Reading List

Now that The Big Picture is complete, I have more time for fun things like blogging, but I have a bunch of research to catch up on before I can return as normal. So in the meantime, here’s another teaser from the book: my list of “Further Reading” keyed to the different sections. You should have enough time to read all of these between now and publication day, May 10.

Part One, Cosmos:

  • Adams, F., & Laughlin, G. (1999). The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity. Free Press.
  • Albert, D.Z. (2003). Time and Chance. Harvard University Press.
  • Carroll, S. (2010). From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time. Dutton.
  • Feynman, R.P. (1967). The Character of Physical Law. M.I.T. Press.
  • Greene, B. (2004). The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality. A.A. Knopf.
  • Guth, A. (1997). The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins. Addison-Wesley Pub.
  • Hawking, S.W. and Mlodinow, L. (2010). The Grand Design. Bantam.
  • Pearl, J. (2009). Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference. Cambridge University Press.
  • Penrose, R. (2005). The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe. A.A. Knopf.
  • Weinberg, S. (2015). To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science. HarperCollins.

Part Two, Understanding:

  • Ariely, D. (2008). Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. HarperCollins.
  • Dennett, D.C. (2014) Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking. W.W. Norton.
  • Gillett, C. and Lower, B., eds. (2001). Physicalism and Its Discontents. Cambridge University Press.
  • Kaplan, E. (2014). Does Santa Exist? A Philosophical Investigation. Dutton.
  • Rosenberg, A. (2011). The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions. W.W. Norton.
  • Sagan, C. (1995). The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Random House.
  • Silver, N. (2012). The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — But Some Don’t. Penguin Press.
  • Tavris, C. and Aronson, E. (2006). Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Part Three, Essence:

  • Aaronson, S. (2013). Quantum Computing Since Democritus. Cambridge University Press.
  • Carroll, S. (2012). The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World. Dutton.
  • Deutsch, D. (1997). The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes and Its Implications. Viking Adult.
  • Gefter, A. (2014). Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn: A Father, a Daughter, the Meaning of Nothing, and the Beginning of Everything. Bantam.
  • Holt, J. (2012) Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story. Liveright Publishing.
  • Musser, G. (2015). Spooky Action at a Distance: The Phenomenon That Reimagines Space and Time–and What It Means for Black Holes, the Big Bang, and Theories of Everything. Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Randall, L. (2011). Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World. Ecco.
  • Wallace, D. (2014). The Emergent Multiverse: Quantum Theory According to the Everett Interpretation. Oxford University Press.
  • Wilczek, F. (2015). A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design. Penguin Press.

Part Four, Complexity:

  • Bak, P. (1996). How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality. Copernicus.
  • Cohen, E. (2012). Cells to Civilizations: The Principles of Change that Shape Life. Princeton University Press.
  • Coyne, J. (2009). Why Evolution is True. Viking.
  • Dawkins, R. (1986). The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design. W.W. Norton.
  • Dennett, D.C. (1995). Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. Simon & Schuster.
  • Hidalgo, C. (2015). Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies. Basic Books.
  • Hoffman, P. (2012). Life’s Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos. Basic Books.
  • Krugman, P. (1996). The Self-Organizing Economy. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Lane, N. (2015). The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life. W.W. Norton.
  • Mitchell, M. (2009). Complexity: A Guided Tour. Oxford University Press.
  • Pross, A. (2012). What Is Life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology. Oxford University Press.
  • Rutherford, A. (2013). Creation: How Science is Reinventing Life Itself. Current.
  • Shubin, N. (2008). Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body. Pantheon.

Part Five, Thinking:

  • Alter, T. and Howell, R.J. (2009). A Dialogue on Consciousness. Oxford University Press.
  • Chalmers, D.J. (1996). The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. Oxford University Press.
  • Churchland, P.S. (2013). Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain. W.W. Norton.
  • Damasio, A. (2010). Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. Pantheon.
  • Dennett, D.C. (1991). Consciousness Explained. Little Brown & Co.
  • Eagleman, D. (2011). Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. Pantheon.
  • Flanagan, O. (2003). The Problem of the Soul: Two Visions of Mind and How to Reconcile Them. Basic Books.
  • Gazzaniga, M.S. (2011). Who’s In Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain. Ecco.
  • Hankins, P. (2015). The Shadow of Consciousness.
  • Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrah, Straus and Giroux.
  • Tononi, G. (2012). Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul. Pantheon.

