A Neuroscientist’s Selection Of 12 Books Everyone Should Read!

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Sam Harris is a famous American author, philosopher, and neuroscientist, who is also the co-founder and chief executive of Project Reason, a non-profit organization that promotes science and secularism, and is the host of the podcast Waking Up with Sam Harris. Recently on this radio show, he answered a listener’s question inquiring what books everyone should read. Here are the 12 books he recommended!

1. I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj

I Am That is a compilation of talks on Shiva Advaita (Nondualism) philosophy by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, a Hindu spiritual teacher who lived in Mumbai. The book is considered the author's masterpiece and a spiritual classic by several authors.

The book comprises 101 sections, each corresponding to a particular conversation, averaging four pages each and cast in a question-and-answer format. Most deal with a single issue but some go from one subject to other, always in line with the spiritual quest.

2. The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

A History of Western Philosophy is a 1945 book by philosopher Bertrand Russell. A survey of Western philosophy from the pre-Socratic philosophers to the early 20th century, it was criticized for Russell's over-generalization and omissions, particularly from the post-Cartesian period, but nevertheless became a popular and commercial success, and has remained in print from its first publication. When Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, A History of Western Philosophy was cited as one of the books that won him the award.

The book was written during the Second World War, having its origins in a series of lectures on the history of philosophy that Russell gave at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia during 1941 and 1942.

3. Reasons and Persons by Derek Parfit

Reasons and Persons is a philosophical work by Derek Parfit, first published in 1984. It focuses on ethics, rationality and personal identity.

It is divided into four parts, dedicated to self-defeating theories, rationality and time, personal identity and responsibility toward future generations.

4. The Last Word by Thomas Nagel

"If there is such a thing as reason, it has to be universal. Reason must reflect objective principles whose validity is independent of our point of view--principles that anyone with enough intelligence ought to be able to recognize as correct. But this generality of reason is what relativists and subjectivists deny in ever-increasing numbers. And such subjectivism is not just an inconsequential intellectual flourish or badge of theoretical chic. It is exploited to deflect argument and to belittle the pretensions of the arguments of others. The continuing spread of this relativistic way of thinking threatens to make public discourse increasingly difficult and to exacerbate the deep divisions of our society."

In The Last Word, Thomas Nagel, one of the most influential philosophers writing in English, presents a sustained defense of reason against the attacks of subjectivism, delivering systematic rebuttals of relativistic claims with respect to language, logic, science, and ethics. He shows that the last word in disputes about the objective validity of any form of thought must lie in some unqualified thoughts about how things are--thoughts that we cannot regard from outside as mere psychological dispositions.

5. The Holy Qur’an

i.sabah.com.tr

The Quran is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God. It is widely regarded as the finest work in classical Arabic literature. The Quran is divided into chapters (surah in Arabic), which are then divided into verses (ayah).

Muslims believe The Quran was verbally revealed by God to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel, gradually over a period of approximately 23 years. Muslims regard The Quran as the most important miracle of Muhammad, a proof of his prophethood, and the culmination of a series of divine messages that started with the messages revealed to Adam and ended with Muhammad.

According to the traditional narrative, several companions of Muhammad served as scribes and were responsible for writing down the revelations. Shortly after Muhammad's death, The Quran was compiled by his companions who wrote down and memorized parts of it.

6. Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies is a 2014 book by the Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom from the University of Oxford. It argues that if machine brains surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could replace humans as the dominant lifeform on Earth. Sufficiently intelligent machines could improve their own capabilities faster than human computer scientists. As the fate of gorillas now depends more on humans than on the actions of gorillas themselves, so will the fate of future humanity depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence. The outcome could be an existential catastrophe for humans.

7. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

nationalwritersseries.org

Infidel is the autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-Dutch activist, and politician. Hirsi Ali has attracted controversy and death threats were made against Ali in the early 2000s.

