicing mindfulness has enabled me to include pain into my positive idea of what it means to ‘feel’ life — the full spectrum of what it means to be alive!” — Gill Hicks (TED Talk: I survived a terrorist attack. Here’s what I learned)

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Most Human Human by Brian Christian
“This is the story of Brian Christian’s participation in an annual Turing Test competition, where computers chat to humans, vying for the title of ‘Most Human Computer.’ Christian was one of the human chat partners, eager to win the title of Most Human Human and defend the honor of humanity against the seemingly unstoppable progress of the computers. Along the way, we learn how computers imitate humans, what challenges them and how they’re improving. But more important, we learn that computers can often imitate humans simply because so much human conversation is formulaic and lazy. The book challenges us — and helps to teach us — to have real, meaningful conversations with our fellow humans. A wonderful, warm and wise book.” — Tim Harford (TED Talk: How frustration can make us more creative)


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The Most Human Human by Brian Christian
The Most Human Human by Brian Christian

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
“Station Eleven is post-apocalyptic genre meets high-minded literary fiction, and I really couldn’t put it down. I love the feeling you get with some books — that feeling like I have to devour this book instead of sleep! Can I take this book into the shower? It’s not often that I feel that way, and this book had it.” — Negin Farsad (TED Talk: A highly scientific taxonomy of haters)

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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
“Kahneman shares what he has learned in decades of research — a wonderful, clear and simple analysis of our embedded self-delusions and the ‘dual-process’ model of our brains.” — Tom Hulme (TED Talk: What can we learn from shortcuts?)

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Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
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Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
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Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
When you don’t have time for a 500-page book

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“This is a powerful read that evokes action in us all and provides a well-researched historical account of race relations in the US. Coates’ writing is excellent, and he describes how understanding starts with communication — not assumption. This book will open your eyes and increase your empathy.” — Shivani Siroya (TED Talk: A smart loan for people with no credit history (yet))

Tremble for My Country by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
“The Things They Carried is about war through the eyes of one reluctant soldier. I love it because the writing cuts straight to the bone, teems with specificity, and the author challenges traditional notions of courage and patriotism. The book left me forever changed.” — Aomawa Shields (TED Talk: How we’ll find life on other planets)

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The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
“Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull takes readers inside how the animation factory makes their sausage. This book is one of the most intimate looks behind the scenes of a company’s culture, and the impact it has on the people, business and product. I highly recommend it for anyone who thinks deeply about improving the culture of their organization.” — Joe Gebbia (TED Talk: How Airbnb designs for trust)

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
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Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
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Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull

An Affair With My Mother by Caitriona Palmer
“This is a nonfiction memoir about one woman’s story of secretly connecting with her birth mother and maintaining a relationship. I found the author’s perspective easy to relate to, and the story made me think about the power of shame and the way one simple piece of information can change a life forever.” — Sarah Gray (TED Talk: How my son’s short life made a lasting difference)

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An Affair with My Mother by Caitríona Palmer

Doing Good Better by William MacAskill
“Effective Altruism is one of the most important new social movements, and this book is a great introduction to it. The author is a philosopher from Oxford who explains how a lot of our intuitions about how to help the world are misguided, and how we can make a bigger difference in the world with some simple shifts in our behavior.” — Julia Galef (TED Talk: Why you think you’re right — even if you’re wrong)

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