Part Six, Caring:

  • de Waal, F. (2013). The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates. W.W. Norton.
  • Epstein, G.M. (2009). Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. William Morrow.
  • Flanagan, O. (2007). The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World. The MIT Press.
  • Gottschall, J. (2012). The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Greene, J. (2013). Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them. Penguin Press.
  • Johnson, C. (2014). A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy & Meaning in a World Without God. Cosmic Teapot.
  • Kitcher, P. (2011). The Ethical Project. Harvard University Press.
  • Lehman, J. and Shemmer, Y. (2012). Constructivism in Practical Philosophy. Oxford University Press.
  • May, T. (2015). A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe. University of Chicago Press.
  • Ruti, M. (2014). The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living. Columbia University Press.
  • Wilson, E.O. (2014). The Meaning of Human Existence. Liveright.


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33 Responses to Reading List

  1. Dan says:

    There’s not a test or anything on May 11, right?

  2. Bill Anglea says:

    Thanks for the reading list. Most should be able to knock it out before the March equinox. ;-0
    Happy Holidays and New Year!

  3. Platohagel says:

    That is a lot of reading resource material.

  4. J. Ricardo says:

    Nice list. You know, few people seem to appreciate (or to have read) a book by Roger G. Newton (the guy that some of us know from the textbook on quantum scattering) entitled “From Clockwork to Crapshoot: A History of Physics.” In my opinion, it is a beautifully written history of the scientific method that really does the job. Just in case you have some time and a few bucks to spare till May 10!

  5. Cesar Leonardo says:

    Really nice list. I have some among them.

  6. Michael Saperstein says:

    Longtime fan, first time commenter (benign lurker as it were).

    Terrific looking if highly anxiety-inducing list. Thank you.

    I’m surprised to find that I have in the past actually tried to make it through ten of the listed texts, but it was with varying, and mostly high degrees of failure. So while I might be willing to take a crack at the rest of them, it would likely take me until longer than by May 11, and by thatI mean May 11 of the year that I die. Am no more. Have ceased to be. Expired… Especially as I do not expect to exactly breeze through The Big Picture come spring.

    So, in the spirit of Prof Carrol’s reccommendation of Aaronson 2013 on the Rationally Speaking Podcast, I’m wondering if anyone might be willing to reccommend say the three or even Top Five from each section, and then squabble civilly and respectfully amongst yourselves about the merits of your suggestions. Thx in advance.

  7. Robert Scholl says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive list of which I’ve a read only a few!

    Can you recommend some undergraduate and graduate level textbooks on particle physics? After reading your The Particle At The End Of The Universe I want to delve deeper into understanding matter.

  8. Gale Martha says:

    Ooohhhh I like! This will keep me out of trouble for a while . . . I will be looking for The Big Picture in the spring, thank you!

  9. Sean Carroll says:

    Robert– I used Donald Perkins’s “Introduction to High Energy Physics” when I taught particle physics, and I thought it was good. I’ve heard good things about Coughlan et al.’s “Ideas of Particle Physics,” but haven’t looked at it myself.

  10. Robert Scholl says:

    Thanks very much Sean. I will research those titles.

    May the boson be with you! (I bet you’ve never heard that one before)

  11. bostontola says:

    Great idea to show the ” Further Reading” list to provide a more detailed view into the contents. I especially like the complexity references as the bridge from physics to us. Thanks.

  12. Great list – will definitely begin ticking off a few titles. Have recently read Dennett’s Intuition Pumps – wonderful book that I will go back to often. Looking forward to The Big Picture.

  13. Posted link to the reading list on My Selfish Gene

  14. Brent Meeker says:

    I’ve read at least one in each category and several in some categories. But I’m a little disappointed that none by my late friend Vic Stenger, such as “The Comprehensible Cosmos” or “The Fallacy of Fine Tuning” made the list.

