Whether you want to be smarter or simply to ponder on the deep questions of life, pick up one of these books that make you think.
What’s my place in the world? Why are things the way they are? How come I’m not as successful as others? What would I do if the entire US suddenly lost all power?
Life is full of questions, and one of my favorite places to turn for answers is into the pages of a book. Some books are purely entertaining fluff, great to curl up with when you just want something to enjoy. Yet, other books get you thinking about all the unanswered questions in life.
A few of these titles are books that make you smarter with discussions on astrophysics or neuroscience. Others are books that will make you think about worse case scenarios and what-if situations.
No matter the topic, books that make you think will stimulate that part of the brain often neglected with our modern habit of watching mindless hours of tv. So, if you want a thought-provoking read, pick up one of these books that will make you think and ponder away.
Nonfiction Books That Make You Smarter
What makes extremely successful people different from others? Is it talent, intelligence or hard work? Gladwell uses statistics and interesting real-life examples to show how closely success is tied to not only natural ability and hard work but also opportunity and timing. It’s one of those books that get you thinking about how much culture, upbringing, and just plain luck play into your life.
A must-read for any woman embarking on her career, Sheryl Sandberg’s book will inspire you to fully lean in to your profession. Lean In is one of the books that will make you think of the realities of the workplace for women versus what it should be like. Sandberg gives great advice on how to combat bias against women in the workplace and manage a career, a marriage, and a family. Even as a stay-at-home mom, I was so impressed with this book. It has fully earned its spot on any list of books that will make you smarter.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
I love how Neil deGrasse Tyson carefully labeled his book as for Astrophysics for People in a Hurry instead of “Astrophysics explained to the ignorant layman,” which is what I would have called it. Just so you are aware, even though this book is tiny, it is not a quick read. Although Tyson does an excellent job bringing the topic down to a beginner’s level, the concepts are so deep that it takes some thought to wrap your head around everything. A great primer on a fascinating subject, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is one of the best books that will make you smarter and a must-read for all the science lovers out there.
My sister’s husband recommended this book to me, and it’s one of those books that make you think about how the brain works. Though the title is basically the book equivalent of click-bait, the book itself was extremely interesting. The subtitle, “The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by Trauma, Madness, and Recovery,” would be more appropriate, though much less catchy. Sam Kean teaches about the various parts of the brain using compelling true stories that temper down the science-heavy segments to make the book more relatable for the general reader. He expertly weaves the storytelling while not skimping on the science, giving you a fairly in-depth basic primer on the science and history of neuroscience.
Fiction Books With Deeper Meaning
Some books that make you think show you a deeper meaning behind what is seemingly a simple story. On the surface, Animal Farm is just a straightforward tale of animals revolting against the cruel farmer to set up their own government. In reality, Animal Farm is the perfect parable for the danger of giving up our freedoms for the sake of security. If you’ve ever wondered how a dictatorship comes to be, this classic short novel will show you. To get the most of this short classic, you’ll want to pair it with my favorite book of all time, George Orwell’s 1984.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
If you are looking for books that will make you think without having a lot of time to read, my top recommendation is this classic tale. The Little Prince is a short illustrated story full of morals – if only you have eyes to see them. It’s one of those short classic books in which you can get out of it as much or as little as you want. This short allegory follows a young boy, the Little Prince, who decides to give up his pleasant life on his tiny planet to go discover the universe. Along the way, he encounters a strange place called Earth and learns about some of the absurdities of the adults.
Growing up, Piscine “Pi” Patel loves spending his time at the zoo his parents own. When his parents decide to move their zoo from India to Canada, he finds himself on a ship in the Pacific Ocean, never suspecting that a storm will leave him stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific struggling to survive for months at sea with a Bengal tiger as his only companion. As you near the end of this book, you’ll probably be wondering why I recommended it. Trust me, just push through to the end, for it’s the ending of this book that raises it above mediocrity. With just a few simple sentences, suddenly the author makes you pause and reevaluate everything you just read.
Nonfiction Books That Get You Thinking
Author Gretchen Rubin embarked on a year-long project to make her life happier. Every month, she examined a different aspect of her life – whether it be her marriage or her health – trying to improve herself and become happier through targeted action and research. To be frank, this book is not for everyone. A few years ago, I read this self-help book for my book club, and everyone else hated it (though I’m not sure how many actually read it). Be that as it may, if you look at this book objectively, reading her experience will make you think about how you could improve yourself to complain less and appreciate life more.
John Howard Griffin
If you are looking for books that make you think about race relations in the United States, Griffin’s nonfiction book is a great place to start. In October of 1959, journalist John Howard Griffin spent six weeks traveling across the Deep South with one major change: he medically darkened his skin to look like a black man. His journal of the experience is an incredible read discussing race relations in the United States. Though much has changed since then, you’ll find yourself pondering how much has unfortunately stayed the same.
J. D. Vance
First off, you need to understand that J. D. Vance’s memoir is not about life in rural Kentucky. Instead, it’s about his family life in Southwestern Ohio and how the Hillbilly culture and ethics his grandparents brought from rural Kentucky affected the lives and choices of his grandparents, parents and even himself. Having grown up in that same region of Ohio, I can say that many of his observations ring true. While you might not agree with all of Vance’s conclusions, he will certainly make you ponder how culture affects us and what heritage you will pass down to your children.
Did you know that intelligence is not a very accurate predictor of success? Psychologist Angela Duckworth puts forth an insightful new predictor for success: grit. That perseverance through obstacles and sheer determination to get ahead. With numerous studies and interesting anecdotes, Duckworth has written one of those books that make you think about where you fall on the scale. How gritty are you? And since grit isn’t fixed, you’ll find in yourself a desire not only to develop it in yourself but also to encourage it in your children. Among my favorite fascinating nonfiction books that will make you smarter, Grit will inspire you to be a better person than you were when you first picked it up.
Fiction Books That Make You Think
Nonfiction books aren’t the only books that make you think. Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer Prize-winning World War II novel is the perfect example. Written only six years after the end of the war, The Caine Mutiny has astounding detail most modern authors can never hope to achieve because the story is heavily based on the author’s own experiences during the war. The story details the life aboard the U.S.S. Caine and the moral complexities of wartime decisions, especially the hard choices that need to be made by a captain at sea.
Khaled Hosseini is a fabulous writer. I had to debate which work of his to choose for my list of books that make you think. In his third novel, Hosseini teaches how the choices we make can spread through time affecting so many others. To illustrate his theme, the main story centers on a poor family in a small Afghanistan village who gives their young daughter up for adoption to a wealthy family. Hosseini completely turns stereotypes on their head and makes you think about how much our actions reflect our intentions.
William R. Forstchen
Just imagine it: no electricity, no medicine and no food. In his eye-opening novel, William R. Forstchen warns of the all too real possibility of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) device detonating over the United States. In an instance, the electromagnetic wave destroys all technology, sending the US immediately back to the Dark Ages. Can one man save his small North Carolina mountain town from the fall of civilization? While Forstchen is far from the greatest novelist ever, with our outdated electrical grid and the reality of EMPs, he will make you wonder what you would do if the lights went out.
What books that make you think differently would you recommend?