Hirsi Ali writes about her youth in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya; about her flight to the Netherlands where she applied for political asylum, her university experience in Leiden, her work for the Labour Party, her transfer to the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, her election to Parliament, and the murder of Theo van Gogh, with whom she made the film Submission. The book ends with a discussion of the controversy regarding her application for asylum and status of her citizenship.

8. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking is an account of the year following the death of the author's husband John Gregory Dunne. Published by Knopf in October 2005, The Year of Magical Thinking was immediately acclaimed as a classic book about mourning. It won the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography/Autobiography.

The book recounts Didion's experiences of grief after Dunne's 2003 death. Days before his death, their daughter Quintana Roo Dunne Michael was hospitalized in New York with pneumonia which developed into septic shock; she was still unconscious when her father died. During 2004 Quintana was again hospitalized after a collapse and bleeding in her brain.

The narrative structure of the book follows Didion's re-living and re-analysis of her husband's death throughout the year following it, in addition to caring for Quintana. With each replay of the event, the focus on certain emotional and physical aspects of the experience shifts. Didion also incorporates medical and psychological research on grief and illness into the book.

9. Humiliation: And Other Essays on Honor, Social Discomfort, and Violence by William Ian Miller

How do we feel when our friend turns up with a holiday present and we have nothing ready to give in exchange? What lies behind our small social panics and the maneuvers we use, to avoid losing face? Recognizing how much we care about how others see us, this wise and witty book tackles the complex subject of humiliation and the emotions that keep us going as self-respecting social actors.

William Ian Miller writes astutely about a host of homely and seemingly banal social occasions and shows us what is buried behind them. In his view, our lives are permeated with sometimes merely uncomfortable, sometimes hair-raising rituals of shame and humiliation. Take the unwanted dinner invitation, the exchange of valentines in grade school, or the "diabolically ingenious invention of the bridal registry." Readers will have no trouble recognizing the social situations he finds indicative of our often perilous dealings with each other.

10. The Flight of the Garuda: The Dzogchen Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism by Keith Dowman

Dzogchen, a tradition of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, is considered by many to be an extremely powerful path to enlightenment. This book offers translations of four sacred texts of the Dzogchen tradition: Secret Instruction in a Garland of VisionThe Flight of the GarudaEmptying the Depths of Hell, and the Wish-Granting Prayer of Kuntu Zangpo. With an informative introduction by the translator, Flight of the Garuda is an invaluable resource for both practice and scholarship.

Flight of the Garuda conveys the heart advice of one of the most beloved nonsectarian masters of Tibet. Ordained as a Gelug monk, the itinerant yogi Shabkar was renowned for his teachings on Dzogchen, the heart practice of the Nyingma lineage. He wandered the countryside of Tibet and Nepal, turning many minds toward the Dharma through his ability to communicate the essence of the teachings in a poetic and crystal-clear way. Buddhists of all stripes, including practitioners of Zen and Vipassana, will find ample sustenance within the pages of this book and be thrilled by the lyrical insights conveyed in Shabkar's words.

11. Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak by Jean Hetzfeld

During the spring of 1994, in a tiny country called Rwanda, some 800,000 people were hacked to death, one by one, by their neighbors in a gruesome civil war. Several years later, journalist Jean Hatzfeld traveled to Rwanda to interview ten participants in the killings, eliciting extraordinary testimony from these men about the genocide they perpetrated. As Susan Sontag wrote in the preface, Machete Season is a document that "everyone should read . . . [because making] the effort to understand what happened in Rwanda . . . is part of being a moral adult."

12. The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm

The Journalist and the Murderer is a study by Janet Malcolm about the ethics of journalism, published by Alfred A. Knopf/Random House in 1990. It is an examination of the professional choices that shape a work of non-fiction, as well as a rumination on the morality that underpins the journalistic enterprise. The journalist in question is Joe McGinniss; the murderer is the former Special Forces captain Dr. Jeffrey R. MacDonald, who became the subject of McGinniss' 1983 book Fatal Vision.
Malcolm's thesis and the most widely quoted passage from The Journalist and the __Murderer is its opening paragraph: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."

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