Everyone (we hope) wants to be smarter, but where does one start?! A.J. Jacobs wrote a book called “The Know-It-All”, about his personal quest to become the smartest man who ever lived by reading the entire encyclopedia from cover to cover. While we wouldn’t go that far, we looked at the AskReddit thread asking what some good books are that would make the average person more knowledgeable, and here are 22 of our favorite answers! We’ve even sorted them into categories and added the plot summaries, so you can decide for yourself which of these you’d like to pick up next.

Have you read a book that you learned a lot from? Share in the comments!

Some answers have been edited for length and/or clarity. Plot summaries provided via GoodReads.


1. Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre. “It deals with interpreting statistics; recognizing false equivalencies; probability; critically assessing those ”clinical trials” advertised by people selling their bullshit detox pills, and so much more.” – ghoulclub

“Really helps to understand the science behind things and how this can be manipulated to have it say whatever they want it to. Good skills for fact checking and not being duped by shady pseudoscience claims.” – Mooblob

Plot Summary: Full of spleen, this is a hilarious, invigorating and informative journey through the world of Bad Science. When Dr Ben Goldacre saw someone on daytime TV dipping her feet in an ‘Aqua Detox’ footbath, releasing her toxins into the water and turning it brown, he thought he’d try the same at home. ‘Like some kind of Johnny Ball cum Witchfinder General’, using his girlfriend’s Barbie doll, he gently passed an electrical current through the warm salt water. It turned brown. In his words: ‘before my very eyes, the world’s first Detox Barbie was sat, with her feet in a pool of brown sludge, purged of a weekend’s immorality.’ Dr Ben Goldacre is the author of the Bad Science column in the Guardian. His book is about all the ‘bad science’ we are constantly bombarded with in the media and in advertising. At a time when science is used to prove everything and nothing, everyone has their own ‘bad science’ moments from the useless pie-chart on the back of cereal packets to the use of the word ‘visibly’ in cosmetics ads.

2. Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension, by Matt Parker. “A very good book about mathematics, which explores various fun problems and showcases some of the more whimsical and fun aspects of mathematics that people may not be aware of.” – KingAlfredOfEngland

Plot Summary: Cut pizzas in new and fairer ways! Fit a 2p coin through an impossibly small hole! Make a perfect regular pentagon by knotting a piece of paper! Tie your shoes faster than ever before, saving literally seconds of your life! Use those extra seconds to contemplate the diminishing returns of an exclamation-point at the end of every bullet-point! Make a working computer out of dominoes! Math is a game. This book can be cut, drawn in, folded into shapes and will even take you to the fourth dimension. Join stand-up mathematician Matt Parker on a journey through narcissistic numbers, optimal dating algorithms, at least two different kinds of infinity, and more.

3. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan. “It’s been a while since I read it. I seem to remember that it’s pretty engaging on balance, but there are some dry patches to struggle through. Your mileage may vary. It is well worth a read – learning how to think and how to question is an important foundation to build knowledge on. The book discusses the importance of science and rationality, and how we determine what is true and what is isn’t. I was googling it to double check the spelling and found that this quote from the book (published in 1995) caused a bit of a stir last year:

“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”


“For those who don’t have enough time to read it or can’t find a copy, do check out the baloney detection kit in A Demon-Haunted World at the very least! All about how to detect whether something passes the smell test or not.” – Andromeda321

Plot Summary: How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don’t understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience and the testable hypotheses of science? Pulitzer Prize-winning author and distinguished astronomer Carl Sagan argues that scientific thinking is critical not only to the pursuit of truth but to the very well-being of our democratic institutions.

Casting a wide net through history and culture, Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks such celebrated fallacies of the past as witchcraft, faith healing, demons, and UFOs. And yet, disturbingly, in today’s so-called information age, pseudoscience is burgeoning with stories of alien abduction, channeling past lives, and communal hallucinations commanding growing attention and respect. As Sagan demonstrates with lucid eloquence, the siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong turn, but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.

4. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. “I’m re-reading it currently. Not only is it brilliantly written, it’s really funny as well as being quite dense. I learned so much about crypto from this book and it sparked my interest in cryptography in general. He has a knack of writing in a way so that you, the reader, are working out the code at the same time the character is. It’s really well done.” – PutinsHorse

Plot Summary: Cryptonomicon zooms all over the world, careening conspiratorially back and forth between two time periods–World War II and the present. Our 1940’s heroes are the brilliant mathematician Lawrence Waterhouse, crypt analyst extraordinaire, and gung-ho, morphine-addicted marine Bobby Shaftoe. They’re part of Detachment 2702, an Allied group trying to break Axis communication codes while simultaneously preventing the enemy from figuring out that their codes have been broken. Their job boils down to layer upon layer of deception. Dr. Alan Turing is also a member of 2702, and he explains the unit’s strange workings to Waterhouse. “When we want to sink a convoy, we send out an observation plane first… Of course, to observe is not its real duty–we already know exactly where the convoy is. Its real duty is to be observed… Then, when we come round and sink them, the Germans will not find it suspicious.”

All of this secrecy resonates in the present-day storyline, in which the grandchildren of the WWII heroes–inimitable programming geek Randy Waterhouse and the lovely and powerful Amy Shaftoe–team up to help create an offshore data haven in Southeast Asia and maybe uncover some gold once destined for Nazi coffers. To top off the paranoiac tone of the book, the mysterious Enoch Root, key member of Detachment 2702 and the Societas Eruditorum, pops up with an unbreakable encryption scheme left over from WWII to befuddle the 1990’s protagonists with conspiratorial ties.

5. A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking. “The book is about explanation of the scientific theories of today, from time travel to general relativity to the creation of the universe.” – P1nacle25

Plot Summary: In the ten years since its publication in 1988, Stephen Hawking’s classic work has become a landmark volume in scientific writing, with more than nine million copies in forty languages sold worldwide. That edition was on the cutting edge of what was then known about the origins and nature of the universe. But the intervening years have seen extraordinary advances in the technology of observing both the micro- and the macrocosmic worlds. These observations have confirmed many of Professor Hawking’s theoretical predictions in the first edition of his book, including the recent discoveries of the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite (COBE), which probed back in time to within 300,000 years of the universe’s beginning and revealed wrinkles in the fabric of space-time that he had projected. Eager to bring to his original text the new knowledge revealed by these observations, as well as his own recent research, Professor Hawking has prepared a new introduction to the book, written an entirely new chapter on wormholes and time travel, and updated the chapters throughout.

6. Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Earth and Space, by Isaac Asimov. “This little book will tell you the history of how Humans figured out what we know about our planet. It starts very basic and grows till you feel like you are in some advanced course.” – comicsngames

Plot Summary: A wide-ranging exploration of our universe — from “what makes the wind blow?” to “how was the moon formed?” — in question-and-answer format, written in vintage Asimov style. “A fine introduction to modern astronomical theory.” — LIBRARY JOURNAL


7. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. – “Righteous Mind is phenomenal. If I could make a mandatory reading list, this would be near the top.” – Dem6n654

Plot Summary: This well-researched examination of human moral impulses will appeal to liberals and conservatives alike following the 2016 presidential campaign and election.

As America descends deeper into polarization and paralysis, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has done the seemingly impossible—challenged conventional thinking about morality, politics, and religion in a way that speaks to everyone on the political spectrum. Drawing on his twenty five years of groundbreaking research on moral psychology, he shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and he shows why each side is actually right about many of its central concerns. In this subtle yet accessible book, Haidt gives you the key to understanding the miracle of human cooperation, as well as the curse of our eternal divisions and conflicts. If you’re ready to trade in anger for understanding, read The Righteous Mind.

A groundbreaking investigation into the origins of morality, which turns out to be the basis for religion and politics. The book is timely (explaining the American culture wars and refuting the “New Atheists”), scholarly (integrating insights from many fields) and great fun to read (like Haidt’s last book, The Happiness Hypothesis).

8. Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. “Was a pretty great book that made me think about life differently. It explores a lot about what “enlightenment” means and how that’s achieved. It touches on a lot of aspects of what spirituality means and what life’s meaning is. About how individually a lot of stuff we do by itself is pretty irrelevant, but when taken together forms a bigger purpose.” – Riderz_of_Brohan

Plot Summary: Hermann Hesse’s classic novel has delighted, inspired, and influenced generations of readers, writers, and thinkers. In this story of a wealthy Indian Brahmin who casts off a life of privilege to seek spiritual fulfillment. Hesse synthesizes disparate philosophies–Eastern religions, Jungian archetypes, Western individualism–into a unique vision of life as expressed through one man’s search for meaning.