  15. Ken Babcock says:

    Thanks, Sean – this is invaluable and very much appreciated. I’ve read 8-9 of these, and all were outstanding and meaningful, so I’m motivated to tuck in to more on the list. Those for Part 6 are just what I’ve been looking for lately. And, of course, I’m looking forward to your book!

  16. Antonio (AKA "Un físico") says:

    This is the end. I quit from following this blog. As a reader of more of one hundred books on physics (from divulgative to post-doctoral level), I am tired of smoke-sellers like Sean Carroll: mixing this with that in, for sure, many inappropriate ways. I enjoy the “big history project” point of view, but these type of books like Sean’s go too far in their speculations (from well settled physics to the meaning of life??!!).

  17. Larry Esser says:

    In the matter of non-belief in religion, Dawkins is only a starting-point. Daniel Dennett has done some very good writing and speaking on it. The best handling of the whole matter by far that I’ve found is by Simon Blackburn, who does a marvelous job helping us non-philosophers understand David Hume’s “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.” Blackburn points out in some of his books that what is most surprising about religion is that it doesn’t do anything. To me, it invents a problem and then turns around and claims to be able to solve it! Neither the “problem” nor its “answer” are real. What a slick con-job. A superb 2009 essay by Blackburn on Hume’s “Dialogues” can be found on Blackburn’s website. It is a masterpiece in its own right. (Reading “Dialogues” is challenging but wonderful; Hume can downright hilarious at times. It’s worth the effort.)

  18. charles says:

    Some websites have a little square-shaped graphic that shows up just to the left of the site’s URL. Your site used to use a graphic that had a blob of blue and red with a sliver of yellow. Now, however, your main page has a graphic that is identical to the graphic that Scott Aaronson uses on for his blog’s URL. It’s a grid of nine little blue squares against a white background. However, when I go to the comments section on your posts, I get the old blue-red-yellow blob.

    What gives?

  19. Fgf says:

    Merry Christmas, Sean!!

  20. I’ve read 6, have 1 which I haven’t read yet, and 1 on my list. Of course, others might move onto the list in the future.

  21. “Robert– I used Donald Perkins’s “Introduction to High Energy Physics” when I taught particle physics, and I thought it was good.”

    I also used this when studying elementary-particle physics (the dash is crucial!) at Hamburg (lectures by the late Beate Naroska). A nice book.

  22. “Can you recommend some undergraduate and graduate level textbooks on particle physics? “

    Robert Scholl could be a German name. If you can read German, I can recommend some.

    In general: What level? How much math? More theory or more experimental? More about the methods or more about the results?

  23. Kevin Henderson says:

    I am surprised, Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” is not listed (particularly for part six). Still great references.

  24. anne says:

    you read all these books?

  25. Dan Holland says:

    Hi Sean,

    physicists have had, in my opinion, a pretty poor track record when it comes to discussions of consciousness. In particular I have found that a lack of understanding of the wealth of base material hampers their ability to join in the discussion at a decent level. Whilst books on your reading list such as the excellent Damasio and Dennett are a fun way to explain some of the high level workings they rarely go into the detail required. Kahneman also explains some high level structures, whilst Tononi’s work is cutting edge and lacks empirical verification at this stage.

    As someone who studied neuroscience at university but has a love affair with cosmology I have had to work hard to get the understanding required to participate in discussions of the level of your blog. I would not presume, for example, to be able to join in conversations based on reading a popular science book rather than a text book (which is why I own Ken Stowe’s Introduction to Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics), or attending lectures (many available on youtube for free as well). I like the idea of scientists cross training into other fields as I think they can bring concepts across that have not been considered, but this requires knowing how and where to apply those concepts. In the UK the Francis Crick institute, for example, has been set up to try and encourage this sort of discussion.

    I can fully appreciate why you would not put text books into your reading list, but it makes me curious to understand: what work have you put in to understanding neuroscience to the same level to participate in the discussions of consciousness? Also what are your views regarding scientists crossing to other fields?