9. The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman. “It was also originally called “The Psychology of Everyday Things.” Great book for any engineer, designer, UI developer, or those just curious why things are built the way they are. Very cheap paperback, easy to read too because the analogies used are all designs we see literally every single day (i.e. a door knob). – Relishboy

Plot Summary: Even the smartest among us can feel inept as we fail to figure out which light switch or oven burner to turn on, or whether to push, pull, or slide a door. The fault, argues this ingenious–even liberating–book, lies not in ourselves, but in product design that ignores the needs of users and the principles of cognitive psychology. The problems range from ambiguous and hidden controls to arbitrary relationships between controls and functions, coupled with a lack of feedback or other assistance and unreasonable demands on memorization. The Design of Everyday Things shows that good, usable design is possible. The rules are simple: make things visible, exploit natural relationships that couple function and control, and make intelligent use of constraints. The goal: guide the user effortlessly to the right action on the right control at the right time.
In this entertaining and insightful analysis, cognitive scientist Donald A. Norman hails excellence of design as the most important key to regaining the competitive edge in influencing consumer behavior. Now fully expanded and updated, with a new introduction by the author, The Design of Everyday Things is a powerful primer on how–and why–some products satisfy customers while others only frustrate them.


10. The 7 habits of highly effective people, by Stephen R.Covey. “I can’t believe no one has listed this yet. It helps a lot to understand and “let go” on some things. It helped me greatly with work and on a personal level.” – Jmeu

“It isn’t just another self-help thing, it’s a way of approaching your own life and others in a way that promotes your greatest happiness and success as well as the success of others. Really helpful if you’re the disorganized “why can’t I get shit done?” type like I am.” – myachizero

Plot Summary: When Stephen Covey first released The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the book became an instant rage because people suddenly got up and took notice that their lives were headed off in the wrong direction; and more than that, they realized that there were so many simple things they could do in order to navigate their life correctly. This book was wonderful education for people, education in how to live life effectively and get closer to the ideal of being a ‘success’ in life.

11. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. “The title makes it sound like some book on social manipulation but the manipulation is basically “People like people who care about them, you should care about people, here is how to help yourself learn to care about people.” – Associate_Dixon

“The dude had a very good intuitive understanding of how people tick. If you’re naturally good with people, maybe you’ll think the key points of the book are obvious; otherwise, for people like me, the book provides some invaluable insights about basic human psychology.” – eternal_golden_braid

Plot SummaryYou can go after the job you want…and get it! You can take the job you have…and improve it! You can take any situation you’re in…and make it work for you! Since its release in 1936, How to Win Friends and Influence People has sold more than 15 million copies. Dale Carnegie’s first book is a timeless bestseller, packed with rock-solid advice that has carried thousands of now famous people up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives. As relevant as ever before, Dale Carnegie’s principles endure, and will help you achieve your maximum potential in the complex and competitive modern age.

Learn the six ways to make people like you, the twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking, and the nine ways to change people without arousing resentment.

12. Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Dr. Daniel Kahneman. “Great book that illustrates the behavioral science behind why smart people do stupid things. It’s a great case for the average person.” – exmormonphoenix

Plot SummaryIn the highly anticipated Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities—and also the faults and biases—of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior. The impact of loss aversion and overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the challenges of properly framing risks at work and at home, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning the next vacation—each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems work together to shape our judgments and decisions.

Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives—and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble. Thinking, Fast and Slow will transform the way you think about thinking.


13. Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius. “It’s almost like a how-to guide for being a timeless badass. Worth the time.” – forat_de_silenci

“This, and “Enchiridion” by Epictetus. They’ll literally change your life. No, seriously. Marcus and Epictetus are both Stoics, but from a school of Stoicism that doesn’t view emotions as a bad thing. It’s all about understanding them and controlling them. We live in an era where everything tries to manipulate your emotions – media, news, advertisements – hell, even our Government wants you thinking emotionally and not rationally. Despite being thousands of years old, both books have practical, rational ideas for how to recognize and rationalize emotions.” – rjjm88

Plot Summary: Written in Greek, without any intention of publication, by the only Roman emperor who was also a philosopher, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) offer a remarkable series of challenging spiritual reflections and exercises developed as the emperor struggled to understand himself and make sense of the universe.

Ranging from doubt and despair to conviction and exaltation, they cover such diverse topics as the nature of moral virtue, human rationality, divine providence, and Marcus’ own emotions.

But while the Meditations were composed to provide personal consolation and encouragement, in developing his beliefs Marcus Aurelius also created one of the greatest of all works of philosophy: a timeless collection of extended meditations and short aphorisms that has been consulted and admired by statesmen, thinkers and readers through the centuries.


14. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (Liar’s Poker #2), by Michael Lewis. “It’s a pretty cliche answer, but if you liked the movie you have to give the book a spin. It’s much more detailed and gives you a great overview of an insanely complicated concept and sequence of events. Very few books explain the WHY of what happened, and The Big Short is a great overview of the banking system within the global economy and what went wrong in 2008 and why it toppled over.” – Riderz_of_Brohan

“In my opinion, The Big Short is one of the most important books for people to read today. It’s about a series of events that no one fully understood that affected nearly everyone in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world too. Lewis does a really good job of explaining what went wrong and how almost no one saw it coming.” – Yserbius

Plot Summary: From the author of The Blind Side and MoneyballThe Big Short tells the story of four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predict the credit and housing bubble collapse before anyone else. The film adaptation by Adam McKay (Anchorman Iand IIThe Other Guys) features Academy Award® winners Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo and Marisa Tomei; Academy Award® nominees Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling.

When the crash of the U.S. stock market became public knowledge in the fall of 2008, it was already old news. The real crash, the silent crash, had taken place over the previous year, in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn’t shine and the SEC doesn’t dare, or bother, to tread. Who understood the risk inherent in the assumption of ever-rising real estate prices, a risk compounded daily by the creation of those arcane, artificial securities loosely based on piles of doubtful mortgages? In this fitting sequel to Liar’s Poker, Michael Lewis answers that question in a narrative brimming with indignation and dark humor.

15. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky. “I was a skeptical conservative when I read this book back in ‘89 and figured it was about the liberal bias in the media. I was so very wrong about that, and while I don’t agree with Chomsky on a lot of things, this book has helped me be more knowledgeable by reading between the lines and searching for tacit messages whenever I watch the news.” – zenspeed

Plot Summary: An absolutely brilliant analysis of the ways in which individuals and organizations of the media are influenced to shape the social agendas of knowledge and, therefore, belief. Contrary to the popular conception of members of the press as hard-bitten realists doggedly pursuing unpopular truths, Herman and Chomsky prove conclusively that the free-market economics model of media leads inevitably to normative and narrow reporting. Whether or not you’ve seen the eye-opening movie, buy this book, and you will be a far more knowledgeable person and much less prone to having your beliefs manipulated as easily as the press hopes.

16. Life 3.0, by professor Max Tegmark. “A new book that mainly deals with Artificial Intelligence, but along the way gives highly interesting insights into physics, psychology, engineering, and political philosophy.” – SandersWarren2020

Plot SummaryHow will Artificial Intelligence affect crime, war, justice, jobs, society and our very sense of being human? The rise of AI has the potential to transform our future more than any other technology–and there’s nobody better qualified or situated to explore that future than Max Tegmark, an MIT professor who’s helped mainstream research on how to keep AI beneficial.

How can we grow our prosperity through automation without leaving people lacking income or purpose? What career advice should we give today’s kids? How can we make future AI systems more robust, so that they do what we want without crashing, malfunctioning or getting hacked? Should we fear an arms race in lethal autonomous weapons? Will machines eventually outsmart us at all tasks, replacing humans on the job market and perhaps altogether? Will AI help life flourish like never before or give us more power than we can handle?

What sort of future do you want? This book empowers you to join what may be the most important conversation of our time. It doesn’t shy away from the full range of viewpoints or from the most controversial issues–from superintelligence to meaning, consciousness and the ultimate physical limits on life in the cosmos.


17. Come As You Are, by Emily Nagoski. “Do you want to have good sex? Do you have a vagina, or have a partner with a vagina? Then you need to read “Come as You Are” by Emily Nagoski. Totally life-changing book. It explains the way sexuality and sex drive works in such a clear, easy to digest way, and she has an incredibly casual voice and sense of humor. As a licensed sex therapist, Nagoski is able to troubleshoot just about any sexual issues you have, and she does so with crazy efficiency. Buy it. Read It. Love it.” – effervescenthoopla

Plot Summary: An essential exploration of why and how women’s sexuality works—based on groundbreaking research and brain science—that will radically transform your sex life into one filled with confidence and joy.

Researchers have spent the last decade trying to develop a “pink pill” for women to function like Viagra does for men. So, where is it? Well, for reasons this book makes crystal clear, that pill will never exist—but as a result of the research that’s gone into it, scientists in the last few years have learned more about how women’s sexuality works than we ever thought possible, and Come as You Are explains it all.

18. She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman, by Ian Kerner. “Gentlemen… stop trusting porn to teach you the finer points, and read this book. The best sex I’ve ever had (every single time for 4 years) was with a man who read this book cover to cover.” – Jecykah

Plot Summary: Ian Kerner offers a radical new philosophy for pleasuring women in She Comes First—an essential guidebook to oral sex from the author of Be Honest—You’re Not That Into Him Either. The New York Times praises Kerner’s “cool sense of humor and an obsessive desire to inform,” as he “encourages men through an act that many find mystifying.” An indispensable aid to a healthier, more fulfilling sex life for her and him, She Comes First offers techniques and philosophy that have already earned raves from the likes of bestselling author and Loveline co-host Dr. Drew Pinsky as well as Playgirl magazine, which cheers, “Hallelujah!”


19. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. “Relatively easy vocabulary, I read it for my first law class in college. It really gives you an insight into the problems with the judicial system in America.” – SantaIsADoucheFag

Plot Summary: “Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.”

As the United States celebrates the nation’s “triumph over race” with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status–much like their grandparents before them.

In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community–and all of us–to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.

20. Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores, by Dominique Dubois Gilliard. “The United States has more people locked up in jails, prisons, and detention centers than any other country in the history of the world. Mass incarceration has become a lucrative industry, and the criminal justice system is plagued with bias and unjust practices. And the church has unwittingly contributed to the problem.” – Floss-Boss

Plot Summary: The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated. We have more people locked up in jails, prisons, and detention centers than any other country in the history of the world. There are more jails and prisons than degree-granting colleges and universities, and in many places more people live behind bars than on college campuses. Mass incarceration has become a lucrative industry, and the criminal justice system is plagued with bias and unjust practices. And the church has unwittingly contributed to these problems. In Rethinking Incarceration, Dominique Gilliard explores the history and foundation of mass incarceration, examining Christianity’s role in its evolution and expansion. He assesses our nation’s ethic of meritocratic justice in light of Scripture and exposes the theologies that embolden mass incarceration. Gilliard then shows how Christians can pursue justice that restores and reconciles, offering creative solutions and highlighting innovative interventions. God’s justice is ultimately restorative, not just punitive. Discover how Christians can participate in the restoration and redemption of the incarceration system.


21. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson. “It’s both a great history and geography book which argues that institutions are the source of development and wealth in countries. It address the Guns, Germs and Steel hypothesis of raw geography theory and also the sociocultural theories and dispatches them while also making for relatively easy reading. It doesn’t bog you down with detail for detail’s sake, but it is a longer read than the average person is probably used to.” – Chappiechapman

Plot Summary: Brilliant and engagingly written, Why Nations Fail answers the question that has stumped the experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine? Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are? Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence?

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it). Korea, to take just one of their fascinating examples, is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their brothers and sisters in South Korea are among the richest. The south forged a society that created incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities. The economic success thus spurred was sustained because the government became accountable and responsive to citizens and the great mass of people. Sadly, the people of the north have endured decades of famine, political repression, and very different economic institutions—with no end in sight. The differences between the Koreas is due to the politics that created these completely different institutional trajectories.

Based on fifteen years of original research Acemoglu and Robinson marshall extraordinary historical evidence from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa to build a new theory of political economy with great relevance for the big questions of today. Why Nations Fail will change the way you look at—and understand—the world.

22. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah. “He discusses growing up mixed-race (and therefore a product of an illegal union) in apartheid South Africa.” – unparalleledleaf

Plot Summary: The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime New York Times bestseller about one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

Emily Parker is a musician, writer, and avid reader who started Bucket List Book Reviews, the ‘1,001 Books to Read Before You Die’ project. For Sweatpants & Coffee, Emily hopes to inspire the reading of the classics by a whole new audience by only reviewing the really good stuff.

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